Mid November, Steve Ballmer said "Linux"uses our [Microsoft Corp.] intellectual property" and "Microsoft Corp. wanted to "get the appropriate economic return for our shareholders from our innovation." Many people didn't understand what he really meant, among them the LXer editors. Therefore, LXer sent an Open Letter to the Waggener Edstrom Rapid Response team, and two weeks later, the answers are in (no pun intended). Check the full story for the answers a Microsoft Spokesperson gave us, which hopefully can answer some of our questions.
LXer: When speaking about intellectual property, what is meant? It can't be copyright, since almost all Microsoft Corp. software is closed source, which means people who haven't got access to the code can't have infringed the copyright. Moreover, copyright infringement would be easy to prove, since most of what Steve Ballmer calls "Linux" is open source. Therefore, can 'intellectual property' be put on par with 'software patents'?
MS: Intellectual property generally refers to the four different ways that intangible assets can be protected. It does include copyrights, which are an important way that Microsoft protects its technology that is not simply limited to literal, executable code but also includes other copyrightable ‘expression’ in software, such as underlying design materials. Trademarks, trade secrets, and patents are other important types of intellectual property. Patents in the software industry are like patents in many other industries – innovations can be protected through patents that then provide a basis for licensing those innovations to others. Microsoft’s extensive patent portfolio has allowed for significant license agreements with other industry innovators, including: Novell, Cisco Systems, HP, SGI, Xerox, SAP and Siemens. These agreements permit the parties to cross-pollinate their development efforts with each others’ patented innovations, which results in making key innovations more broadly available across varying technologies.
Microsoft answers IP questions posed in LXer open letter