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Use open office, get sued by Microsoft.


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Use open office, get sued by Microsoft.
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BenRoethig
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Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: Dubuque, IA
 
2004-09-17, 06:29

From MacWorld:

"Sun-Microsoft deal raises Open Office questions
By Robert McMillan, IDG News Service

Microsoft Corp. on Wednesday said that it is looking for ways to work more closely with developers of the Open Office open source project, while at the same time, apparently reserving the right to sue them, according to a legal agreement between Microsoft and Open Office's major sponsor, Sun Microsystems Inc., made public this week.

The agreement in question was signed in April of this year as part of Sun and Microsoft's landmark multibillion dollar settlement. It was released as part of Sun's annual U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings Monday.

The April agreement says that Microsoft can seek damages from Open Office users or distributors for any copy of Open Office installed after April 1, 2004. However, users of Sun's commercial distribution of Open Office, called StarOffice are protected from legal liabilities under the agreement, said Russ Castronovo, a spokesman for Sun.

Open Office includes a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation software based on technology Sun acquired in its 1999 purchase of Germany's Star Division Corp. Sun released the code under an open-source license in 2000.

While the agreement effectively safeguards a large group of Open Office users from Microsoft, it leaves new users vulnerable to potential legal action, said Richard Donovan, head of the antitrust practice at Kelley Drye and Warren LLP in New York City, who has followed the agreement. "From now on, you're on notice that if you're still putting Open Office out there, Microsoft is reserving the right to go after you," he said.

The fact that Sun has granted Microsoft the right to seek damages for Open Office after the April 1 date may indicate a weakening in Sun's support for the open source project, Donovan said. Agreeing to the clause would "only make sense if Sun had decided as a corporate strategy that they did not intend to pursue Open Office very vigorously afterwards," he said.

Sun's Castronovo disagreed with Donovan's assessment, saying that Sun's support for Open Office was "as strong as ever" and adding that Microsoft has always had the right to sue Open Office users. "That existed before, so nothing changed in that respect, he said. "Open source software is typically provided without warranty and liability coverage. Open Office is no different."

Open Office developers were somewhat confused by the "legalese" language in the clause, said Louis Suárez-Potts, a senior community development manager with CollabNet Inc., who works on the Open Office project. But Sun's level of support for the project has not changed since the April announcement, he said. "I don't see this special chumminess (between Sun and Microsoft) as affecting our work," he said.

But one open source advocate was troubled by the clause.

"It's ominous, because it means that Microsoft is holding open their right to sue end users of Open Office for patent infringement. And Sun is protecting itself by exempting StarOffice from exposure," said Pamela Jones, editor of the Groklaw.net Web site, which covers legal issues relating to Linux and open source software.

"It raises questions about Sun's motives in agreeing to such a deal, but it really shines the spotlight on what Microsoft thought was important to exempt from the Sun-Microsoft patent truce," she wrote in an e-mail interview.

The contract clause may have been necessary because of Sun's intimate relationship with the Open Office project, analysts say. Sun engineers are the major contributors to Open Office and the Santa Clara, California, company retains the copyright to all software that is contributed to the project.

Because of this tight relationship, Microsoft may have felt it necessary to remove any ambiguity about whether or not Open Office users are indemnified by the Sun-Microsoft agreement, said Matt Rosoff, analyst with Directions on Microsoft Inc. "They wanted to make it clear that ... just because Sun and Microsoft have a cross-licensing agreement, that doesn't mean that Sun has the right to turn that indemnification over to an open source organization," he said.

Ironically, the contract clause has come to light just as Microsoft is beginning to make overtures toward the Open Office development community. Microsoft's German subsidiary, Microsoft Germany GmbH, plans to exhibit at the Open Office Conference 2004 being held in Berlin next week.

Though Microsoft offers XML (Extensible Markup Language) support with its Microsoft Office 2003 productivity software, the company has been criticized by Open Office developers for its refusal to participate in an OASIS-led (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards) effort to develop a standard file format for productivity applications.

Microsoft decided to participate in the conference to learn about Open Office and "take an active part in the dialogue and to discuss important topics related to open standards," said Sandra Schwan, a Microsoft spokeswoman, via e-mail. "This conference is not about selling products," she said.

The Open Office Conference 2004 charges exhibitors €500 (US$613) to participate in the conference. It attracted 300 attendees during its inaugural event last year.

Microsoft declined to comment on specifics of its April agreement with Sun.

(Joris Evers in San Francisco contributed to this report)"

My take: this is complete BS. If you think someone infringed on your patents, sue them. Don't blackmail end users into using your software by threatening to sue them if they put another piece of software on their computer. MS has never be known to be the most ethical company out there, but this much lower than even they should have stooped. I hope that Apple releases thier own office suite so that Office V.X can get off my computer.
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alcimedes
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2004-09-17, 08:55

hmm, the way i would look at it is this.

normally, MS could sue anyone they thought infringed on their patents, anytime. this kind of FUD is often used to disuade people from going the open source route. "yeah, we could use it, but we might get sued."

now people can point to StarOffice and say "but if we use this, it's protected".

it keeps one version of OpenOffice (staroffice) from being open to lawsuit. who knows though.

Google is your frenemy.
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staph
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2004-09-17, 11:26

I find this a bit bizarre. Why should Sun admit responsibility for the actions of F/OSS programmers, over whom they have limited control, if they don't want to, and have the option not to? Has Microsoft ever (majorly) sued anyone over word-processor technology?

I'm tempted to say something to the effect of "Nothing to see here…"
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curiousuburb
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2004-09-17, 12:26

Two bits says MS is only participating in the Open Office Conference in order to gain access to the registration lists (for later lawsuit ease of delivery). It's an attempt to spook conference attendees the way some Hacker cons can't be stopped, but can be 'encouraged to clam up' when they know the Feebs are in the crowd and trolling.
</cynical>
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ShiggyMiyamoto
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2004-09-22, 13:31

Isn't OpenOffice opensource? And aren't documents created with OpenOffice readible by MS's Office Suite? I find this stupid... Why would they sue for something that anyone can get? Is it because it's for free? I don't get it.

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Brad
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2004-09-22, 14:28

Quote:
Originally Posted by ShiggyMiyamoto
Isn't OpenOffice opensource? And aren't documents created with OpenOffice readible by MS's Office Suite? I find this stupid... Why would they sue for something that anyone can get? Is it because it's for free? I don't get it.
Yes, yes, and because it violates patents owned by Microsoft. The very fact that it can read and write Microsoft's proprietary document formats is open to the debate that OO.org is infringing on Microsoft's intellectual property.

I don't know why I didn't move this into General Discussion when I first saw it. It has implications that could greatly affect more than just OpenOffice... Moving now.

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bassplayinMacFiend
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2004-09-22, 14:35

Quote:
Originally Posted by ShiggyMiyamoto
Isn't OpenOffice opensource? And aren't documents created with OpenOffice readible by MS's Office Suite? I find this stupid... Why would they sue for something that anyone can get? Is it because it's for free? I don't get it.
Because, just by spreading this tiny bit of FUD, they'll keep almost all Fortune 500 companies firmly nestled against the teat that is MS Office. No company is going to risk going to court against MS. MS has enough $$ and lawyers to bankrupt most companies with legal bills by keeping them in court for years.
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Brad
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Join Date: May 2004
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2004-09-22, 14:54

Quote:
Originally Posted by bassplayinMacFiend
Because, just by spreading this tiny bit of FUD, they'll keep almost all Fortune 500 companies firmly nestled against the teat that is MS Office.
Bingo.

That is the clearest reason for the little clause for OpenOffice in the settlement: scare away ANYONE from even THINKING about using an alternative solution to MS Office (or StarOffice, what a joke).

Of course, this doesn't bode well for anyone using Linux, but how many offices really use Linux for anything other than servers?

ArsTechnica has a good take on this:
Quote:
If so, should new OpenOffice.org users live in fear of a lawsuit? Probably not. A monopoly such as Microsoft needs to wield the patent-enforcement bat with care, especially when such a move could cripple the competition. Intellectual property lawyer Tom Moore notes that

"Because of its own legal wrangling with the U.S. Department of Justice, [Microsoft] needs to be even more careful than most in bringing patent lawsuits. 'There's the concept of "patent misuse" that could come into play,' he said. 'When a patent holder is a monopolist, they need to move a little more carefully than does the usual patentee.'"

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Barto
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2004-09-22, 22:50

Death to software patents. The most retarded form of intellectual property out there.
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drewprops
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2004-09-23, 06:12

I daresay it would be ONE BALLSY COMPANY that would consider using Open Office in the face of this news, but DAMN it would be exciting to see somebody do it.

Steve Jobs ate my cat's watermelon.
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Barto
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2004-09-23, 08:20

drewprops, you read more into this than there is. Companies use OpenOffice all the time. Just like companies use Linux all the time and Microsoft constantly drops hints It'll sue over patent violations.

FUD, by its very nature, is hollow.

The sky was deep black; Jesus still loved me. I started down the alley, wailing in a ragged bass.
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