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Microsoft Bound By GPLv3 According to the Free Software Foundation

by Mark Figley on Aug 28, 2007 |
In the latest round of back and forth jabs between Microsoft and the Open Source community, the Free Software Foundation is now claiming that Microsoft's arrangement with Novell obligates the company to comply with GPLv3. As discussed in an Information Week article, a critical part of the discussion is GPLv3's new provisions around patent infringement:

The FSF published the General Public License, version 3, in June. Among other things, it states that companies that distribute open-source software licensed under GPLv3 cannot extend patent protection to some users of the software and not others, regardless of how or from whom the user received it.

Microsoft, which claims that Linux and other open source software programs violate its intellectual property rights, has pledged not to sue customers of open source distributors with which it has formal agreements. Those distributors include Novell and Xandros.

On Tuesday, however, the FSF said that Microsoft's deal to resell Novell's open source software stack makes it a party to the GPLv3. As a result, the patent protection Microsoft has promised to Novell customers automatically extends to all open source users, the FSF claimed.

As can be expected, Microsoft is not planning to throw up it's hands and shrug. From the same article:

In July, Microsoft said it would exclude software covered by GPLv3 from its alliance with Novell. The company has also said it believes that the anti-lawsuit provisions in GPLv3 have no legal standing.

But it looks like the FSF is looking to continue to apply pressure for Microsoft to back off it's threats of patent infringement lawsuits, or (and perhaps more likely) destroy the Novell agreement all together, stating:

If any user receives a discriminatory patent promise from Microsoft as a result of purchasing a copy of a GPLv3 program from a Microsoft fulfillment agent, Microsoft would be bound by GPLv3 to extend that promise of safety to all downstream users of that software

It also stated that it will "ensure" that Microsoft "respects our copyrights and complies with our licenses."

In related news, SCO was dealt a crushing blow this month when a judge ruled that Novell, not SCO, owns the UNIX copyrights, causing SCO's stock to drop 70% in a single day. Largely because of the patent infringement lawsuit threat started by SCO and continued by Microsoft, large organizations have had to pursue patent infringement lawsuit protection for their open source exposure, which in turn has slowed the adoption of open source in the enterprise. These new developments may help balance those fears and help open source within risk adverse environments.

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