Last 17 September, FFII published a press release announcing that Microsoft will trump EU competition ruling with patents. Now there is confirmation that this is the case, as reported by Reuters in their article Microsoft finally bows to EU antitrust measures:
First, open source software developers will be able to access and use the interoperability information. Microsoft will not assert patents against non-commercial open source software development projects.
Second, the royalties payable for this information will be reduced to a nominal one-off payment of 10,000 euros.
Third, the royalties for a worldwide license including patents will be reduced from 5.95 percent to 0.4 percent, far less than the 7 percent originally demanded by Microsoft.
This is Microsoft final victory over open source and free software competitors in Europe.
Associated Press also reports about the cut in royalties:
Cut in Royalties
The European Commission, the EU's antitrust authority in Brussels, said Microsoft offered to license information to open- source rivals on how Windows communicates over a network for a one-time payment of 10,000 euros ($14,000). It will also reduce the royalties on related patents to 0.4 percent from 5.95 percent, the commission said.
"The measures that the commission has insisted upon will benefit computer users by bringing competition and innovation back to the server market,'' Kroes said in a statement today. "I have always said that open source software developers must be able to take advantage of this remedy: now they can."
Well, I would say that "now they can't".
Under the 2004 decision, Microsoft had to pay a record 497 million-euro fine, disclose network data to rivals and sell a version of Windows without a built-in video and audio player.
Microsoft will continue working closely with the EU regulator and industry to ensure a “competitive environment for information technology in Europe and around the world,” the company said in an e-mailed statement.
In the past, Microsoft has refused to license its technology to open-source software makers. Programs such as the free operating system Linux and a file and printing system called Samba are distributed under terms requiring access to the source code, or underlying operating instructions.
Carlo Piana, a lawyer for the Free Software Foundation Europe, which represents open-source developers, said the agreement may give free software makers access to the so-called protocol information.
"As soon as we've read the agreement, we'll have a final view,'' Piana said in a telephone interview.
The regulator won't appeal the trustee aspect of the ruling, commission spokesman Jonathan Todd said today. The EU's second- highest court in September said Microsoft shouldn't have to pay the cost of the trustee to monitor its compliance.
On March 1 this year, the commission threatened the company with millions of euros in daily fines backdated to December 2005 for charging "unreasonable'" fees for licensing the protocols.
Just for information, I recopy what we said one month ago:
Microsoft will trump EU competition ruling with patents
Brussels, 17 September 2007 — The Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII) says that Microsoft was expecting the 17 September verdict of the EU's anti-trust case, and will exploit software patents to keep its monopoly grip on the global IT market.
FFII president Pieter Hintjens explains, "The decision seems positive but it is five years out of date. During that time, Microsoft has lobbied for software patents in Europe and bought patents on many trivial concepts. It has claimed patent violations against Linux, put patent timebombs into its formats and interfaces, and turned fear of patents into a core part of its business strategy. It will now open its formats, because that lets it extend its software patent franchise even further."
Microsoft recently published its MCPP (Microsoft Communications Protocol Program) patent licence which requires competitors to pay royalties for each copy of software distributed. For example, a free software project making a print server would have to pay USD$8 to Microsoft for each copy downloaded.
"The largest monopolist in history has faced down the largest economy in history," says Benjamin Henrion of the FFII's Brussels Office. "Microsoft will appeal, and the fines if ever paid are just a month or two of profits. Meanwhile Microsoft now has the time to crush its only real competition, the free and open source economy. We regret that the EU Commission and ECJ are blind to the real threat of software patents, while Microsoft cleverly exploits Europe's own patent system against EU businesses. This is a defeat for Europe's anti-trust, a defeat for the global economy, and I'm sure they're popping the champagne in Redmond."
In the proceedings of the EU antitrust trial, Microsoft states that its communication protocols are covered by at least 3 European patents or patent applications (namely patents 'EP 0661652', 'EP 0438571' and 'EP 0669020'). In addition, another 20 patent applications are pending in the United States, as are 2 in Europe (in its reply, Microsoft states that one of its two applications has since been granted, namely patent 'EP 1004193'). Moreover, Microsoft is planning to apply for 'some 130 European patents relating to Windows server operating systems'.
Jeremy Allison, leader of SAMBA, the open source project file and print services for Linux/Unix servers and Windows-based clients, mentioned recently in LinuxWorld that the MCPP patent licences will make impossible for open source to use them:
"We read the license, it’s impossible to release open source implementations of the product. You have to keep it secret. This defeats the whole idea of open source."
- Microsoft: Pricing Overview for patented protocols
- IDSC: Hearing report of Microsoft antitrust case (PDF, 7.5MB)
- Microsoft EP661652: Distributed file system
- Microsoft EP438571: Method and system for open file caching in a networked computer system
- Microsoft EP669020: A method and system for marshalling interface pointers for remote procedure calls
- LinuxWorld: Open source proponents denounce Microsoft licensing program