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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

Open source database vendors MySQL AB and Progress Software Corp's NuSphere Corp business have settled their differences over a contract dispute that very nearly became a legal test case for the open source GNU General Public License (GPL).

Uppsala, Sweden-based MySQL AB and Bedford, Massachusetts-based NuSphere have buried the hatchet after being urged to reach an out-of-court settlement in their contract dispute by Boston, Massachusetts US District Court Judge Patti Saris back in March. A joint statement from the two companies stated that they had settled their dispute regarding the use of MySQL AB's trademarks, copyrights and compliance with the GPL.

Details of the settlement have not been given, although it appears that NuSphere has agreed to sign over to MySQL AB the copyrights for its contributions to the MySQL database management system, while MySQL AB has issued a letter verifying that NuSphere is compliant with the GPL.

According to the two companies: "The settlement resolves all outstanding issues between the two companies including ownership and use of trademarks and domain names and assignment to MySQL AB of copyrights for all NuSphere contributions to the MySQL program, and MySQL AB has issued a letter to NuSphere Corporation verifying GPL compliance."

The legal spat between the two former partners originates from a June 2000 agreement through which NuSphere licensed the right to distribute and support the MySQL database and agreed to make payments of "up to $2.5m" to MySQL AB. The deal also marked the first release of MySQL under the GPL.

NuSphere angered MySQL AB when it set up the mysql.org community web site and MySQL AB sued NuSphere for trademark infringement and further claimed it had only received just over $312,000 from NuSphere. It also asserted that NuSphere had infringed the GPL by not releasing its Gemini transactional storage engine addition to MySQL under the GPL.

NuSphere denied the allegation, arguing that it had released the Gemini technology under the GPL, even though it was not required to do so as Gemini is not actually a derivative of the MySQL program. It also argued that payments in addition to the $312,000 were subject to further agreements being made between the two companies.

The contract wrangling almost became a legal test case for the GPL - which, while widely recognized as a binding agreement between developers, has yet to be tested in a court of law - when the Free Software Foundation (FSF) released a statement that NuSphere had lost the right to distribute MySQL due to an infringement of the GPL.

Judge Saris effectively scotched the possibility of a legal test case when she refused to allow arguments to expand beyond the trademark dispute. Saris indicated that she was inclined to grant MySQL AB's motion for a preliminary injunction with respect to the trademark issue, but was not inclined to grant the preliminary injunction against NuSphere from using the MySQL code.

Although no motion was formally granted, Judge Saris urged both parties to come to an out-of-court settlement. With that settlement now in place it appears that the FSF will have to wait until another legal dispute to finally put doubts over the legal validity of the GPL to rest.

© ComputerWire

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