How influencial is the Microsoft Corporation
with the U.S. and other governments?
In the U.S., "the software giant has showered millions of dollars on politicians of both major parties... Overall, Microsoft and its employees were the country's fifth-largest political donor in the 2000 election -- contributing $4.7 million to politicians and their committees. Republicans received about 53 percent of that money... Microsoft didn't always seek support in Washington. For years, the software giant prided itself on steering clear of national politics and lobbying. But when their legal troubles started, that attitude quickly changed." (Wildermuth, John. "Will Political Donations Keep Microsoft Intact?." San Francisco Chronicle
1 July 2001)
Money isn't Microsoft's only method of influence in government. They also keep a set of friends in very influential positions. Ed Gillespie, head of the Republican National Committee, is a former Microsoft lobbyist. Microsoft paid $1.2 million between 2001 and 2003 to his lobbying firm, Quinn Gillespie & Associates. Phil Bond, the Undersecretary of Commerce for Technology, was formerly top aide to the U.S. Representative for the district including Redmond, Washington. Bond's top aide at Commerce, Connie Correll Partoyan, was formerly an executive vice president of a Microsoft trade association. She's now a lobbyist at Bill Gates Sr. law firm, Preston, Gates, Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds. Richard Wallis, chairman of the American Bar Association's antitrust section, was formerly Microsoft's associate general counsel. The list goes on and on. (Worthen, Ben. "Friends in High Places." CIO Magazine
15 Sept 2004)
How successful is Microsoft's influence on U.S. politics and law? They wouldn't invest so much money and resources if it didn't pay off. So far it's been a good investment by some measures. They've been able to prevent bills from coming up for votes in state legislatures such as Oklahoma. State bills promoting the use of [open source] software in Oregon and Texas have been quashed. They keep a small staff in Washington, D.C., including four lobbyists dedicated to Congress. No bills go to the floor in Congress without Microsoft lobbyists having a say in the matter. And of course they received a very favorable settlement with the Department of Justice just a few years after they began giving significant financial contributions to the Republican party and George W. Bush was elected President.
Blocking Open Source From Intellectual Property Discussions
In 2003 the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) was organizing a meeting on the significance of [open source] software. The meeting was suggested by 60 technologists, economists, and academics from around the world. Many nations, especially those with much smaller economies, could potentially benefit from the less restrictive copyright and opposing views on patents.
Lobbyists from Microsoft funded trade groups, including their [Business Software Alliance], encouraged officials at the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to prevent the meeting from taking place. "Lois Boland, director of international relations for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, said that open-source software runs counter to the mission of WIPO, which is to promote intellectual-property rights." (Krim, Jonathan. "The quiet war over open-source." The Washington Post
21 Aug 2003)
As Lawrence Lessig rightly counters, "open-source software is based in intellectual-property rights. It can’t exist (and free software can’t have its effect) without it. Second, the goal of WIPO, and the goal of any government, should be to promote the right balance
of intellectual-property rights, not simply to promote intellectual property rights." The lobbying of Microsoft along with the ignorance of some members of the U.S. government ended an important discussion. The result is a negative impact on Microsoft's competition.
Affecting the United Nations
"A number of software industry executives and technologists contend that Microsoft has been vigorously moving behind the scenes to undercut support for a set of standards for business-to-business electronic transactions that were jointly developed by the United Nations and an industry-backed group." (Markoff, John and Schenker, Jennifer L. "Microsoft travel subsidies for UN group under fire." The New York Times
23 Feb 2004) Instead of supporting the open ebXML [standard], Microsoft hired two members of the committee involved and a few months later introduced new software for an alternative. They then paid the travel expenses of UN committee members for what may have been a trip to promote this alternative.
European Union Law
"Olga Zrihen of Belgium and the Virtueller Ortsverein party of Germany said in a written statement... that they believe Microsoft is utilizing unfair political and monetary influence in its continued 'sponsorship' of the Irish EU presidency. The inference is that Microsoft, which is in favor of strong patent laws, has unfairly influenced the Irish diplomats into rewriting the law." (Preimesberger, Chris. "Anti-Microsoft protest planned for EP session May 17." Newsforge
14 May 2004)
According to the Danish newspaper Børsen, Bill Gates threatened to kill 800 Danish jobs if Denmark opposed the European Union's software patent directive
. The directive would legalize such intellectual property control
. The threats were made to 3 government officials in November of 2004. "Denmark is a country with only 5 million inhabitants and a relatively small high-tech sector to which the loss of 800 jobs would have significant implications."
"It's utterly despicable to use the basis of people's livelihood for a disgusting threat", said Florian Mueller of the NoSoftwarePatents.com campaign. "The country in which you develop a technology has nothing to do with where you can take out patents. If they move jobs to Asia, they won't get a single additional patent, neither in Asia nor in Europe. If you warn politicians of consequences that are directly related to a legislative issue, that's acceptable. If you threaten with causing damage that has no factual connection whatsoever, then it's blackmail. Plain and simple."
The decision to allow software [patents] is obviously very important for companies such as Microsoft who wish to retain very tight control over who can write competing software. Nothing exemplifies arrogance or desperation more than blackmail.