In the midst of Microsoft’s full-frontal patent-tipped FUD missile attack on Linux and Free and Open Source Software (aka, FOSS), it would seem strange that I could start a blog entry by admitting that I agree with Bill Gates. Yes, that Bill Gates. The Microsoft billionaire. Of course, you need to understand that I agree with something Mr. Gates is quoted as saying, not Microsoft’s patent assault.
On that point, I’m still very clear in my opinion, and I still see it as a disgrace that companies like Microsoft have, as part of their business model, such an amoral and unethical plan. Make no mistake about this, Microsoft (and SCO, and a host of others) are perpetuating a great evil with their arsenals of software patents. It’s so easy to claim that another company, or group in the case of Linux and free software, violates your software patents while you hide behind your closed source, spreading fear. We, in the world of free software, have nothing to hide. If Microsoft wants to us to believe them, then let them show us their code. As Steve Ballmer told Fortune Magazine, “What’s fair is fair”.
So where, exactly, do I agree with Bill Gates? Right here. In 1991, Bill Gates said,
“If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today’s ideas were invented, and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today.” Mr. Gates worried that “some large company will patent some obvious thing” and use the patent to “take as much of our profits as they want.”
The above is quoted from an Op-Ed piece by Timothy B Lee in the New York Times. So, Mr. Gates, in 2007, you and your company apparently want to drive the industry to a complete standstill. You might want to listen to your earlier self. He was right on this point.