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Feds rubberstamp Novell patent deal

Microsoft group will be watched

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The US government will permit the sale of 882 Novell patents to a Microsoft-led consortium after the group agreed revise its deal.

But although the US Department of Justice (DoJ) is letting the deal proceed, it has warned that it will investigate distribution of Novell's patents to the consortium, known as CPTN Holdings.

Giving the green light on Wednesday, the DoJ expressed its concern that the deal in its original form would have damaged the ability for Linux and other open source software to compete.

The DoJ has the power to block corporate mergers and acquisitions in the US. The sale of Novell's patents to CPTN are part of a deal that will see Novell acquired by Attachmate.

The DoJ said that CPTN's original deal would have "jeopardize[d] the ability of open source software, such as Linux, to continue to innovate and compete in the development and distribution of server, desktop, and mobile operating systems, middleware, and virtualization products."

Last year, news of the patent sale set off alarm alarms in the community over the potential implications for open source and Linux given Novell's status as a Linux distro owner and its involvement in open source. Concern was heightened by the fact that the patents being sold have never been made public and that CPTN's members include not only Microsoft, but EMC, Oracle, and Apple.

Under the terms of the revised patent sale deal, Microsoft has agreed to sell the patents back to Attachmate and to then license them. EMC has said it won't acquire 33 patents relating to virtualization software. There's no word on what Apple or Oracle plan to do.

All the patents will be released under a GPLv2 license, and neither the CPTN nor its members will be allowed take any action or make any statement influencing or encouraging either Novell or Attachmate to modify which of the patents are available under the license.

Details of the revised deal were first published by Open Source Initiative (OSI) president Michael Tiemann, after he was asked for his response by German regulators, who are also examining the terms of the transaction and its potential impact on open source.

Tiemann voiced his concern over continued ownership of the patents by Apple and Oracle in light of the companies separate statements and actions against various open-source projects and Java groups.

The DoJ and German federal regulators cooperated closely on examining the deal, the US department said on Wednesday. ®

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