Linux owners could be liable to pay a fee to Microsoft, the software giant’s CEO Steve Ballmer has suggested.

Microsoft claims rights to Linux

In a question and answer session during a recent technology conference, Ballmer claimed that Linux uses Microsoft intellectual property – a comment that will spark controversy within Linux communities, who feel that the operating system does no such thing.

Microsoft recently signed a deal for a Novell-owned distribution of the operating system called SUSE Linux, and pledged to improve the interoperability of the two products. The Microsoft CEO is now saying that it signed the deal to “get the appropriate economic return for our shareholders from our innovation” – corroborating the suspicions of many Linux users.

"Novell pays us some money for the right to tell customers that anybody who uses SUSE Linux is appropriately covered," Ballmer told Computerworld, explaining the deal. "This is important to us, because we believe every Linux customer basically has an undisclosed balance sheet liability."

Microsoft paid Novell $440 million for coupons which Microsoft users can redeem against support for SUSE Linux. It also included a $40 million payment from Novell to Microsoft, claimed to be a pledge that Microsoft will not sue its users for patent infringement.

"Customers were afraid they’d get sued if they crossed platforms and this meant that they were hesitating on buying decisions," said Roger Levy, vice-president of open platform solutions at Novell. "As part of the deal Microsoft will agree not to sue our customers and we agreed not to sue their customers. This is not an agreement between companies – we can still sue each other for any number of reasons – but ultimately our respective customers needed peace of mind to make decisions."

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