Microsoft Thursday rejected the idea that its deal last year with Novell ties it to the new General Public License Version 3 (GPLv3) and said it will not support any software distributed under the just-released open-source license.
The Microsoft-Novell partnership signed in November 2006 featured promises to make Windows interoperable with SuSE Linux, a pact in which Microsoft vows not to sue Novell for any potential patent infringement, royalty payments on the part of Novell to Microsoft based on Linux sales, or a major purchase of Linux support contracts by Microsoft.
In a statement Thursday, Microsoft disavowed any link between itself and GPLv3.
"Microsoft is not a party to the GPLv3 license and none of its actions are to be misinterpreted as accepting status as a contracting party of GPLv3 or assuming any legal obligations under such license," said Horacio Gutierrez, Microsoft's vice president of intellectual property and licensing, in a statement.
GPLv3, which was unveiled only a week ago, has been touted by its creator, Richard Stallman, as a poison pill that will prevent future deals like the one Microsoft made with Novell.
"GPLv3 is designed to turn [a few mistakes in the Novell deal] against Microsoft, extending that limited patent protection to the whole community," Stallman wrote in an essay published at the end of May. "[And] releasing a program under GPL version 3 protects it from Microsoft's future attempts to make redistributors collect Microsoft royalties from the program's users," he added.
Later, assertions surfaced that GPLv3 would make Microsoft a Linux distributor, and so legally bound to the license, if, for example, it provided or sold support contracts to software covered by GPLv3. As the legal counsel to the Free Software Foundation argued in May, that would extend the patent protection Microsoft gave Novell to everyone in the open-source community.
Microsoft has voiced its disagreement with that before, and did again Thursday. "While there have been some claims that Microsoft's distribution of certificates for Novell support services, under our interoperability collaboration with Novell, constitutes acceptance of the GPLv3 license, we do not believe that such claims have a valid legal basis under contract, intellectual property, or any other law," Gutierrez said.
"In fact, we do not believe that Microsoft needs a license under GPL to carry out any aspect of its collaboration with Novell, including its distribution of support certificates, even if Novell chooses to distribute GPLv3 code in the future," Gutierrez continued. "Furthermore, Microsoft does not grant any implied or express patent rights under or as a result of GPLv3, and GPLv3 licensors have no authority to represent or bind Microsoft in any way."
"Microsoft clearly has some concerns about the provisions of GPLv3," said Mark Radcliffe, a partner with the law firm DLA Piper. Radcliffe, who co-chairs the technology and sourcing practice group from his Palo Alto, Calif. office, said that Microsoft was laying some legal groundwork. "There may be parts of the Novell distribution that are under GLPv3 [in the future], but Microsoft doesn't want to be tangled up in that."