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Microsoft Fighting A Losing Software Battle

If indeed Microsoft's hand-based Surface computing technology reigns in billions of dollars for the technology giant, expect the company to drop its frivolous threat against free software. Microsoft wants open source software developers and the companies operating on products like Linux to figure out which of the alleged 235 patents they infringe on -- and then come to the negotiating table and work out a licensing deal.

Critics accuse the software maker of scare tactics. Indeed, Microsoft was able to scare Novell, which sells companies a subscription package combining Linux, customer support and other free software programs, into a cross-promotional deal and a licensing fee in exchange for not suing.

But this is a fight Microsoft can't win. Free software, which has its own patents, is mounting a countersuit in response. It's also challenging Microsoft to specify which patents they infringe on--which would effectively open up Microsoft's closed software--so they can write around them. The issue also questions the value of software patents, which badly need reevaluation. The U.S. Supreme Court has already made it more difficult to obtain patents; it would certainly find that yesterday's software patents hinder innovation.

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