Most of the Novell/Microsoft patent deal is now out in the public. With this, the veil has been lifted in part from this controversial patent partnership.
With this unveiling we now know that there is still no proof, other than Microsofts flat unsupported statement, that Linux violates any of Microsofts patents. We also know that it appears, as Novell CEO Ron Hovsepian has said, that Novell never agreed that Linux violated Microsofts patents.
In the agreement, as no less a figure than Richard M. Stallman, the author of the GPL, said not long after the Novell/Microsoft patent deal became public news, “Microsoft has not given Novell a patent license, and thus, section 7 of GPL version 2 does not come into play. Instead, Microsoft offered a patent license that is rather limited to Novells customers alone.”
Stallman also said: “It turns out that perhaps its a good thing that Microsoft did this now, because we discovered that the text we had written for GPL version 3 would not have blocked this, but its not too late and were going to make sure that when GPL version 3 really comes out it will block such deals. We were already concerned about possibilities like this, namely, the possibility that a distributor might receive a patent license which did not explicitly impose limits on downstream recipients but simply failed to protect them.”
The vast majority of people who were concerned with this matter agreed with Stallman. They saw the GPLv3 as blocking any future such partnerships between Microsoft, or other proprietary software companies, and open-source software businesses.
The attorneys of the SFLC (Software Freedom Law Center) would come to see the interaction of the GPLv3 and the Novell/Microsoft patent deal in quite a different light.
Richard Fontana, counsel for the SFLC, revealed this new view when he said, “Now that Microsoft has effectively become a distributor of Linux, by distributing some 50,000 or so Novell SLES coupons, it has perhaps unwittingly restricted its ability to sue Linux users over its patents. While this is particularly clear under the forthcoming Version 3 of the GPL, the Microsoft lawyers who helped craft the MS-Novell deal appear to have overlooked the fact that, by procuring the distribution of lots of free software under GPL Version 2, among other licenses, Microsoft has already lost some of its power to assert patents against subsequent distributors and users of that software.”