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Microsoft, Novell Trade Barbs Over Patent Deal

Though many have thought otherwise, Novell's recent deal with Microsoft is not an admission that Linux infringes on Microsoft's intellectual property.

At least that's the message Novell CEO Ron Hovsepian is pitching in an open letter. Microsoft agrees and disagrees.

Hovsepian argues in the letter that the prime motivation for signing the agreement on Nov. 2 with Microsoft was sales and interoperability.

Details of the agreement, which became public nearly a week after it was first announced, indicate that Novell will get $240 million from Microsoft for Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise Server subscriptions.

Microsoft is also committing $60 million to joint Linux/Windows marketing and an additional $34 million for a dedicated sales force to push the joint Linux/Windows offering.

The deal also provides Microsoft and Novell with patent protection, which Hovsepian said Microsoft requested.

"In this agreement, Novell and Microsoft each promise not to sue the other's customers for patent infringement," Hovsepian's letter states. "The intended effect of this agreement was to give our joint customers peace of mind that they have the full support of the other company for their IT activities.

"Since our announcement, some parties have spoken about this patent agreement in a damaging way, and with a perspective that we do not share."

Among those who have objected to the agreement are Samba developers, some of whom are Novell employees.

In a recent open letter of their own, Samba developers said the deal showed "...a profound disregard for the relationship that they [Novell] have with the Free Software community."

Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer has also noted that in some way Linux users "owe" Microsoft.

Hovsepian disagrees.

"We disagree with the recent statements made by Microsoft on the topic of Linux and patents," Hovsepian said. "Importantly, our agreement with Microsoft is in no way an acknowledgment that Linux infringes upon any Microsoft intellectual property.

"When we entered the patent cooperation agreement with Microsoft, Novell did not agree or admit that Linux or any other Novell offering violates Microsoft patents."

In a response to Hovsepian's letter, Microsoft issued a statement that both refutes Novell's claims and agrees with them.

"We at Microsoft respect Novell's point of view on the patent issue, even while we respectfully take a different view," the Microsoft statement reads.

"Novell is absolutely right in stating that it did not admit or acknowledge any patent problems as part of entering into the patent collaboration agreement."

Microsoft maintains that in some way Linux and/or other open source offerings do in fact infringe on Microsoft's intellectual property.

"Microsoft and Novell have agreed to disagree on whether certain open source offerings infringe Microsoft patents and whether certain Microsoft offerings infringe Novell patents," Microsoft states.

"The agreement between our two companies puts in place a workable solution for customers for these issues, without requiring an agreement between our two companies on infringement."