Novell to Ballmer: No patent problems here (and stupid CIO)

It's IT Blogwatch, in which Novell CEO Ron Hovsepian writes an open letter explaining last week's "unusual" Microsoft tie-up. Not to mention a broken business model "saved" by the last dot-com bubble bursting ...

Eric Lai explains:

Novell Inc. on Monday distanced itself from comments last week by Microsoft Corp. CEO Steve Ballmer that the Linux operating system infringes on Microsoft patents, although the two companies said that their recently-unveiled alliance remains intact ... A once-bitter rival of Microsoft and the distributor of SUSE Linux, which competes with Windows, Novell signed an agreement with Microsoft on Nov. 2 in which both companies pledged to make their software work together better, help each other with sales and marketing and protect their corporate customers against possible patent lawsuits. Microsoft also released a statement, saying that it "respects Novell's point of view on the patent issue, even while we respectfully take a different view."


In a question-and-answer session at a database conference in Seattle on Thursday, Ballmer openly asserted that "Linux uses our intellectual property" and users of the open-source operating system face "an undisclosed balance-sheet liability" as a result.

Matt Asay adds:

I assume [the statements are] geared toward all those who felt a bit cheated by the November Patent Surprise ... Novell's message is earnest, if a bit laughable at times ... As for Microsoft's message, it was FUD-as-usual


Just what does anyone get from this covenant not to sue? Not much. The same customers who run SUSE Linux also run Red Hat, Ubuntu, Debian, etc. Of course, it's these same customers that will drop-kick Microsoft the minute it starts to sue the planet, just as the world shelved SCO when it started suing customers. So, please, Microsoft, the very best thing you could do for Linux and open source is to start asserting your "rights." I can't wait. I respect that Novell means well by this agreement. It hasn't done well, but it means well. Microsoft? Not so much.

Pamela Jones groks 'em both:

[Novell] should not have signed an agreement called a patent cooperation agreement that gives Microsoft the opportunity to say the things Mr. Ballmer has been saying. I believe that is obvious now. He didn't even wait until the ink was dry. And you should have considered the GPL, its importance to the community, and considered what paying royalties means in that context. And we hope you will fix this.


What in the world was this deal about then? It seems at this point that it was Microsoft angling for a FUD opportunity. In any case, the deal is falling apart, I'd say. Microsoft's statement alleges that they don't have to agree to go forward. But if the parties themselves don't know what they agreed to or what the words mean, how valid is the contract? A contract does require a meeting of the minds [so] there's your out, Novell. There obviously was no meeting of the minds. Without a meeting of the minds, there are no obligations. At least that's what they taught me in my class on contract law.


If the world wants GNU/Linux to survive ... it will have to make some changes to the US patent system, some fundamental changes, or all you'll have is things like Vista and Zune. Read their EULAs, then read the GPL, and then think it over. What kind of world do you really want?

Baron's's Eric Savitz shows us the money:

In a post this morning, I noted that Credit Suisse has reduced its rating on Novell [so] I don’t think the letter solved that problem.

Taran Rampersad:

It seems Steve Ballmer was simply testing the waters when he was talking about Linux having Microsoft's proprietary information in it, or perhaps the buzzwords falling out of his mouth came out in an order that was completely unexpected. While there may be patting of backs, the question of why he would run off at the mouth is of interest. Perhaps they were trying to slide something past Novell.

In an imaginary counterstatement by a fictional person, someone accused Microsoft of having Linux code in Windows Vista. Of course, that's complete fiction - because if Microsoft used Linux code... who would know?

John Sinteur:

When you sleep with dogs, you get fleas. And if you don’t think you’re in any patent trouble, there was no need at all to sign the agreement. Even Microsoft agrees ... So, Novell, call me back when you’ve un-signed the deal. Until that time, you will continue to feel the heat from the community. Heck, some say you’re even violating the GPL.

Kevin Murphy:

Novell’s obviously terrified that it’s pissing off the Linux community by jumping so eagerly into bed with Microsoft ... Microsoft is sticking to its guns, of course ... I can’t help but feel that Microsoft has done a total number on Novell. But at the same time I can’t believe Novell never saw this coming. Matt Aslett is correct. Somebody should sue somebody and get this sorted out, at least before 2010.

Joe Landman:

Either Novell’s lawyers and execs are clueless, they were played, or they failed to consider the potential interpretations and ramifications of the deal and how people would react. Including the party they made the deal with. Which means that their marketing group was really clueless ... Microsoft is executing tactics against its strategic aims of ridding the world of the scourge of FOSS OSes and applications. Its execs appear to be willing to make deals, not what the people who they make deals with them believe they mean, and then spin them any which way they see fit. And they do so at the expense of the “partner” they did “business” with.


So which of these two organizations do you feel comfortable doing business with?

Buffer overflow:

Around the Net Around Computerworld Previously in IT Blogwatch

And finally... Saved By The Burst

Richi Jennings is an independent technology and marketing consultant, specializing in email, blogging, Linux, and computer security. A 20 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. Contact Richi at I hate spammers and spammers hate me.

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