As general manager of platform strategy at Microsoft, Bill Hilf oversees the company’s work with open-source vendors and projects. Hilf spoke with the IDG news service following Microsoft’s assertion in a Fortune magazine story last week that Linux and other open-source applications infringe on 235 of its patents.
Q: Did you know beforehand that the company was going to reveal the number of patents that it claims are being infringed? A: We did. [But] the Fortune article does not correctly represent our strategy. That’s what has people so inflamed. It looks like our strategy changed and we’re moving in a new direction, but it hasn’t. Our strategy has always been to license and not litigate as it relates to our intellectual property. So we have no plans to litigate. You can never say we’ll never do anything in the future, but that’s not our strategy.
Q: What happened after the news broke? A: The people in the open-source community that I know well, they contacted me right away. All of the European guys I know called me at 2 a.m.; I told them what I told you. They said, “OK, that’s what I needed to hear.” The other question I got was, to be very honest, “Do you have a different strategy than the company?” — which I didn’t understand at first.
I think [the effects] will be short term. Longer term, it will be fine, and the work [we’re doing with open-source partners] will continue on.
Q: In hindsight, do you think it was a good idea for Microsoft to release the number of patents? A: What we heard back after the Novell deal [last fall] was, “Give us more transparency. You say that there is IP involved; give us an understanding of what that is.” So the [idea] was that if we give a number and category of where these things fall, maybe that will help people get an idea of the scope. We are very much calling out to commercial companies to license this stuff and resolve these issues. This isn’t like a trivial invention. There are a couple hundred significant patents here.