Microsoft is hiring intellectual property engineers, open source advocate Bruce Perens said at a press conference at LinuxWorld in Boston today. The company claims that it will use the new hires to look for prior art, but Perens suspects Microsoft is preparing for a full frontal legal assault on open source.
Prior art is a legal term that points to a way to invalidate a patent after it has been issued. The term means that someone else already had created a similar application before the patent holder applied for his patent. For example, someone arguing that he invented the wheel would (hopefully) see his claim dismissed based on the existence of prior art: wheels have been around for thousands of years.
"The bad news here is that open source still doesn’t have an effective defence against [patent litigation]," Perens said. He raised doubts as to wether IBM would come to the rescue despite Big Blue previously committing itself to doing so.
IBM has an interest in maintaining the patent status quo because for years it has been is the largest filer of technology patents. IBM also could be reluctant to side with the open source community if that would see the company picking a battle with a partner.
Perens's plea has a weak spot in the fact that there is no proof that Microsoft will take legal action against the open source movement. But he does rightfully point out that the patent threat against Linux still is very real.
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