Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The use of patents as a protection racket?

Talking about Novell's Brainshare conference in March in Salt Lake City, Jeff Jedras wrote:

The agreement between Microsoft and Novell announced last November aims to make Novell's SUSE Linux the preferred Linux distribution for Windows networks, and includes technology interchange, joint marketing, and a US$240 million payment to Novell from Microsoft. It also gives Novell customers preferential access to Microsoft's patented technology, which critics warn threatens the integrity of the General Public License (GPL) that governs Linux distribution.

Noting the Novell asserted the agreement was customer-driven, Jedras said: The theme was continued when Novell executive vice-president and chief technology officer Jeff Jaffe shared the stage with Craig Mundie, chief research and strategy officer for Microsoft, for a "fireside chat" to discuss the relationship.

The patent aspect of the agreement was likened to a protection racket. Jedras wrote:

He [Bruce Perens] doesn't have an issue with the technical interoperability, but Perens said the patent portion of the partnership is tantamount to a "protection racket" that breaks moral faith with the spirit of the GPL.

"Here's Novell coming along saying 'We're going to sell you the right to use Bruce's software, which Bruce can't sell himself' – and if you don't get it from them, Microsoft will sue you," said Perens. "It just doesn't sound fair. If this kind of deal continues, people won't want to write this kind of software."

Jedras also said: In a statement, the executive director of the Free Software Foundation, Richard Stallman, said Microsoft patents are being used to give an unfair advantage to Novell, and added such deals "make a mockery" of open source.

One notes that issues in patent reform are a continuum. So-called patent trolls are on one side of Microsoft, but open-source folks are on the other side. To them, Microsoft might look like a troll, or something like a troll in the Novell-Microsoft deal. It's always "my patents and use thereof are good but those of my competitor are not."

Of Perens, see also Comments on OSDL patent pool from David Berlind


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