It got little notice at the time, but Richard Stallman, the leader of the FSF (Free Software Foundation), said at the fifth international GPLv3 conference in Tokyo on Nov. 21 that the Novell-Microsoft patent agreement is not in violation of the GPL version 2.
Stallman, the primary author of the GNU General Public License (GPL), said, according to a transcript published by the FSF Europe, “What has happened is, 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.”
Still, Stallman saw a silver lining in this dark cloud. “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.”
Thus, the next draft of the GPLv3 will block the kind of language used in the Novell/Microsoft agreement.
Stallman explained, “Were going to say not just that if you receive the patent license, but if you have arranged any sort of patent licensing that is prejudicial among the downstream recipients, that thats not allowed. That you have to make sure that the downstream recipients fully get the freedoms that theyre supposed to have. The precise words, we havent figured out yet. Thats what Eben Moglen [FSFs general counsel] is working on now.”