04.10.11

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Novell’s Patents Will Harm GNU/Linux, Proving That Everyone’s Software Patents Are Bad

Posted in Microsoft, Novell, OIN, Patents at 1:35 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Wakeup call for OSI, ISO, and OIN

Fallout shelter

Summary: The Microsoft-bent proprietary software company, Novell, is becoming a huge liability, helping to prove that so-called ‘defensive’ patents in the hands of Red Hat or Google are not acceptable, either; Nokia too is becoming a patent problem after Microsoft’s intervention

“Boycott Novell” was right about Novell. Those who disagree would probably scramble to find supportive evidence/reasons. There is an ongoing debate about whether or not defending one’s patents can constitute being against software patents as a whole. As we noted the other day, Novell is now providing Microsoft with yet more ammunition with which to attack Linux, and this time it’s about patent sales. Novell ceased to be the reformed company it once claimed to be. It also turns Free/libre software into proprietary software, which is all it seems to be doing these days/this week [1, 2, 3].

Those who defend “defensive” patents (like Red Hat’s and maybe Google soon) ought to remember that Novell too used to pretend that its patents — including newly-filed-for software patents — were intended to “protect” the open source community (e.g. via OIN). Well, it turns out to be the very opposite of the truth because according to Microsoft booster Gavin Clarke, Microsoft is likely to get Novell’s patents very soon. It’s not just Microsoft actually; Novell patents will land at the hands of several who are Linux-hostile, including:

While it is not known what particular patents Apple and Oracle are getting, Tiemann based his fears on the companies’ recent actions and statements.

Oracle, for instance, has sued Google, claiming that Android violates its Java patents. “Oracle’s prior actions suggest that Oracle may be planning to create a dominant position in Mobile at Google’s expense,” Tiemann said.

Meanwhile, Steve Jobs has threatened to “go after” Ogg Theora and other open source video codecs. “It seems plausible that Apple’s most credible competitor in the mobile market, Android, would be vulnerable to challenge by the patents involved in the CPTN-transaction,” Tiemann said.

Tiemann’s statement was a response to a disclosure from Germany’s Federal Cartel Office (FCO) that Microsoft and EMC have made additional statements about what they intend to do with the patents. Microsoft plans to return the patents its buys from Novell back to Attachmate, Novell’s new owner, and merely license the portfolio. EMC says that its share of the patents will not relate to virtualization. EMC owns VMware.

More at The H:

A consortium made up of Apple, EMC, Microsoft and Oracle which planned to purchase 882 Novell patents, following Novell’s takeover by Attachmate, has altered its strategy in order to defuse anti-trust concerns. According to the Open Source Initiative (OSI), the consortium will only exist for a further three months with the aim of dividing the Novell patents up between its members. All four members will be granted licenses for all of the patents. Microsoft is reported to have undertaken to sell its patents back to Attachmate and retain only the right to use the technologies protected by the patents. Similarly, VMware parent EMC is reported to have agreed not to acquire any of the patents relating to virtualisation.

Here is the original message from the OSI (Red Hat’s staff included):

Towards the end of March, we received a message from the German Bundeskartellamt (Federal Cartel Office or FCO) advising us that the CPTN transaction had been re-notified to them. That means that the consortium seeking to acquire Novell’s patent portfolio – Microsoft, Apple, EMC and Oracle – had once again asked for permission to proceed.

OSI Concerns Heeded

Notably, the terms of the transaction seem to have been significantly changed, apparently in response to concerns like the ones OSI expressed at the start of the year. OSI is very pleased that the FCO has been clear about the transaction with CPTN and congratulates them on continuing to consider the overall health of the evolving software market and not just the concerns of the existing dominant players.

Here is a non-expert summary of the differences (summarised with permission from the FCO):

* CPTN will now only exist for long enough to distribute the shares equally among the participants in the transaction (no more than three months), and thus will not form a new long-term patent troll itself.
* All parties to the transaction will retain a license to the full Novell patent portfolio, thus immunising themselves from patent actions with the shares they do not hold.
* Microsoft will sell its 25% share of the patents on to Attachmate and retain only a license to the portfolio.
* EMC will ensure that the 31 patents it has determined relate to virtualisation are not among the 25% share it acquires.
* All patents will still be subject to all existing licenses, covenants not to sue and similar restrictions.

OSI Still Concerned

The FCO went on to ask OSI for its views on the revised transaction.

Microsoft boosters like Microsoft Florian are already playing along with the CPTN, breeding fear of legitimising this anti-competitive and Linux-hostile move. Microsoft is trying to use patent portfolios to ensure it gets paid no matter whose products are sold and the situation is made worse as Microsoft is likely to use its Elop-run Nokia as a litigation machine (led by Elop after Microsoft gave him some blessings, sent him to Nokia, and made him richer with Microsoft stockpiles). See the article “Patent Lawsuits Are Key Battleground for Nokia”:

Nokia’s recent legal actions against Apple underline how patent infringement lawsuits have become a key competitive strategy for mobile phone makers, especially as software escalates in importance in the smartphone market.

To twist Steve Ballmer’s words, “Microsoft is a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches.” This includes Nokia and Novell. Their patents end up in hostile hands, just like Sun’s.

Patents are the nuclear option. The difference is, patents cannot be converted into energy (well, unless the papers are put in the fireplace).

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A Single Comment

  1. twitter said,

    April 10, 2011 at 2:42 am

    Gravatar

    PJ has an excellent write up on this issue. She notes that the OSI objects to this deal because all of the parties are essentially Microsoft proxies and hostile to free software, Microsoft’s main competition. She quotes their solution as well,

    no matter who ends up with what patents, with so many thousands of applications and so many billions of lines of open source software, any of these once-friendly patents can be used to weaken the competitive challenge that open source software offers … The fact that we cannot know who will be the first aggressor should not be a reason to permit the transaction to go through as currently constructed. … The solution with respect to the open source community is for CPTN to grant, in addition to its four members, a fully-paid, royalty-free, world-wide license for all patents when practiced by software covered by an open source license.

    Who could object to that? Microsoft Florian and MoG, of course. If all the interested parties are worried about is “defense” they should be happy ot grant free use terms unless sued. Apprently, that’s not what Microsoft is after.

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