GPL fix could protect Linux vendors from Microsoft

— 10:25 AM on November 21, 2006

A couple of weeks after Microsoft entered a patent sharing agreement with Novell, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer more or less threatened other Linux vendors with lawsuits if they didn't strike similar deals. Ballmer believes Linux uses Microsoft intellectual property, and that "someone – either Linux vendors or users – [will] eventually have to pay up." Red Hat responded by saying it believed there was no need or basis for a deal with Microsoft, but other Linux vendors might not dismiss the threat so easily. However, Software Freedom Law Center Director Eban Moglen has told Yahoo! News that a simple change to the GNU General Public License, under which most Linux software is distributed, could suffice to protect third parties from potential lawsuits:

[Moglen] and others have started work on updating the license to close the loophole by saying a promise not to sue, such as the one given by Microsoft, would be automatically applicable to everyone. ... That would effectively flip Microsoft's agreement on its head and guarantee that no one would face a suit from Microsoft if anyone were protected.

"A clause like that would not be difficult to get community agreement on these days," Moglen said, adding that a change could be ready in weeks or months.

In related news, Microsoft has published an interesting press release that says Novell and itself have "agreed to disagree on whether certain open source offerings infringe Microsoft patents and whether certain Microsoft offerings infringe Novell patents." The press release says the patent agreement was put in place to benefit customers and that Novell "did not admit or acknowledge any patent problems as part of entering into the patent collaboration agreement."
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