[linux-elitists] Novell/MSFT and Linux patent permission letters

Don Marti dmarti@zgp.org
Mon Nov 20 14:30:49 PST 2006

Still wondering about the infamous Novell/MSFT
"weasel words" deal.

In effect, the license under which Linux is
distributed is GPLv2 plus a bunch of patent-related
documents from Red Hat, FSMLabs, IBM, and others.
In order to actually distribute Linux, you need to
comply not just with the GPL itself, but also with
various licenses, pledges, promises, and covenants.

Some of these documents seem to interpret the GPL's
"licensed for everyone's free use" in interesting
ways.  For example, the Red Hat Patent Policy and "IBM
Statement of Non-Assertion of Named Patents Against
OSS" both include broad patent retaliation clauses --
more powerful than those contemplated for GPLv3.

I don't see any patent permission documents that
currently seem to conflict with the Novell deal,
but there does seem to be precedent for using a
patent permission letter as a chance to advance your
own interpretation of the GPL.

None of these letters seems to be a problem for anyone
who's doing the Linux thing by the book and complying
with the regular software norms reflected in the GPL.
But when a company does a deal that skates the line
of what is and isn't acceptable GPL-wise, isn't it
taking the risk of a future patent letter that is
compatible with the ordinary interpretation of the
GPL but not with the terms of its deal?

Don Marti                    

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