The honeymoon is over already. Microsoft Corp and Novell Inc said yesterday they’ve ‘agreed to disagree’ on the touchy subject of whether Microsoft has any intellectual property rights over Linux.
Novell boss Ron Hovsepian spoke out to strongly challenge recent statements by Microsoft executives, which he characterized as damaging.
We disagree with the recent statements made by Microsoft on the topic of Linux and patents, he wrote in an open letter to the Linux community. Importantly, our agreement with Microsoft is in no way an acknowledgment that Linux infringes upon any Microsoft intellectual property.
Microsoft issued its own statement yesterday in which it admitted that Novell had not made such an acknowledgment, but added that the two companies have agreed to disagree on whether Linux does in fact infringe on Microsoft’s patents.
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, was the closest Microsoft’s statement came to asserting patent rights on Linux.
The two companies announced on November 2 a deal whereby Microsoft would funnel hundreds of millions of dollars into Novell and resell its SUSE Linux software. In return Novell would pay Microsoft a royalty on its sales of SUSE.
Crucially, the deal also involved pledges not to sue each other’s customers on intellectual property grounds. But it did not involve any IP licensing, and Novell soon said that neither party was asserting patent rights over the other’s software, which was confusing.
That changed late last week, when Microsoft executives started hinting that users of non-SUSE variants of Linux were at risk of infringing Microsoft patents.
Linux comes from the community – the fact that that product uses our patented intellectual property is a problem for our shareholders, chief executive Steve Ballmer said last week.
Along with similar published comments from less-senior Microsoft executives, the situation started to stink of FUD, and was reminiscent of SCO Group’s old claims about Linux infringing its code copyrights, which were generally regarded by Linux developers as vague and baseless.
To be clear, Microsoft has not yet said exactly what pieces of its intellectual property it believes Linux infringes. While that may lead open source advocates to dismiss Microsoft’s words as nothing but FUD, it could also end up pushing some Linux buyers into Novell’s safer, welcoming arms.