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GPL to undermine Microsoft's Novell deal?

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Microsoft will apparently nullify its patent protection agreement with Novell, under the terms of the forthcoming GPL 3 license.

That seems to be the conclusion to be drawn from remarks by Software Freedom Law Centre founding director and general counsel to the Free Software Foundation, Eben Moglen, made yesterday during a discussion on the GPL.

According to the comments, reproduced by the Seattle PI, it seems the act of purchasing Novell's SuSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) using certificates that have been distributed by Microsoft will trigger protection for the community from potential prosecution by Microsoft over alleged violations of its IP in Linux and open source.

In other words, Microsoft will be helping undermine its own agreement not to sue customers of Novell, signed last November.

In an added twist, the GPL 3 will feature a clause discouraging other Linux companies from following the example of Novell and entering into protection agreements.

Moglen said: "If you make deals with a party having patents, to pay tribute to that party, in return for protecting some but not all of your customers... you are violating the license, and you must stop distributing altogether."

The comments seem to back up plans outlined by Moglen last November to use GPL 3 to undermine Microsoft's deal with Novell.

Moglen's remarks, made during an OpenLogic web cast on the impact of GPL 3 in the enterprise, follow Microsoft's explosive claims this week that free and open source software violates 235 of its patents. The company is seeking restitution from customers through licensing, according to the original Forbes interview.

Since that article appeared, Microsoft has tried to calm the outcry both over its claims and the resulting concerns that Microsoft will seek legal satisfaction. Bill Hilf, general manager of platform strategy, gave a qualified commitment to IDG that Microsoft has no plans to litigate over claimed use of its IP. However, he did imply a problem exists by saying Microsoft's "preferred" strategy on this subject is to license its IP.

While Hilf claimed Microsoft's strategy on licensing has not changed, and there's complete unity down the line from chief executive Steve Ballmer, the fact remains Hilf and Microsoft's tools teams have been going out of their way to court the open source community for some time now.

Statements by the vesuvian Ballmer and articles such those in Forbes undermine that work, setting Microsoft back in the eyes of community members slowly coming round to accepting the company. ®

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