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You are here: Home Blogs Licensing Good news about the Novell/CPTN deal

Good news about the Novell/CPTN deal

by Brett Smith Contributions Published on Apr 22, 2011 10:54 AM
Earlier this week the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and German Federal Cartel Office (FCO) announced a joint decision regarding Novell's proposal to sell 882 patents to CPTN Holdings, newly formed by Microsoft, Apple, Oracle, and EMC. The authorities ultimately approved the sale, but with conditions that prevent the companies from using the patents to attack free software.

When this deal was announced, the Open Source Initiative (OSI) and Free Software Foundation sent a joint position statement to the Department of Justice. It argued that CPTN would likely use these patents to attack free, libre, and open source software (FLOSS), stunting its adoption and development. All of the companies behind CPTN face competition from FLOSS, and most of them have used patents to attack free software projects in the past. It's only reasonable to expect that they would do the same with patents they acquired from a large free software distributor. OSI and the Free Software Foundation Europe worked together to also make that case to the FCO.

The conditions that the DOJ and FCO jointly imposed on the deal make it clear that they took those concerns seriously. Highlights include:

  • Microsoft must sell the patents it acquires to Attachmate, the company that's buying the rest of Novell's assets. Microsoft will only receive a license to use those patents.

  • EMC is not allowed to acquire 33 patents related to virtualization software.

  • Many of the patents being sold are currently licensed to others through the Open Invention Network (OIN). CPTN is not allowed to withdraw these patents from that license.

  • CPTN will acquire Novell's patents "subject to the GNU General Public License, Version 2" and the OIN license. Unfortunately, this part's not as clear as we'd like, and we're waiting to hear more details about what this means.

These conditions will effectively mitigate the threat of patent attacks that we were concerned about. It's remarkable that two governments have demonstrated that it's not just appropriate, but desirable for them to protect free software through business regulations. We appreciate their attention and support on this issue.

We do need to remember that these conditions won't completely eliminate the risk of Novell's patents being used to attack free software. It's still as true as ever that the only way to end the problems of software patents is to abolish them completely. Our End Software Patents campaign continues to work toward that end.

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