Open-source rivals isolate Novell

Novell is becoming increasingly isolated as its open-source rivals speak out to distance themselves from the pact it made with Microsoft.

Open-source rivals isolate Novell

In an open letter, the company’s CEO Ron Hovsepian outlined Novell’s insistence that the patent covenant between it and Microsoft was in no way an admission that Linux infringes Microsoft’s IP, and pointed out its continuing efforts in the open-source community.

Hovsepian said that its help in founding the Open Innovation Network (OIN), a body tasked with acquiring patents for the good for the open-source community was a case in point.

However, the OIN has reacted with a statement of its own saying that while technical collaboration on interoperability is to be welcomed, patent covenants are unnecessary. ‘Through the accumulation of patents that may be used to shield the Linux environment, including users of Linux software, OIN has obviated the need for offers of protection from others,’ said Jerry Rosenthal, CEO at OIN, in a statement.

Red Hat’s Deputy General Counsel Mark Webbink also picked apart the Hovsepian’s attempts to justify Novell’s position, alluding to it as ‘appeasement’ and a ‘sacrifice of principles’.

Webbink described Novell’s stance on software patents and the interest of the open-source community as weak, self-interested, and narrow. ‘Novell wants us to believe their position on open source and patents hasn’t changed. I’m having a hard time buying that argument,’ he writes.

IBM’s Scott Handy, VP of Worldwide Linux and Open Source, told Linux-Watch that he too takes the same line as the OIN. ‘We have never seen any need for patent protection for Linux, and we don’t see any need for it now. If legal claims exist, they should be resolved between vendors and not involve end-user customers.’

Even Novell is trying to distance itself from the patent aspect of the deal. ‘Our interest in signing this agreement was to secure interoperability and joint sales agreements, but Microsoft asked that we cooperate on patents as well, and so a patent cooperation agreement was included as a part of the deal,’ wrote Novell’s Hovsepian in the open letter.

Sun, has been more sympathetic. ‘The arrangement points out a duality faced by most software companies: choosing between protecting the open source community, while exposing customers to IP risk; or isolating customers via proprietary software or IP arrangements, while cutting off the open source community.’

But, Webbink points out, the damage may already be done: ‘Microsoft’s principle objective in this exercise was to get someone ostensibly from the free and open source software community to acknowledge the tacit validity of Microsoft’s patent portfolio. And despite Hovsepian’s protestations to the contrary, Microsoft has now obtained that in the form of Novell.’

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