8.6 Update on Microsoft

Following on from the anti-trust settlement in the US (though by October 2007, several states were asking for the term of the agreement to be extended), the EU has completed its investigation of the company's alleged anti-competitive practices and decided to impose a €497.2 million fine, as well as some further remedies relating to interoperability with competing software. Microsoft appealed and lost in the European Court of 1st instance in 2007. Subsequently the EU Competition Commissioner announced the Commission had come to an agreement with Microsoft, leaving open the possibility for the company to charge a flat fee of €10 000 for interoperability, which means it will not be accessible to most open-source developers. They have also left open the possibility of Microsoft offering patent licences. From the FAQ on the deal:

Can open source software developers implement patented interoperability information?

Open source software developers use various ‘open source’ licences to distribute their software. Some of these licences are incompatible with the patent licence offered by Microsoft. It is up to the commercial open source distributors to ensure that their software products do not infringe upon Microsoft's patents. If they consider that one or more of Microsoft's patents would apply to their software product, they can either design around these patents, challenge their validity or take a patent licence from Microsoft.

That could prove to be a significant get-out clause for the company. Even when Microsoft are apparently having to comply with difficult rulings they're always looking to outwit the authorities, and often do. By 2008 the EU antitrust authorities launched a new investigation into Microsoft’s potentially anti-competitive practices relating to bundling its web browser, Internet Explorer with its Windows Vista operating system.

IBM and Novell were other big commercial enterprises facing difficult court action in this area, initiated by SCO. The claim was that they were infringing SCO's intellectual property rights through its use of Linux open-source software. SCO also expanded their litigation and legal threats to commercial users of Linux, including the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center funded by the US Department of Energy and also DaimlerChrysler. Groklaw (linked in the Further reading section) is the best site on the Web dealing with the SCO litigation. SCO effectively lost the whole case in August 2007 when the judge ruled that Novell owned the copyrights at the heart of the dispute.

8.5 Update on patents

8.7 Update on Apple