Dell Joins Axis of FUD

eWEEK’s Peter Galli is reporting that Dell has joined the Microsoft-Novell Axis of Patent FUD. Dell already offers Novell’s SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for sale through its Web site, so the deal isn’t a particularly momentous one.

Rather, it seems that the primary focus of the agreement is to provide Microsoft with a new outlet for unloading the SLES certificates it purchased from Novell. Perhaps more importantly, the Dell-Microsoft-Novell agreement opens fresh opportunities for generating foreboding press quotes about Linux’s allegedly perilous intellectual property standing.

Consider this quote from an Associated Press story, in which Microsoft’s claim that businesses are worried about the patent standing of Linux is reported back as if it were fact:

“The concession is meant to address concerns of corporate users who have been reluctant to use Linux because they feared Microsoft might retaliate with patent-infringement claims.”

And then there’s this story from the Boston Globe, in which a single paragraph reports both that “Novell….agreed to compensate Microsoft for Linux software features that Microsoft claims to have patented” and that “Novell officials….denied that the payment constituted an admission that Linux contains illegal portions of Microsoft code.”

Which is it? Did Novell agree to compensate Microsoft for the patents of which SLES runs afoul, or does Novell maintain that its Linux transgresses no such IP? It really doesn’t matter which way you take it–what matters is that the press plant, on Microsoft’s behalf, seeds of doubt regarding Linux’s IP foundation.

Should companies running Linux worry that Microsoft may sue them? I think there’s exactly zero chance of that happening, first, because such a patent war would be extremely bad business for Microsoft, and second, because the Supreme Court’s recent smackdown of the lax tests for obviousness under which many of Microsoft’s spooky patents were granted has probably gone a long way toward neutering these threats.

Finally, consider this. If Dell truly takes seriously Microsoft’s disingenuous patent FUD campaign against Linux, why would Dell open its customers to the threat of litigation by preloading a Linux operating system that falls outside of Microsoft’s protection?

The answer, of course, is that no matter how often the vague patent concerns of nameless customers are paraphrased in news articles, Dell isn’t taking these threats seriously. Neither am I.