Microsoft and Novell

Like most my initial reaction to the Microsoft/Novell deal was to wonder what it actually meant, and if could cause increased risk to the rest of the community. After reading various comments I have instead started to wonder if this deal is worth the paper isn’t written on in terms of the patent deals. Novell and Microsoft have tried to work around the GPL by signing a covenant not to sue over software patents instead of ‘licensing’ the patents in question. But if Microsoft use this deal indirectly as an excuse to sue Red Hat or Canonical I think Novell might find itself in hot water with GPL copyright holders, who probably will start taking them to court for violating section 7 of the GPL. So maybe Novell’s customer got peace of mind from MS patent lawsuits, but on the other hand I don’t think they feel the risk having their rights under the GPL nullified will be any less stress causing.

On ther other hand I would think Microsoft sees this risk and knows that taking down both Red Hat and Novell in one swoop would land them in deep water with anti-trust authorities again, so in essence this deal might mean nada.

On the other hand Novell might have handed Microsoft the best FUD tool since the SCO case. Time will tell.

9 thoughts on “Microsoft and Novell

  1. Christian, where section 7 in GPL says that? Be more specific, because I read it and there is nothing like this said there.

    It would be that if IBM has released GPL software, or contributed to it, it would have obligation to make patents royality free?

  2. Take a look to the preamble too

    “Finally, any free program is threatened constantly by software patents. We wish to avoid the danger that redistributors of a free program will individually obtain patent licenses, in effect making the program proprietary. To prevent this, we have made it clear that any patent must be licensed for everyone’s free use or not licensed at all.”

    Section 7:
    “7. If, as a consequence of a court judgment or allegation of patent infringement or for any other reason (not limited to patent issues), conditions are imposed on you (whether by court order, agreement or otherwise) that contradict the conditions of this License, they do not excuse you from the conditions of this License. If you cannot distribute so as to satisfy simultaneously your obligations under this License and any other pertinent obligations, then as a consequence you may not distribute the Program at all. For example, if a patent license would not permit royalty-free redistribution of the Program by all those who receive copies directly or indirectly through you, then the only way you could satisfy both it and this License would be to refrain entirely from distribution of the Program.”

  3. Juanjo Marin:…and therefore they didn’t license any patents, but agreed not to attack each other with patents.

    It is so hard to understand? :) I rarely doubt that Novell don’t have lawyers who would not dig GPL.

    Yes, community doesn’t like it. But Novell is a CORPORATION. What it cares is about money. Maybe it was never clear to us?

    I don’t doubt that Novell will have some serious issues with all that, but let’s not try to decry their decision, which is not clearly foolish one, but rather pragmatical.

    Maybe we just afraid of doing such pragmatical judgments ourselves.

  4. “But if Microsoft use this deal indirectly as an excuse to sue Red Hat or Canonical I think Novell might find itself in hot water with GPL copyright holders, who probably will start taking them to court for violating section 7 of the GPL.”

    I’m sure that the idea of a bunch of disconnected open source developers suing Microsoft really scares them -_- . Anyway, I doubt Microsoft would ever sue one of its linux competitors, like RedHat. Microsoft would have the most to lose doing this because it is hard to see what it could sue over. It’s made not a single legal complaint about linux has it? If you sit there for years not really complaining (just competing :) ), no one (even a technophobic judge) is going to believe you when you do start actually complaining. Also patent infringement lawsuits, if strung out by the defendant into a trial, would surely be by jury. A jury sympathetic to Microsoft: is that remotely likely?

    I don’t think this is sowing doubt about the legality of using linux without risking patent infringement lawsuits. That would be a happy side effect for Microsoft. But I don’t think it believes companies or customers using linux are that naive.

    Compared to what it once was, Novell is now a starving company. Microsoft offered a plum, and Novell took it. I really think this is about positive spin and future technology (not present tech). And not threats. It’s positive marketing both microsoft and novell can sell to their customers (eg “were going to offer you virtualization tools that will allow you to run linux and windows seamlessly”, “Don’t worry now about buying Vista or Linux. You can buy either now, and change your mind later and use our tools”). Presumably, to do these things better and differently than other GPL programs, microsoft and novell may need to share some patent-encumbered technology. That new technology is not likely to be imbued into GPL programs. There would be obvious problems if it were.

  5. I agree that this agreement means nothing, really. It will only have consequences for Novell. I guess they were in a difficult situation and with this move they just try to survive. They made their choice to go for corporate customers who care nothing about open source, dropping the open source community. So now Novell is dead and buried for the Open Source community, that’s all. I wonder how this will affect openSuSE, but I guess it will disappear soon.

    Red Hat can perfectly ignore this agreement. It means nothing to them.

  6. Eben Moglen of the FSF says about the possible GPL issues: “If you make an agreement which requires you to pay a royalty to anybody for the right to distribute GPL software, you may not distribute it under the GPL”


    Bruce Perens has more issues about it: “One of the questions yet to be settled is whether Novell will violate the GPL, the license of the Linux kernel and other important software, by offering patent protection that is exclusive to Novell customers. The press release pretty much stated that.
    Novell has clearly accepted that license. But it appears that they are now out to make patent protection a business differentiator.”

    For me it’s difficult to understand :)

  7. Juanjo Marin: “may” and “could” are not definite terms. Of course, Eben doesn`t like this case, because Novell lawyers could have worked around this restriction.

    And as mentioning SCO – for Christ sakes, it is not in the same league at all. SOFTWARE patents who have been over free software have been there FOR YEARS. All we had was very big illusion that no one will try to hit with them until we will be powerful enough to defect such attack.

    Ohh surprise, enemy was clever than we thought.

    Wake up, it is harsh reality of software patents. Don’t like it? – Get rid of it!

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