In an announcement that shocked the computing worls, Microsoft Corporation announced that it had launched a class action against over 3.7 million Internet web sites for "gross patents violations" through their use of the "Open Source" software including the popular Apache web server and Linux operating system. At a press conference at Microsoft headquarters Monday, Microsoft Corp. president Steve Ballmer told industry journalists that: "Microsoft invented the Internet, and we hold the patents to prove it. We're simply asking for the rule of law to be imposed over these cyber bandits who are ruthlessly exploiting our technology without paying for it."
The lawsuit focuses on four major patents held by Microsoft Corp. including one for "the use of a graphical user interface running over a text-mode kernel", one for "the use of a computing machine to distribute mixed-media content over a heterogenous network", and one for "software to allow a single computing machine to simultaneously perform multiple tasks".
According to a source inside Microsoft, these patents, along with one more that covers "the unique combination of three control keys to control a computing machine restart request" were aquired from now- defunct companies including Digital Research and DEC for a sum in excess of one hundred million US dollars.
Apparently, these Microsoft patents mean that anyone running an unlicensed web server on any non-Windows operating system is committing an illegal act. One technical expert, who asked to remain unnamed, said that: "as soon as you type 'xinit' or 'xitami' you're a criminal. It's still legal to run a web server from your Palm Pilot, but only if you're not on-line."
Microsoft also stated their intention to file suit against eleven companies "who are deliberately and provocatively distributing unlicensed distributions of the Linux so-called 'operating system'", and to provide a "Visual License Option Pack" so that consumers could legalize their use of Apache and Linux. The VLOP is slated to retail at around US$200.
The Microsoft suit names 3,713,470 individual Internet web sites that use the Apache web server. The lawsuit makes legal history by being the first ever filed on CD-ROM, which a Microsoft spokesman said was "a whole lot easier to mail than the truck holding the printout". Our insider source told us that this list of sites was culled from NetCraft.com, ironically one of the web sites named in the lawsuit. Unconfirmed reports indicate that the suit also names over fifteen thousand US government web sites, and thirty-two websites in the microsoft.com domain itself. Microsoft declined to comment on these reports, but did say that "we will sue the pants of anyone who gets in our way, including ourselves if needed".
Sun, IBM, HP, and Oracle have launched a counter-suit against Microsoft and the US Patent Office, citing "criminal stupidity beyond the call of duty". The US Justice Department said it was looking into the lawsuits, but that "initial investigation shows that the law is on Microsoft's side".
Asked whether this action was not going to damage confidence in the computer industry at a critical period, Ballmer said that: "we feel it's essential that consumers are protected from the illegal and immoral actions of such pirates. If we don't enforce our patents, it will spell the end of innovation and that's bad for everyone."
Meanwhile, Red Hat Software, a leading Linux company, announced that it was delaying its initial public offering, and shares in Microsoft Corp jumped by 15% in heavy trading.
Posted by Pieter Hintjens on Tue 27 Jul 06:36:44 1999 PDT