Novell distances itself from Microsoft's patent claims

by CBR Staff Writer| 15 May 2007

Novell has distanced itself from Microsoft's claims that Linux and open source software contains 235 of its patents, maintaining that the relationship between the two companies does not include an admission of patent infringement.

The company is one of a number of Linux and open source supporters to have rejected Microsoft's claim of patent infringement, but it it is in delicate position, given that Microsoft's patent claims have got significantly louder following their November interoperability and patent covenant agreement.

While providing numbers is new, the claims that violations exists are not new. In response to similar Microsoft claims back in November, we put out an open letter from our CEO, Ron Hovsepian, that states our position on this issue. That position hasn't changed, Novell said in a statement.

That position was a denial that the agreement between the two companies not to sue each other's customers for patent infringement was an admission that Linux contained Microsoft's intellectual property and was made after Microsoft's CEO, Steve Ballmer, claimed Linux uses our patented intellectual property.

We disagree with the recent statements made by Microsoft on the topic of Linux and patents, wrote Hovsepian at the time. Importantly, our agreement with Microsoft is in no way an acknowledgement that Linux infringes upon any Microsoft intellectual property.

While the agreement between Novell and Microsoft focused on protecting customers from legal claims, the company recently confirmed that its engineers also received sanctioned access to Microsoft's code base in order to develop interoperability without falling foul of Microsoft's IP.

While Novell's response to Microsoft's latest claims was somewhat apologetic, the response from Red Hat, which has repeatedly turned down the offer of a similar arrangement, was distinctly reserved.

Our confidence in our technology and protections for customers remains strong and has not wavered, it stated. Red Hat's Open Source Assurance protections focus on our clients' business continuity as well as indemnification against claims raised by any holder of software patents.

While Red Hat held back from getting involved in the war of words, the Computer & Communications Industry Association did not hold back. This sort of talk is as shocking as it is baseless, and likely based on patents that are questionable at best, said Ed Black, president and CEO of the non-profit organization.

It is unlikely that Microsoft will actually bring patent suits implicating open source. We further believe that recent Supreme Court decisions undermine the viability of dubious software patents. Nevertheless, we are troubled: These latest statements seem to signal a shift away from what we felt was a serious, if minority, effort within Microsoft to be truly open, he added.

Also not mincing his words was Larry Augustin, who serves on the board of no fewer than seven open source software vendors, including SugarCRM, XenSource, and Pentaho, who was particularly riled by Microsoft's refusal to name the patents concerned, in case open source developers begin challenging them.

They're not interested in a fair fight. Like a bully, they refuse to face the Open Source world in a fair fight, instead hinting at willful infringement and making backhanded threats, he wrote on his personal blog. If Microsoft believes that free and open source software violates any of their patents, let them put those patents forward now, in the light of day, where we can all evaluate them on their merits.

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