[lug] Bruce Perens's open letter to Novell

Daniel Webb lists at danielwebb.us
Fri Nov 24 23:06:43 MST 2006

On Fri, Nov 24, 2006 at 08:10:46AM -0700, Ferdinand Schmid wrote:

> Is the text of this agreement available at this time?  I was under the
> impression that Novell used its patent portfolio, which is significant
> in size and includes many old Unix patents as the basis for this
> agreement.  

I'm definitely not an expert on the deal or patent law, I'm mostly relying on
people who are and some common sense in making my conclusions.  My
understanding is that the patent part of the deal was ostenibly because both
companies have something to fear from the other with their patent portfolios.  
However, they can't just make a deal like "I promise not to sue you for patent
infringement if you promise not to sue me" because that would violate the GPL,
meaning Novell could no longer distribute anything under the GPL.  So instead
they did an end-run around the GPL, which to me is very unethical.

Eben Moglen (the FSF's lawyer) is saying they're not going to sue (probably
because they don't have the resources, and possibly because he has concluded
they would lose), but instead will focus on making sure deals like this will
not be possible under GPL v3.  On a personal note, I was on the fence about
whether to use "GPL v2" or "GPL v2 or later" for a large project I'm about to
release, but this has resolved that conflict.  I trust the FSF enough that
it's worth losing a little future control to prevent this sort of scummy
behavior from being rewarded.

> I still don't understand how Novell could claim any ownership or rights to
> GPL software.  

They're not, they're only claiming their own patent portfolio.

> What value would I bring to the table if I signed a contract with you that I
> won't sue you over infringing on Toyota patents?  They are not mine anyway.
> I may be missing some important knowledge here and would appreciate some
> more information.  On the other hand I haven't seen the agreement and don't
> know if Novell made an unethical move by infringing on GPL copyright
> holders.

The only way Novell has the right to copy GPL software is if they agree to the
GPL, so the club the FSF has is copyright law.  Novell is agreeing to the GPL,
but using devious methods to violate it in spirit.  GPL v3 will fix that, and
make it a clear violation.  That's why I'll be using "GPL v2 or later" for my
> Microsoft made it very clear that they are never going to endorse Linux.
> However, if a customer insists on deploying Linux then they will provide
> some interoperability.  This will allow Linux to compete.  Without basic
> interoperability Linux (and its vendors) can't even get a foot in the
> door to show that they can offer a superior product.

I still don't see why Microsoft would make an agreement that they thought
would be good for Linux long-term, considering they consider Linux one of the
top three threats to their entire company.  

More information about the LUG mailing list