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FSF Corrects Novell's Steinman and a Request to End the Mystery
Monday, March 19 2007 @ 02:41 PM EDT

I couldn't believe my eyes when I read this interview with Novell's Director of Marketing, Justin Steinman. He is quoted in IT Business Edge as saying the following:
I do want to tell you that Novell is a significant financial contributor to the Free Software Foundation, as are all of the leading Linux distributors around the world....As part of that, we are one of the vendors on Committee B of the GPL v3 development community. ...

We have lawyers in the room contributing to the GPL v3 draft process, so we are in active discussions with Eben Moglen and other members of the FSF around what GPL v3 will look like. I want to make it extremely clear that Novell is committed to our Microsoft agreement, and we're committed to helping develop a version of the GPL that enables that agreement to continue.

Well. He has achieved his goal of being extremely clear. But in doing so, I would have to say he has stooped to a new low of Not-Really-Part-of-the-FOSS-Community awful. It's not the only offensive statement in that interview, but it is the most serious. Perhaps he was misquoted. Let's give him the benefit of that one doubt.

But, what matters is, is it true? Has Novell bought FSF into going along with the Novell-Microsoft patent agreement? I asked Peter Brown of FSF for a reaction and here is his statement:

Novell last gave funds to the FSF in October 2005, when they donated $5K as part of FSF Corporate Patron program. Since their deal with Microsoft was announced we have not asked them to renew as a patron, nor would we. Novell is not "a significant financial contributor to the Free Software Foundation", but what's a little exaggeration compared to their deal with Microsoft?

We remain determined to make sure that GPLv3 does not permit deals of this kind. We are now studying how to achieve this without causing unintended trouble for other industry practices.

You can verify it for yourself by going to the FSF's list of corporate patrons. Do you see Novell on the list on that page? No, you don't. Because they aren't a corporate patron currently.

Here's what I know: even if Novell gave FSF $5 million, it couldn't get what it wants. Some people are not for sale. Marketing guys might not get that concept. But there you are. Now for my request...

My Request:

May I remind Novell that it has yet to make public the full terms of the patent agreement it entered into with Microsoft? Why is Novell continuing to keep the terms secret?

Exactly what are all the exceptions, for example, referenced in the agreement but not listed or defined? After all, the fiction is that this is a patent agreement between Microsoft and Novell's paying SUSE customers, and Novell with Microsoft's customers, no? (From Novell's November 7, 2006 8K: "Under the Patent Cooperation Agreement, Microsoft commits to a covenant not to assert its patents against Novell's end-user customers for their use of Novell products and services for which Novell receives revenue directly or indirectly from such customers, with certain exceptions, while Novell commits to a covenant not to assert its patents against Microsoft's end-user customers for their use of Microsoft products and services for which Microsoft receives revenue directly or indirectly from such customers, with certain exceptions.")

Those are allegedly the parties to the agreement. My understanding is that there can be no contract without a meeting of the minds. So both sides have to know the exact terms of the contract prior to entering into it, or it's not valid. So, if I am thinking of buying SUSE, what are the terms? When do we get to know them fully? It seems to me that it isn't enough for Novell to know, if customers don't know, if they are allegedly parties to this agreement.

For that matter, doesn't Novell have to file this information with the SEC at some point? All it would take is an 8K or a correction to the one it already filed back when the deal was announced. Don't shareholders have a right to understand this agreement?

As another example, exactly what do customers receive when they get one of those vouchers from Microsoft? I've read a number of things, support, updates, but what is the truth? What do you get? What are the terms? If any of you have one or have seen one of the vouchers, please scan it in and send it to me or email me and tell me what you've read. Why should this all be so mysterious and secretive?

How about it, Novell? When do we get to read it all, both the full patent agreements -- with the exceptions -- and the vouchers' terms?

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