Microsoft, Samsung Cross Bridge Over GPL

Microsoft  announced today that it has entered into
a broad cross-licensing agreement with South Korean electronics maker
Samsung.

The deal, which Microsoft said is patterned after the agreement it struck with Linux vendor
Novell  last November, may pave the way for greater
interoperability between open source and patented software in the future,
the company said.

Under terms of the agreement, Microsoft will gain access to Samsung’s patent
portfolio relating to digital media and computer-related inventions;
Samsung, for its part, will have the right to use Microsoft’s patents in its
products — both those that use proprietary software, as well as those using
Linux-based products.

The last provision is important because it means that Microsoft won’t sue
Samsung in the event that the electronics maker uses Linux code written
under the General Public License  (GPL) that
unintentionally infringes on Microsoft patents.

According to David Kaefer, general manager of intellectual property
licensing at Microsoft, the agreement is a way for Microsoft and Samsung to
mutually indemnify each other for inadvertent patent infringements they may
have committed over the years, much like Novell and Microsoft indemnified
each other last November.


The Novell deal “articulated a new legal model for transferring patent
rights in a manner that respected the GPL, and it really built a bridge that
didn’t exist before,” Kaefer told internetnews.com. The Samsung
agreement “is evidence that the bridge is working for somebody else besides
Novell.”

Previously, said Kaefer, it had been difficult to figure out how to
cross-license between closed source and open source software. This agreement
“suggests that software patents and open source can work together, if not in
harmony, then at least cooperatively. They’re not things that are mutually
exclusive,” he said.


Kaefer said that patents are the currency of trade in a world where
technology companies have overlapping products and interdependent
functionality. “A lot of these IP agreements are some of the foundation
that’s driving some of the joint ventures you see happening,” he said.


The Novell deal is not without its detractors, and many observers believe that the most recent draft of GPL 3 was written in such a way as
to thwart such deals in the future.

While the Samsung agreement helps Microsoft advance its argument for
interoperability between open source and proprietary software, it should
also help Microsoft accelerate product development in its consumer
electronics and device businesses. And because it indemnifies Microsoft for
use of GPL, it may help its server business, as well.

Kaefer said that because the value of some patents cannot be predicted, the
companies have also put in place mechanisms allowing for future monetary
payments as compensation for their respective portfolios, pending certain
conditions that are not being made public.

Microsoft has also announced similar agreements with NEC, Fuji-Xerox,
Seiko-Epson and Nortel
over the past 12 months.

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