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Microsoft and Novell at odds over software patents

A fortnight after forging a historic agreement to collaborate over open source and proprietary software, Microsoft and Novell have found themselves at odds between both themselves and the open source community over the issue of software patents.

The spat has echoes of the long running battle between IBM and SCO, where SCO sued IBM for $1bn, as well as sending letters to a number of global enterprises, alleging Unix code patent infringements.

However, this time Microsoft and Novell have said they will not sue any users.

In an open letter to the open source community, Novell chief executive officer Ron Hovsepian found himself defending the supplier’s decision to partner with Microsoft.

Hovsepian said that interoperability between Windows and Novell SuSE Linux would benefit users, and Novell and Microsoft have promised not to sue the other's customers for patent infringement.

He added, “Since our announcement, some parties have spoken about this patent agreement in a damaging way, and with a perspective that we do not share. We disagree with the recent statements made by Microsoft on the topic of Linux and patents. Importantly, our agreement with Microsoft is in no way an acknowledgment that Linux infringes upon any Microsoft intellectual property.”

Hovsepian said, “We wish to be extremely clear that Novell is committed to protecting, preserving and promoting freedom for free and open source software. We recognise that the community of open source developers is essential to all our activities in Linux, and we welcome dialogue with the community as to how we can continue to work together toward these common goals.”

Microsoft issued its own public statement, saying, “Microsoft and Novell have agreed to disagree on whether certain open source offerings infringe Microsoft patents and whether certain Microsoft offerings infringe Novell patents. The agreement between our two companies puts in place a workable solution for customers for these issues, without requiring an agreement between our two companies on infringement.”

However, Microsoft reiterated that it believed it was necessary to “create a patent covenant for customers” to protect them from litigation.

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