Protecting Linux Users from Microsoft Patent Suits

Lora Bentley

The deal that Microsoft struck with Novell late last year seemed like a peace offering at first, but very quickly the staunchest open source advocates were speaking out against patent provisions of the agreement, under which Novell paid for Microsoft's promise not to pursue Novell's customers in patent infringement suits arising out of their use of SuSE Linux.


Esteemed developer Jeremy Allison was so disturbed by the patent pact and what it might mean that he left Novell's employ.


Novell representatives insist their participation in the agreement is not an admission that any part of SuSE Linux violates Microsoft's intellectual property rights, but someone needs to tell Steve Ballmer that. He told a conference audience last November that the whole deal is about IP from Microsoft's point of view, and that Novell had paid Microsoft for the right to use Microsoft's code in SuSE Linux.


And if that wasn't enough, boston.com says today that Novell has made it easier for Microsoft to sue other open source vendors that haven't signed agreements similar to Novell's. Free Software Foundation executive director Peter Brown says those who haven't struck a deal with Microsoft are "somehow under a cloud."


The Free Software Foundation is taking steps to ensure that other vendors aren't penalized by the Microsoft-Novell deal. Under the yet-to-be released GNU GPL v3, the story says, if a company waives its right to sue one distributor of GPL'ed software for IP infringement, that company waives its right to sue any distributor of that GPL'ed software for IP infringement.


Is that possible -- to extend a contract to parties that weren't part of the negotiation process? Something about it seems odd; we'll pursue the question with IP experts and let you know what we find out.

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Feb 28, 2007 9:40 AM P.L.Hayes P.L.Hayes  says:
"Is that possible – to extend a contract to parties that weren’t part of the negotiation process?"I should hope not! Of course GPLV3 doesn't attempt to impose any obligations on any third party patent holder.   Reply
Mar 4, 2007 8:45 PM Nelson Cruz Nelson Cruz  says:
Microsoft would have to release software under GPL v3 in order to be forced to comply with its provitions.There is a danger that Novel's deal can be viewed as recognizing the value and legitimacy of Microsoft's IP for the open source world.Having sucessfully licenced a patent is often an powerfull argument used in court for the validity of that patent. In this case I can certanly invision a MS lawyer arguing in court that if Novell didnt recognize that MS's patents might apply to its products, then why sign a deal that involved infringment immunity. Reply
Mar 22, 2007 3:35 PM usacomputertec usacomputertec  says:
As we can plainly see in Windows Vista Microsoft can't come up with any original ideas of their own after they came up with Apples GUI and sold it out to them outright. So Microsoft sat on it's but and watched the Mac OS Evolve and took note. Then they just copied the new stuff into their OS. A bunch of Linux groups are almost to the point where they can put Microsoft out of business but they give in and pay for protection that they don't need? This is stupid. Don't support Microsoft. No one should. Reply

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