The Open Source Initiative (OSI) is stepping into the Novell sale. The organization is asking the German Federal Cartel Office to investigate the sale of Novell's patents to the Microsoft-led CPTN.
OSI is primarily known for being the keeper of the flame for the Open Source Definition (OSD) and approving licenses that meet the definition. But members of the self-appointed OSI board, in particular Simon Phipps, have said they wish to nudge OSI into becoming a more active organization with an actual representative membership structure. So far, little has happened, but this is at least a minor step in that direction.
Like many others, OSI is concerned about the structure of CPTN and wonders what Apple, EMC, Microsoft, and Oracle have in common to want to share the Novell patent pool:
The fact that Microsoft was leading the takeover of Novell's patents was itself alarming to the open source community, but when it was revealed that Microsoft had recruited Oracle, Apple, and EMC to be co-owners of the patents, the OSI Board felt compelled to request that competition authorities take a closer look at the proposed transaction.
The letter (PDF) echoes the concerns already raised about this quartet working together to acquire Novell's patent portfolio. When have Microsoft, Oracle, EMC, and Apple found reason to work together previously? Why would this particular set of corporate giants be willing to go in together on this set of patents?
According to the letter, "the proposed CPTN transaction represents a potentially new, and unprecedented threat against open source software." I'd go farther than that, though. The CPTN transaction is a threat against competition in larger marketplace, period. Yes, open source is in danger — but pretty much any legitimate competition in the areas of operating systems, virtualization, cloud computing, middleware, etc. I'm sure Red Hat feels uneasy about this unholy alliance, but then again so do Google and Parallels. Of course, OSI is only responsible for speaking up for the open source community, not the entire computing industry.
As a side note, it's interesting/disappointing that most of the disclosure and action going on in this is taking place in Germany rather than the U.S. The make-up of CPTN was disclosed in documents required in Germany, not the U.S., and OSI is reaching out to an agency in Germany rather than in the U.S. — interesting, since the sale is really happening here. Perhaps there's little hope that the U.S. would actually intervene.
There's still time before the deal closes, though. Here's hoping that OSI's voice is heard, and that it's not alone. Many companies and communities stand to be affected. There's no reason to stand by silently and let Apple, EMC, Microsoft, and Oracle increase their collective patent warchests without any scrutiny whatsoever.
Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier is a freelance writer and editor with more than 10 years covering IT. Formerly the openSUSE Community Manager for Novell, Brockmeier is a longtime free and open source software advocate. He has written for many publications, including Linux Magazine, Sys Admin, Linux Pro Magazine, IBM developerWorks, Linux.com, CIO.com, Linux Weekly News, ZDNet, and many others.