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Linux Patent Winners and Losers

Linux Patent Winners and Losers

April 26, 2011

At the core of Linux is open source software that is enabled by open source licenses. Open Source licenses are what enables Linux to thrive, but other legal mechanisms, in particular the U.S. patent system, continue to lurk on the edges as a risk to the continued growth of Linux.

This past week, the Linux Planet got both positive and negative news on the patent front, as the lawyers took center stage.

1. Novell's Patent Sale Adjusted

The U.S. Department of Justice this past week adjusted the terms in the sale of more than 880 patents by Novell to CPTN Holdings, a group that includes Microsoft, EMC and Apple.

Novell is attempting to sell its patents to CPTN as part of a larger deal under which Attachmate will acquire Novell for $2.2 billion. The patent sale to CPTN is valued at $450 million.

Novell's patent portfolio includes multiple patents that could have potentially been used by a malicious patent holder in attacks against the Linux and open source ecosystem. Instead of simply approving the deal, the Department of Justice added new conditions that serve to protect open source.

The way the adjusted deal works is that Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) will acquire some of the patents, but it will then sell them back to Novell's new owner, Attachmate (NASDAQ: NTIQ). Attachmate in turn will license those patents back to Microsoft.

To make a long story short, the move will significantly mitigate the risk the Novell's patent might have had on the open market. The patents likely cannot now be used in any kind of offensive legal action against Linux or open source vendors.

This is one event that should be chalked up as a win for Linux and open source.

2. Google Loses Linux Patent Case

You win some and lose some right?

While the Novell/CPTN sale went in favor of the open source community, Google lost a $5 million judgment in an East Texas courtroom. Bedrock Computer Technologies successfully sued Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), alleging that the search giant infringes on U.S. patent #5,893,120, which it owns. According to Bedrock, Linux 2.4.22 and onward, as used by Google, infringes on its patent.

Google may have lost the first round, but this battle is far from over. Google will be fighting back in an appeal, as will other Linux vendors, including Red Hat.

Ultimately, the goal is to have the Bedrock patent declared invalid, though as is the case with anything in the legal system, it will take time.

3. Open Invention Network Expands

While Novell and Google were busy with their respective legal teams, the Open Invention Network (OIN) was busy growing its membership. OIN aims to provide a patent commons for open source projects, helping to protect both vendors and open source projects from patent risk. The OIN acquires and licenses patents in a way that enables open source.

OIN announced this past week that it had added more than 70 new licensees to its program, dramatically extending patent protection for the open source ecosystem.

Among the big names joining the OIN are Facebook, HP, Juniper Networks and Symantec.

While the threat of patents remains, the continued growth of the OIN is an encouraging step toward ensuring the safety of both the commercial and open source software markets.

4. Fedora 15 Hits Beta 1

Although patents dominated the Linux Planet news cycle, it's important to remember that Linux is about technology. This past week, the first beta of Red Hat's community Linux distribution Fedora 15 reached the Beta 1 stage.

Fedora opted to fully embrace the GNOME 3 desktop, including the GNOME Shell user interface. Fedora 15 will also be the first Fedora release to include LibreOffice instead of OpenOffice.

Another key technology Fedora 15 will debut is the BoxGrinder appliance building technology for the cloud. Red Hat has been pushing its cloud strategy for more than a year, and Fedora 15 will be an early showcase for some new technologies that are part of that strategy.

5. Natty Is Near

No, Ubuntu 11.04 did not come out last week, but it will be out this week.

The good people at Canonical know a thing or two about marketing and building hype. This past week Canonical issued a pair of press releases, announcing the impending release of Ubuntu 11.04, Natty Narwhal.

Natty is a major change for Ubuntu, as it will be the first to embrace the Unity desktop as the default user interface. Officially, Ubuntu 11.04 will be released on April 28.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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