The Poison Pill

Posted on Sat 04 November 2006 in geek

The open source world has been buzzing with comments on the impact of the joint announcement by Microsoft and Novell. From this distance is does look like getting into a cage with a 800lb Gorilla and hoping he'll be nice to you. The after shocks are being followed by the ever excellent Groklaw. When you make a deal with the devil it really does pay to look closely at the fine print. It may be good for the community if interoperability between Linux and Windows is improved. However based pn past experience I'm not going to hold my breath. It certainly won't be worth anything if the resulting code comes with the poisoned patent pill. The GPL has language to cover the distribution of code that can have patents asserted against it. It's telling that the lawyers of Novell and Microsoft have had to think about it - time will tell if their analysis is correct.

Due to the way patents work they are a very real problem for free software. Short of reforming the patent system I don't think these sort of company to company licensing deals are the answer. Already MS is making noise about other distributors making deals with them for the unspecified patents that may be infringed in a Linux distribution. I'm hoping no more take up this offer. I'd almost actually prefer it if MS did show their hand and try and sue someone for patent infringement because then we'd know the phony FUD war was over and if things like PubPat and the Patent Commons are going to provide the protection we need.