Novell to Use Its Patents to Protect Open-Source Programs

Novell hopes the move gives customers assurance that they can choose open-source solutions with confidence.

On Tuesday, Novell Inc. announced that it will use its patent portfolio to protect its open-source software offerings.

In a policy statement, Novell said it will utilize its patent portfolio to defend against potential intellectual property attacks on its open-source products.

Software patent issues have increasingly become significant in both open- and closed-source programming circles. In Linux, Open Source Risk Management, a provider of open-source consulting and risk mitigation insurance, said in early August that there were 283 issued, but not yet court-validated, software patents that could conceivably be used in patent claims against Linux.

Such patent concerns are not contained to open-source software. Disputes over proposed Microsoft Corp. patents concerning Sender-ID led to the demise of the anti-spam MARID (MTA Authorization Records in DNS) working group in September. And Sun Microsystems Inc. recently paid Eastman Kodak Co. $92 million to settle its violations in Java of Kodaks patents.

Legal experts agree that the patent system is getting in the way of the software business.

To answer such concerns, Novell wants to assure customers that they can choose open-source solutions with confidence.

"Because of its disruptive nature, open source threatens entrenched interests, some of whom are fighting back with vague accusations of intellectual property risks in open source technologies, Novell today is taking an active stand in defense of the software we offer—both proprietary and open source—by stating our willingness to use our own patent portfolio to help our customers," said Jack Messman, chairman and CEO of Novell, in a statement.

"We urge other vendors with relevant patents to make the same commitment," Messman added.

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read about what Senior Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols finds wrong with todays software patents.

"The intellectual property risks associated with open source software are really no different than those with proprietary software," added Joseph LaSala, Jr., general counsel of Novell, in a statement.

"We believe that customers should be free to make purchasing decisions based on factors such as price, value, security and service, not based on threats of intellectual property litigation," said LaSala.

"Our approach is to protect customer choice, not threaten it, and support the innovation inherent in the open-source model," Messman concluded.

"With this policy, were saying well use our patents to actively protect Novells open-source technologies against any third party asserting its patents. We will use our patents for the original purpose patents were established—to encourage innovation—not to shut down options for customers. We hope our leadership in this arena will lead other patent holders to take a similar stance."

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