Now that the “first ever” suit for patent infringement has been lodged against two major Linux distributors, many Microsoft watchers are looking for the smoking gun that will somehow connect Microsoft to the case.

In search of the Microsoft smoking gunI have to say that it’s hard to believe that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s recent railings about the likelihood of someone suing Red Hat for patent infringement were purely coincidental. His timing makes it look like he had knowledge that such a suit was in the pipeline. But so far, at least, there’s no proof that Microsoft was behind this case in any way.

However, there are still some interesting Microsoft connections to the suit, which pits IP Innovation and Technology Licensing Corp. against Red Hat and Novell. The suit claims that IP Innovation has rights to patents covering “a user interface with multiple workspaces for sharing display system objects” (patent no. 5,072,412, issued on December 10, 1991), as well as two other similar patents upon which Red Hat and Novell allegedly infringe.

So where and how does Microsoft enter the picture? As Pamela Jones of Groklaw.Net fame pointed out, IP Innovation LLC is a subsidiary of Acacia Technologies Group Inc. Acacia is “in the business of acquiring, developing, licensing and enforcing patents.” From the Acacia Web site:

“We help patent holders protect their patented inventions from unauthorized use and generate revenue from licensing and, if necessary, enforcing their patents. Our clients are primarily individual inventors and small companies with limited resources to deal with unauthorized users but include some large companies wanting to generate revenues from their patented technologies.”

Is Microsoft an Acacia client? There’s no press release I can find stating that it is. (I’ve asked Microsoft whether it is, but no word back yet.) Ironically, Novell is an Acacia client, (as of August 31) but on the storage side of the business, not the Linux one.

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