GPLv3 claims victory over Microsoft

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GPLv3 claims victory over Microsoft

Novell deal requires Microsoft to offer patent grant to all GPLv3 software.

The Free Software Foundation will allow the the Microsoft-Novell partnership under the latest draft of the General Public License version 3, because it will force Microsoft to grant patent protection to all open source software developers.

The group published a new draft of the licence on Thursday. Labelled a "Last call" draft, it suggests that is offers a last version before the publication of the final document that is scheduled for June.

"We believe we can do more to protect the community by allowing Novell to use software under GPL version 3 than by forbidding it to do so," the Free Software Foundation stated in a document (PDF) that explained the most recent changes.

Microsoft and Novell last October unveiled a marketing, distribution and intellectual property partnership. As part of the $380 million, Microsoft purchased 70,000 Linux coupons that entitle the holder to a copy of Novell's SuSE Linux software. Microsoft also provides the coupon holder with a licence for its patent portfolio.

Microsoft has said that it won't sue individual users, but also remains persistent in insisting that it should be compensated for alleged patent violations by Linux.

The patent provisions of the partnership have caused a storm of protest, and prompted the Free Software Foundation to change the terms of the forthcoming third version of the GPL.

Microsoft chose to use coupons because it believes that they allow the company to sell Linux software without actually distributing the code. Code distribution would subject the company to the current second version of the GP L, which bans certain provision of the partnership.

The Free Software Foundation however disputes the notion that Microsoft isn't shipping the actual code. Because Microsoft paid for the coupons in advance and uses Novell only as a shipping agent, the company does in essence distribute SuSE Linux, Eben Moglen, founder and chairman of the Software Freedom Law Center and co-author of the licence told

While there are other elements in the deal that render Microsoft the legal distributor, "the coupons make it absolutely clear," said Moglen.

It is furthermore inevitable that some customers will exchange their SuSE coupons after GPLv3 has been published and adopted by at least some components of Novell's Linux distribution.

According to the FSF, Microsoft will therefore end up distributing GPLv3 code and will have to abide by its terms. Those include a provision that force any distributor of GPLv3 code to provide users and developers of all GPLv3 code with a free patent licence.

A spokesperson for Microsoft declined to comment.

The GPLv3 will block any future deals similar to the Microsoft and Novell one. The previous draft of the licence left the door open to blocking past deals as well. That would have prevented Novell from distributing software under the coupon programme.

Kevan Barney, a spokesperson for Novell, said that the patent provision would have no direct impact on the Linux vendor. He told that the current GPLv3 draft is "good news for our customers and others because it won't impede our ability to distribute Linux".

If courts side with the FSF's interpretation of the Linux coupons, it would deal a severe blow to Microsoft's ability to sell licences on its intellectual property portfolio. The company has repeatedly aired its disapproval of patent violations by Linux. Earlier this month the software maker claimed that it has identified 235 patents that are violated by various open source projects.
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