*VERY* informatiave Q&A between Jeremy Kirk from IDG and Bill Hilf from Microsoft regarding the recent MSFT/Novell deal,
DGNS: It seems like a veiled threat to Red Hat users — there’s only one way to protect yourself legally and that’s by using Suse Linux.
Hilf: There’s no threat. There’s a fundamental premise that we need to have the market understand we have a substantial amount of intellectual property in the operating system space.
IDGNS: Is Microsoft going to approach other open-source vendors?
Hilf: Our door is open to anyone to do a similar deal.
IDGNS: Why do this deal now rather than a few years ago?
Hilf: We started on the general framework for this three years ago. The deal with Novell started about six months ago. There was just a lot of work we needed to do to understand the GPL side of it and not violate the GPL. We don’t actually license patents in this agreement. There is no patent cross-licensing. We are saying we are providing coverage for Novell’s customers from a Microsoft intellectual property perspective. That allows us to work with the GPL because the GPL is very specific about licensing of patents. That took a while to get to that point from a legal framework.
So what’s the bottom line? First, a bit more from the beginning of the interview,
IDGNS: There have been looming questions for years if Microsoft would file lawsuits over intellectual property contained in Linux. What is Microsoft’s motivation with Novell?
Bill Hilf: This is an intellectual-property deal. There will be an overlap at some point between our intellectual property and open source that we have to resolve. We knew that. It was going to happen. It was just a question of when.
We said let’s put in place something that allows us to a) establish a process for how we can work with an open-source company on our intellectual property, b) do it in such as way that it can still work within the [GNU] GPL [general public license] and c) how do we do this in a way where we can clearly draw the line between the community developer, the noncommercial open-source community guy writing code and the commercial developer who is using open-source code. Doing one of those is easy, doing two of them is actually hard but possible. Doing all three is very, very hard because one can contradict the other.
Hilf then later continues with,
We said there is a way we can cover that customer and still have value for our intellectual property. The second part is there is a large class of people in the community who are writing software for free and are not selling it and who may either intentionally or inadvertently step into that footprint of our intellectual property. What we are trying to do is draw the line between people who make money from this and people who don’t. We needed to have the peace of mind both for the customers who are choosing to put this stuff into their environment as well as developers.
So the bottom line,
If you are an open source developer who doesn’t make any money from the software you develop, and that software infringes upon a MSFT patent (and if not mistaken, the same is true of Novell’s patent portfolio) — you won’t get sued.
If it does? There’s an open door policy to strike a similar pact to ensure you can continue moving forward with business as usual.
So here’s the dealio folks,
There has been, and will continue to be *MUCH* wailing and gnashing of teeth over software patents and open source software. In *MANY* cases, rightfully so. But that doesn’t change the fact that they (patents) exist, and before now, there was no clear path to ensure that you wouldn’t get sued (by MSFT and/or Novell) if you infringed upon those patents.
Now there is.
Gnash and wail all you want: This is a *HUGE* deal, folks.
Now go write *GREAT* software! :D