Latest GPL draft splits legal hairs over Novell/Microsoft, causing a stir

* The GNU Public License version 3

The latest draft release of the GNU Public License version 3 (GPLv3) released last week includes provisions that aim specifically to stop future software patent deals like the one made by Microsoft and Novell last fall. The proposed language has caused controversy in the technical and legal realms of the open source community.

New provisions in the latest GPLv3 draft deal more specifically with patents, and how companies distributing software under the proposed GPLv3 can interact with other companies who distribute patented software protected by copyright law. Language in the proposed draft is more explicit than previous versions about defining what a patent is. The Free Software Foundation, which manages the GPL, has even explicitly cited the Microsoft/Novell deal as the driver behind the new patent-focuses proposed section in the GPLv3.

"The recent patent agreement between Microsoft and Novell aims to undermine" freedoms which the GPL is intended to give users of software released under the licensed, said Richard Stallman, president of the Free Software Foundation (FSF), in a statement. "In this draft we have worked hard to prevent such deals from making a mockery of free software."

The big issue the FSF has with the Microsoft/Novell deal is the fact that it Microsoft is paying an open source company (Novell) for the right to distribute a GPL-governed product (SUSE Linux), while promising only to protect Novell customers if it comes to light that any code in Linux violates Microsoft's patents. The FSF hedged a bit in GPLv3, however, saying that this provision in the new license would only apply to agreements made after March 28.

The next 60 days will be interesting, as the GPLv3 goes under review. Linus Torvalds has questioned the Microsoft/Novell-related language in the draft. Morgan Reed, executive director the Association for Competitive Technology (a lobbying firm) said that "Stallman and the FSF are focused on ideology rather than the practical concerns of users," and that GPLv3 "builds walls between open source and proprietary technology."

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