Novell Inc has vowed to use its patent portfolio to protect open source products against third-party patent challenges and has voiced its opposition to the proposed changes to the European Union Software Directive.
The Waltham, Massachusetts-based Linux and identity management software vendor has released a policy statement saying that it will use its patent portfolio to protect itself against claims made against the Linux kernel or open source programs included in Novell’s offerings, as dictated by the actions of others.
In a statement, Jack Messman, chairman and CEO of Novell, added: Because of its disruptive nature, open source threatens entrenched interests, some of whom are fighting back with vague accusations of intellectual property risks in open source technologies. Novell today is taking an active stand in defense of the software we offer, both proprietary and open source, by stating our willingness to use our own patent portfolio to help our customers. We urge other vendors with relevant patents to make the same commitment.
The company separately stated that it believes proposed changes to the EU Software Directive that would ease restrictions on software patents are unnecessary. We believe that the current system in the European Union has served the industry, the individual member states and Novell well, and generally promotes innovation and competition in the industry. Accordingly, Novell does not see the need for the proposed changes to the current system, it said.
The proposed changes to the EU Software Directive are currently the subject of fierce debate between the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers and have been attacked by members of the open source community as potentially leaving the continent open to widespread software patenting.
The European Parliament, which has attempted to retain restrictions on software patents in the directive, is not expected to officially start work on its response to the Council of Members’ position until the end of the year, but in the meantime Novell’s position on protecting open source projects from patent litigation is clear.
In the event of a patent claim against a Novell open source product, Novell would respond using the same measures generally used to defend proprietary software products accused of patent infringement, its policy statement continued. Some software vendors will attempt to counter the competitive threat of Linux by making arguments about the risk of violating patents. Vendors that assert patents against customers and competitors such as Novell do so at their own peril and with the certainty of provoking a response.
In August a group called Open Source Risk Management (OSRM) claimed to have identified 287 patents that could cover technologies in the Linux kernel, including 27 Microsoft Corp patents and 98 patents owned by so-called Linux-friendly companies.
That prompted arguably the biggest patent holder on the planet, IBM Corp, to verbally state that it would not assert patents covering technologies inside the Linux kernel unless we are forced to defend ourselves, according to IBM senior vice president of technology and manufacturing Nick Donofrio.
That statement received short shrift from open source commentator and campaigner Bruce Perens, who said a written commitment from IBM would provide greater security for the open source community.
Having provided such a written statement, Novell was quick to point out that it does not believe there is an inherent risk of patent infringement in open source products. In reality, open source software poses no greater risk of patent infringement than does closed source software, its statement continued. Novell has previously used its ownership of Unix copyrights and patents to protect customers against similar threats to open source software made by others.