Dear Mr Ballmer,
As I am sure you are aware, much has been made of the recent Microsoft – Novell agreement, including numerous public statements by you in which you claim that “Linux is violating your patented intellectual property”. I am the leader of a Free Software Project that produces and sells a Live CD Environment based on Slax GNU/Linux, and am concerned regarding these statements you have made and their impact on my ability to conduct business.
I am requesting that you state, with specificity, the patent numbers, which countries are they valid in, and when do they expire? I would like to review my options, including whether the patents you claim are indeed valid and apropos. Also, what are the license terms that Microsoft is requesting for usage of these patented innovations for an end user? How much for a distributor?
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Or so it was stated in their FAQ on the MS Deal. Of course, as always with any story, there is Mr Ballmer’s take on the deal:
“Novell pays us some money for the right to tell customers that anybody who uses SUSE Linux is appropriately covered,” Ballmer said. This “is important to us, because [otherwise] we believe every Linux customer basically has an undisclosed balance-sheet liability.”
“Only customers that use SUSE have paid properly for intellectual property from Microsoft,” he said. “We are willing to do a deal with Red Hat and other Linux distributors.” The deal with SUSE Linux “is not exclusive,” Ballmer added.
Of course, as usual, no one cuts to the core of the subject better than PJ at Groklaw:
“Let him sue if he thinks he has a valid claim, and we’ll see how well his customers like it.”
Jones also challenged Ballmer to “put his money where his mouth is” and detail exactly what part of the Linux kernel source code allegedly infringes upon Microsoft patents, so that “folks will strip out the code and work around it or prove his patent invalid.”
And so it begins, the gauntlet is down – who draws the first MS lawsuit? Red Hat? Oracle? EDU-Nix? Let us all remember who it is that is complicit in this FUD campaign, Novell’s self-serving deal legitimizes Microsoft’s assault on Linux.
If successful, Microsoft will create a landscape in the Operating System market that consists of themselves and MS-approved ‘competitors’ which pay royalties to MS in perpetuity, all others are sued into oblivion.
Regardless of the technical wording of the deal, and whether it can be established that Novell is violating the letter of the GPL 2, they are certainly violating its spirit, Novell must not be supported.
Update: More in depth on Ballmer’s exact words , including an MP3.
What we were able to craft, with a lot of hard work with Novell, was an agreement essentially where we would do the technical work in a variety of different areas to improve interoperability between the two environments. And we agreed on a, we call it an IP bridge, essentially an arrangement under which they pay us some money for the right to tell the customer that anybody who uses Suse Linux is appropriately covered. There will be no patent issues. They’ve appropriately compensated Microsoft for our intellectual property, which is important to us. In a sense you could say anybody who has got Linux in their data center today sort of has an undisclosed balance sheet liability, because it’s not just Microsoft patents. Because of the way open-source works, there’s nobody who’s been able to do patent coverage or patent indemnification behind that.
So, its an IP Bridge, not a patent cross license agreement, nothing to do with patents all you GPLers, really. Novell paid MS to be able to say that SuSE is not infringing, and MS paid Novell to say that Linux is. The relative sizes of the payments should tell you who had to be convinced.
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