Thursday, May 24, 2007

Sun pledges patents to defend Linux

In a surprise move Sun Microsystems CEO, Jonathan Schwartz, said the company was ready to use the company's extensive patent portfolio to help defend Red Hat and Ubuntu Linux against Microsoft's patent threat.

In a post on his blog, Schwartz compared the changing world of software to that of the printed media.

"There are all kinds of interesting parallels between the newspaper industry and the software industry. Both are undergoing tremendous change, creating havoc for some and opportunity for others. The industries have much in common - minimally, they're both rooted in creative writers (journalists and developers)."

The new challenge for the printed media, he writes, comes as the industry moves from strict editorial control to a range of user-generated content.

The one option, he says, is that the printed media can embrace these new changes. Alternatively, "they could sue the new technology media companies, claim they're stealing readers by violating patents held by traditional media. Imagine, 'We patented text in columns! Classified ads in boxes! Captions on pictures! Headlines in large type!' But they'd be suing the community - the moral equivalent of suing subscribers - stepping over the line of editor, into the role of censor. And censoring free media is a particularly awkward plea for those that believe in freedom of the press. Few have sued. Most, but not all, have evolved, through competition, acquisition, reorganization or rebirth. Those that failed to adapt have deservedly perished."

The software industry is going through exactly the same transition, says Schwartz:

"Our biggest competitor became, in the late 1990s, a product built by a company that aggregated and organised software from the open source community. They built little of their own, they relied on the software equivalent of community content, or free and open source software.

"Could we have sued them? Sure. Sun has what I'd argue to be the single most valuable and focused patent portfolio on the web (and yes, we'd use it to defend Red Hat and Ubuntu, both). But suing the open source community would've been tantamount to a newspaper suing the authors of their letters to the editor. We would've been attempting to censor rather than embrace a free press. It might have felt good at the time, but it wouldn't have addressed the broader challenge - community content was becoming more interesting to our customers than our professional content."

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