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05.29.10

Novell’s Software Patents and Microsoft Copycats Turn Into Greater Threats to GNU/Linux

Posted in Microsoft, Mono, Novell, Patents at 3:15 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

“Inventive people [at Novell] write more software patents per capita than anywhere else.”

Jeff Jaffe, Novell CTO at the time

Summary: Further analysis of what Novell’s likely sale means when it comes to its patents and what it is currently doing to MeeGo, to which it added a Mono stack

LinuxCon 2010 is almost upon us (Microsoft will be there too). The CEO of OIN will speak about patent trolls in a talk titled “Patents, Probes and Strength in Unity: Participate in Keeping Open Source Open”. From the introduction/abstract of this talk:

Recently significant capital has been invested in patent speculation and for the last eighteen months, Congress has been discussing patent reform. Hedge funds in need of generating quick returns in this challenging market are seeking investments in patent trolls.

Yes, OIN says that hedge funds are looking for patent-trolling opportunities because there are good returns. Novell is being pursued by hedge funds while Apple and Microsoft happen to be investing in the world's largest patent troll too — the same troll who collected the patents of Linux Torvalds’ old employer.

What would happen if Novell got snapped by a hedge fund and its patents then auctioned?

Matt Asay, a former employee of Novell, explains why “Novell auction could be patent troll bonanza”:

This wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the fact that Novell has a treasure trove of patents, with at least 450 patents related to networking, office productivity applications, identity management, and more.

When I worked for Novell, we didn’t worry too much about a lawsuit from Microsoft. After all, Novell had (and, I presume, still has) patents that directly impact Microsoft’s Office business. I could see Microsoft lining up to buy out these patents from a private equity firm, but I could also see a non-practicing entity (aka “patent troll”) buying them to extort money from Microsoft.

Perhaps some would cheer, but they shouldn’t.

After all, Novell also has valuable Unix copyrights (sorry, SCO) which, in turn, affect Linux. Given Novell’s history in the networking market, it almost certainly owns patents that also could have a big impact on defending Linux.

Or attacking it. Depending on who gets those patents.

This same intellectual property motivated Microsoft to pay Novell a $536 million settlement back in 2004. How much would Novell’s intellectual property be worth to a patent troll?

[...]

Let’s hope so. Novell long ago faded from many people’s minds, but it has never been more relevant with its business and, by extension, its intellectual property, available for the highest bidder.

Novell keeps accumulating more and more software patents every month, as we last showed and warned about some days ago. The OIN is being pointless here. OIN loves to talk about “good” software patents, but a good software patent is like a “good” nuclear warhead. You just don’t want any of that stuff around and once you make it, it is hard to get rid of (although it can wind up changing hands and reaching fanatics like trolls).

The post from Asay has attracted some interesting comments (some inane ones too). Novell’s CMO left the following comment twice:

Matt,

I understand your need to editorialize our earnings. To be accurate, our revenue (not earnings), driven by services decline you point out, was down 5.4%. As you have long criticized our Microsoft partnership, I’m sure you took note that our core Linux products – EXCLUDING Microsoft certificates, yielded an impressive 46% invoicing growth in Q2.

John Dragoon

In the latest episode of The Linux Link Tech Show [Ogg], the guys are discussing what would happen if Google bought Novell (it starts around 27min:50sec). Who would possibly want to buy Novell as a whole? The company is so diverse; it’s all over the place, so it happens to compete against almost any company that’s a potential buyer.

“Novell Revenues, Linux Business Slide,” says the headline of this new article, which concurs with our insinuation that Novell will need to sell.

It’s been a tough quarter quarter for Novell (NASDAQ: NOVL) as questions about its future ownership remain on the table. Novell is also facing pricing pressure on its Linux business as renewals come up on Microsoft’s SUSE Linux Enterprise subscriptions.

Novell this week reported its second-quarter fiscal 2010 earnings, showing a decline in revenue, which came in at $204 million for the quarter, a drop from the $216 million it brought in a year earlier. On the positive side, net income hit $20 million or $0.06 per share, which is an improvement over the $16 million or $0.05 per share Novell reported for the second quarter of 2009.

But the slide in revenue continues for Novell, which provided third-quarter revenue guidance for revenues between $205 million and $210 million.

In the mean time — until Novell sells itself to someone else — Mono continues to spread, even in MeeGo. Novell employees put software which Microsoft clearly excluded from the MCP right inside MeeGo (that would be Banshee, which has a vision of connecting with Moonlight). Meeks puts Novell’s Evolution Express in:

Some ramblings about the creation of a new user interface for mail, calendaring etc. specifically for MeeGo; something I’ve been working on, amongst other things, for the last three months.

[...]

Initially for Moblin 2.1 we tried a more invasive re-working of the user-experience: called Anjal. That was not uniformly positive, missing many features (by design), and didn’t have enough time to mature. As such, it was decided by the MeeGo team that we should try a new approach. This would take Evolution, and adapt it’s UI for the netbook screen-size, tweaking all the relevant defaults. We would merge the best features from Anjal, and then build from there. The result is some great MeeGo, netbook goodness, despite being done at high speed over three months.

Meeks and his own software patents were covered here before. Well, at Novell, even British workers apply for US software patents that are not legitimate in Britain.

On the relatively positive side, more software is being created which can replace the Mono intrusion vector known as GNOME Do. Here is a new article which compares Launchy, GNOME Do, and Kupfer.

To many people, application launchers are not really worth much attention. After all, it’s just a box to type in a command, right? Perhaps that used to be it, but these days there are some tiny programs that can make a huge difference in productivity. Not only can you run a command, but you can search for files, search the web, check the weather, even run a mini calculator. Today we’ll compare three of the better known launchers for Linux – Launchy, GNOME Do, and Kupfer. While they all have roughly the same function, each has a different take on how it should be done, and the configuration capabilities vary greatly from one to the next. Here, you’ll see what makes each one unique and hopefully find the one that works best for you.

In summary, Novell is polluting GNU/Linux environments with Microsoft software patents which Microsoft has explicitly excluded from its so-called ‘promise’ (MCP). At the same time, Novell’s own software patents are at risk of being handed over to entities which would use them aggressively, even against UNIX/Linux.

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