Bonum Certa Men Certa

Microsoft: It's an "Intellectual Property" Deal

As the saying goes, there are two sides to every story.

Novell has said, over and over, that their deal with Microsoft is an interoperability deal, with the IP considerations and Patent Covenant being a minor aspect of the deal.

Of course, we know that Microsoft sees the deal much differently, and the companies have agreed to disagree to date over the significance of the deal.

In an interview with Computer News Middle East, Microsoft's Bill Hilf provided more on Microsoft's perspective on the deal:

CNME There have been looming questions for years if Microsoft would file lawsuits over intellectual property contained in Linux. What is Microsoft's motivation with Novell?

Hilf: This is an intellectual-property deal. There will be an overlap at some point between our intellectual property and open source that we have to resolve. We knew that. It was going to happen. It was just a question of when.

We said let's put in place something that allows us to a) establish a process for how we can work with an open-source company on our intellectual property, b) do it in such as way that it can still work within the [GNU] GPL [general public license] and c) how do we do this in a way where we can clearly draw the line between the community developer, the non-commercial open-source community guy writing code and the commercial developer who is using open-source code.

CNME: What is the overlap between what Microsoft does and what the open-source community does?

Hilf: We have the largest software patent portfolio in the world. With open source we needed to have something in place where we knew that if our intellectual property was infringed upon we had a framework in place to resolve that in an effective way. The terms of the agreement that relate specifically to what we call covenants for Novell customers are related to the fact that those customers will be deploying a variety of open source.

We said there is a way we can cover that customer and still have value for our intellectual property. The second part is there is a large class of people in the community who are writing software for free and are not selling it and who may either intentionally or inadvertently step into that footprint of our intellectual property. What we are trying to do is draw the line between people who make money from this and people who don't.

It is a relatively short, but pointed, interview relating almost entirely to Microsoft's open source and intellectual property philosophies, and how the Novell deal relates. Interestingly, the word interoperability never arises, but then again like Mr. Hilf said, it's an intellectual-property deal.

One thing that Microsoft and Novell apparently do agree upon is the exclusion of 'commercial' developers from their patent covenant, here is Novell South Africa country manager Stafford Masie at the recent CITI Forum Q&A:

Let me address 'the only SUSE and why?', I think its because we... because of the SUSE acquisition, the OpenSUSE distribution is within our fold, so we represent that distribution and this agreement with Microsoft, again, wasn't just an openSUSE agreement, that's part of the covenant exception for Linux but that covenant extends... it overarches all of our patent portfolio, so its the proprietary patent portfolios and its the open source innovations, etc so its both areas covered - so lets not make it agreement only for opensuse, it was an interoperability agreement with Microsoft this covenant is in place from a patent protection perspective for our entire range of technologies as far as that interoperability is concerned in Linux, so...

Secondly is, this is not exclusive, this is not an exclusive arrangement with Microsoft and we are encouraging Red Hat, Ubuntu, etc to consider a similar agreement, if it makes sense to them, with Microsoft. We, we are encouraging that, especially from a, y'know, patent perspective...

Not for commercial gain? Yes. Those that are hacking, the participants, we are protecting. People that are making a career out of it, people... this covenant does not protect those people, but everything else that we do protects you. We've got the OIN, we've got indemnification, there are so many other vehicles that have not been nullified by this agreement that you can gain access to.

So, again, make sure that you don't look at it as an only OpenSUSE thing, it is a broader Microsoft-Novell interoperability that addresses SUSE, because SUSE is ours, and those that are doing it for commercial purposes, they're covered by, I believe, the other vehicles we have in place, OK?

So, will Novell claim that Hilf's comments have been taken out of context as well, or will they admit that Microsoft has had a different agenda from the very beginning?

Of course, perhaps Novell truly believes they can handle their agenda, whatever it may be.

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