Novell Reassures Linux Users On Microsoft Patents

Even though Novell recently signed an agreement protecting its SuSE users from Microsoft intellectual property lawsuits, Novell says Linux doesn't violate any Microsoft patents. Microsoft responds that the two companies "agreed to disagree" on that.



Linux vendor Novell says Linux doesn't violate Microsoft patents, even though Novell recently signed an agreement with Microsoft protecting Novell SuSE users against patent lawsuits from Microsoft.

Novell disagrees with an open letter from Microsoft implying Linux infringes on Microsoft intellectual property, said Novell CEO Ron Hovsepian in an open letter to the open source community.

But Microsoft shot back that the two companies "agreed to disagree" on whether some open-source projects infringe on Microsoft patents. Both Microsoft and Novell are committed to their agreement to advance the interoperability of Windows and Linux, Microsoft said.

The two companies made a deal this month that included patent protections, support cooperation, and codevelopment of technology for Windows-Linux interoperability. As part of the agreement, Microsoft promised not to sue Novell for patent infringement stemming from code currently in Novell's SuSE Linux, or future technology codeveloped by the companies. At the same time, Microsoft got the same patent protections from Novell.

The implication that Microsoft code could be in Linux set off a frenzy within the open-source community, with developers demanding that Microsoft show the infringing code. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer fanned the flames further last week when he said, "Anybody who's got Linux in their data center today sort of has an undisclosed balance sheet liability." The remarks were made to the Professional Association for SQL Server in a discussion posted on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's site.

Hovsepian distanced Novell from Microsoft and Ballmer, saying, "We disagree with the recent statements made by Microsoft on the topic of Linux and patents," in his letter.



"Importantly, our agreement with Microsoft is in no way an acknowledgment that Linux infringes upon any Microsoft intellectual property," Hovsepian said. "When we entered the patent cooperation agreement with Microsoft, Novell did not agree or admit that Linux or any other Novell offering violates Microsoft patents."

Indeed, the Microsoft-Novell deal indicated Microsoft had more to gain than Novell. Microsoft made an upfront payment of $108 million for patent protections, while Novell agreed to pay at least $40 million over five years.

Microsoft said in its statement, "Microsoft and Novell have agreed to disagree on whether certain open-source offerings infringe Microsoft patents and whether certain Microsoft offerings infringe Novell patents."

"The agreement between our two companies puts in place a workable solution for customers for these issues, without requiring an agreement between our two companies on infringement," the software maker said.

Microsoft went on to say that Novell didn't admit or acknowledge any patent problems in entering the agreement, but that Microsoft determined on its own that patent protection should be extended to customers of the products covered in the agreement.

"At Microsoft, we undertook our own analysis of our patent portfolio and concluded that it was necessary and important to create a patent covenant for customers of these products," the company said.

Hovsepian said a key motivation for the Microsoft deal was to satisfy customers calling for interoperability between Linux and Windows, an argument made during the initial announcement on Nov. 2.

"Our interest in signing this agreement was to secure interoperability and joint sales agreements, but Microsoft asked that we cooperate on patents as well, and so a patent cooperation agreement was included as a part of the deal," Hovsepian said.

In closing, the chief executive said Novell remained committed to "protecting, preserving, and promoting freedom for free and open-source software," and welcomed the development community's input in how to meet those goals.

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