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Novell Sale Delayed Due To Patent Investigation

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the something-is-afoot dept.

Novell 31

darthcamaro writes "Novell's $2.2 billion dollar acquisition by Attachmate isn't going to close as soon as first expected. A key part of the deal is the sale of 882 patents to a consortium of vendors led by Microsoft. The US Department of Justice is investigating the patent deal and is now pushing out the close until at least April 12th. Does this mean the deal is in trouble?"

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31 comments

What I can't figure out... (4, Interesting)

the linux geek (799780) | more than 3 years ago | (#35455404)

... is who actually owns the UNIX copyrights after the sale. I'm not talking about patents, which is what keeps getting brought up - who actually owns the copyright to the latest version of UNIX System V? Is it SCO, who developed it, or Novell, who supposedly owns UNIX, or someone else?

Re:What I can't figure out... (1)

Beelzebud (1361137) | more than 3 years ago | (#35455432)

It's a shame that Unix has ended up being a football that greedy companies fight over now.

Re:What I can't figure out... (5, Insightful)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 3 years ago | (#35455512)

It's a shame that Unix has ended up being a football that greedy companies fight over now.

It's a shame, but it's hardly surprising.

UNIX and a lot of the concepts (and code) in it are the foundation for a lot of stuff that's used in modern operating systems. If you can own that, you can have leverage over most operating systems.

Having Microsoft suddenly own the copyrights and everything else for UNIX would be bad for anybody that isn't them -- if every other OS had to pay Microsoft licensing fees, then they stand to gain quite a bit.

Companies are generally greedy, especially once they're big enough that lawyers play a significant part in how they run their day to day stuff.

Re:What I can't figure out... (2)

Anthony Mouse (1927662) | more than 3 years ago | (#35456252)

UNIX and a lot of the concepts (and code) in it are the foundation for a lot of stuff that's used in modern operating systems. If you can own that, you can have leverage over most operating systems.

UNIX is from the 1970s. Patents last 20 years. Anybody can do the math on that one.

And the copyright is largely muted by the license Berkeley distributed so much of it under. How much of UNIX do you really care about that isn't available under the BSD license?

Re:What I can't figure out... (1)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 3 years ago | (#35456584)

And the copyright is largely muted by the license Berkeley distributed so much of it under. How much of UNIX do you really care about that isn't available under the BSD license?

Well, there's what we know, and what we think we know, and what you can convince a judge is true.

I would like to believe this has been largely resolved, but SCO didn't lose for any of the reasons you cite. They lost because it turned out Novell still owned the copyrights. So, essentially, SCO had no standing to sue. (Well, that and they never demonstrated any infringing code.)

The fear is that with enough lawyers and money, someone could undercut the things that we here on Slashdot generally accept to be true, and re-open the debate. And, who do we know with lots of lawyers and money would is looking to buy this and might like to re-open the debate and claim they own UNIX?

Re:What I can't figure out... (2)

Anthony Mouse (1927662) | more than 3 years ago | (#35457490)

The fear is that with enough lawyers and money, someone could undercut the things that we here on Slashdot generally accept to be true, and re-open the debate.

But that's always the case. It's like the Linux patent FUD. They can spread FUD all they want, but until they identify specific patents or specific code they're just pissing in the wind. And as soon as they identify something specific, it immediately gets replaced and the threat dissipates.

I've made this point before in the patent context: There are only two ways it makes business sense to enforce a software patent. The first is if you're a patent troll so that your target can't make any counterclaims against your products since you don't have any. The second is if you're a huge conglomerate and your target is a small software developer, in which case software patents allow you to destroy them because you have a thousand patents that will read on anything they could possibly make and just the legal fees will bankrupt them, so they have to do what you want.

Patent litigation doesn't work between large companies because they each have enough patents the other is infringing that if they don't cross license, neither of them can actually sell any of their own products -- and on top of that the target has enough resources to try to invalidate your patents, which if they succeed leaves you vulnerable to suit by third parties because you've weakened your defensive arsenal. Which is why everybody cross-licenses everything. I heard someone say that the way they do it is to have each side bring a stack of their patents in to a meeting and whoever has the smaller stack of patents pays the other party based on the number of inches difference in the stacks of paper. It's preposterous.

But as long as software patents exist, the same pretty much goes for copyright. Let's say Microsoft gets the UNIX copyrights. Now they're going to sue IBM over Linux and try to keep IBM from selling Linux servers. The problem is that IBM has a zillion software patents that Microsoft is almost certainly infringing hundreds or thousands of. And so does everybody else that it could possibly be worth Microsoft's time to sue.

So plan B: Instead of Microsoft buying the copyrights, they make sure they get into the hands of some troll who will go after Linux vendors. But that's a recipe for a proxy war where each side starts laying mines for the other by selling patents and copyrights the other is infringing to various trolls. Which in the best case just leads to the same truce where each side agrees to stop doing that and just cross-license. And in the worst case it leads to litigation Armageddon because you get a bunch of loose nukes in the hands of unconstrained trolls -- which makes it exceptionally dangerous for anyone be the first mover toward that sort of outcome.

Re:What I can't figure out... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35461068)

I'd love to see that. where they ALL destroy each other :)

Re:What I can't figure out... (1)

the linux geek (799780) | more than 3 years ago | (#35455516)

It has been since the early 90's, if not earlier...

Re:What I can't figure out... (1)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | more than 3 years ago | (#35455532)

How relevant is that particular copyright, really? I mean - everything in Unix has been transported to other operating systems, right? Linux, BSD, Mac's OS's - and God knows what else. What is left to fight over? Yeah, I know, Linux has been pointed at, with people muttering about stolen code. But, audit after audit turns up no copied code.

What does Unix have, that a person can't get from Linux, or BSD, or OSX? The license from ONE of those is going to meet anyone's requirements. Let the legal beagles argue over this, along with all the other pointless stuff the wrangle over. It really doesn't matter to me, one bit.

Re:What I can't figure out... (5, Insightful)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 3 years ago | (#35455752)

I guess the continuing fear is that Microsoft and other parties with some interest in squashing Linux will just continue tossing potshots at it via the copyrights. Yes, we all know the history of Unix and how things got to be where they are, but the Big Guys have never had a problem with creating their own fraudulent narratives.

Re:What I can't figure out... (1)

the linux geek (799780) | more than 3 years ago | (#35455792)

UNIX derivatives (AIX, HP-UX, Solaris), which hopefully won't be affected by this, have a huge customer base on larger servers. SCO UNIX used to have quite a bit of marketshare in small business servers, but I think that has largely faded away since the craziness began.

Re:What I can't figure out... (1)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 3 years ago | (#35455822)

How relevant is that particular copyright, really? I mean - everything in Unix has been transported to other operating systems, right?

Well, if someone owns the copyright, and they can convince a judge that the stuff that was "transported" into other operating systems was actually copyright ... they could get an injunction or force people to pay licensing fees.

Part of the reason SCO finally got tossed out of court was that Novell still owned the copyrights. Well, that and they couldn't find any infringing code.

But, if someone who actually did own the copyright could convince someone it was copied, there is lots of possibility for fallout. At the very least, needing to incur expenses to prove you didn't violate that copyright.

Re:What I can't figure out... (1)

turgid (580780) | more than 3 years ago | (#35458236)

What does Unix have, that a person can't get from Linux, or BSD, or OSX?

Not a lot, and anyway, "real unix" (Sys VR4) got Open Sourced several years ago now in the form of Solaris.

Not only has the horse bolted, it has run away to pastures new, died of old age and is eating buttercups and daisies in the great field invisibule with Shergar and Red Rum.

Re:What I can't figure out... (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 3 years ago | (#35455536)

Unix System V was not developed by SCO. It was developed by the original AT&T (not the current company that was renamed to AT&T after they bought part of the old AT&T). Of course, the SCO that exists today is not the same company as you were probably thinking of anyway.

Re:What I can't figure out... (1)

the linux geek (799780) | more than 3 years ago | (#35455774)

I didn't say it was originally developed by SCO, but they have been the ones developing that particular codebase since the early 90's. System V Revision 5 was solely an SCO release.

Re:What I can't figure out... (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 3 years ago | (#35456114)

System V Revision 5 was only ever used by Santa Clara Operations. Since nobody else ever used that version of UNIX, it is really irrelevant who owns the copyright on that.

Re:What I can't figure out... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35465856)

Is it SCO, who developed it...

WTF? Are you insane? SCO didn't develop SYSV Unix.

Here's what it means (2)

bogaboga (793279) | more than 3 years ago | (#35455472)

A key part of the deal is the sale of 882 patents to a consortium of vendors led by Microsoft. The US Department of Justice is investigating the patent deal and is now pushing out the close until at least April 12th. Does this mean the deal is in trouble?

Nope! It means the deal has hit a [major] bump depending on how you see it.

Re:Here's what it means (4, Insightful)

Beelzebud (1361137) | more than 3 years ago | (#35455484)

It just means the proper people haven't been bribed yet.

Re:Here's what it means (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35455776)

Hey we call those campaign contributions here... Or 'dinner'.

Re:Here's what it means (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35463084)

The US Department of Justice hasn't been about justice for regular citizens since at least 1980. Now, if you define justice as "giving corporations whatever they want after a little investigative theater", that they're quite good at. I wouldn't expect much to slow any deal down these days.

Patent about selling companies (4, Funny)

michelcolman (1208008) | more than 3 years ago | (#35455480)

Apparently there's a patent about "selling a company to another company". This may take a while...

Unix patents not included in the deal. (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35455492)

Novell will continue to own the Unix-relevant patents according to the information that I have, From what I know (posting as an Attachmate employee - hence anonymous) the Unix patents are not being included in the deal.

One of my colleagues asked this question of one of the C*O people when they came to visit my workplace to assuage fears within the Attachmate organisation, and the answer was that the Unix patents were not included in the patent transfer package, and that there were perpetual licenses for the Attachmate/Novell entity.

However, I've not seen any notice of exactly what patents are for offer in the transfer, and I've spend a bit of time asking and not being told.

Re:Unix patents not included in the deal. (1)

JonJ (907502) | more than 3 years ago | (#35455882)

the Unix patents are not being included in the deal.

This I find interesting, if the UNIX patents aren't included.. What is? Are we talking identity management, groupware or something else? in that case, if Microsoft are suddenly sitting on a bunch of groupware patents, what's going to happen to scalix, zimbra, ox, kerio and others that might infringe on the patents? And if we disregard patents, what about the UNIX copyright? Everyone's talking about patents, but aren't the SCO/Novell/IBM/Red Hat trials about copyright/contracts?

Re:Unix patents not included in the deal. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35457354)

"However, I've not seen any notice of exactly what patents are for offer in the transfer, and I've spend a bit of time asking and not being told."

That would be an interesting turn of events.... For a long time Novell was the only viable NOS to MS Server... When I left the workforce Novell was moving a LOT of their product over to Linux. There were lots of spin-offs, etc.. They heavily modified SuSe linux. How many patents are there from Suse that would be sold to MS and then used to cripple linux by MS? There is a reason they call it the evil empire, after all.

Re:Unix patents not included in the deal. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35461268)

Look it up...all of them are available for viewing on the public us patent website (although quite a few of them may be under individual contributor names)

I seem to recall that they included such things as 'sharing a file on a network', 'sharing a printer on a network', network authentication, etc...and those are the patents which are involved. People seem to forget that Novell was at the forefront of using the network, file sharing, group networking, etc.

As I understand it, those patents essentially could be used to pull almost any OS/device off the market if they wanted (or pull a good licensing fee).

Novell has some very powerful patents which folks just are overlooking. And the Attachmate person is correct...it's not the UNIX copyrights at all.

The fine print in "Deal with the Devil" (3, Funny)

denis-The-menace (471988) | more than 3 years ago | (#35455586)

Only now they read the fine print in the deal they made with MS regarding the SUSE Linux vouchers?

I'm shocked!

creators; god, allah participating, babys rule (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35455932)

they claim to have absolutely no (0), issues with each other, or us, with the exclusion of the murder violations which do not involve most of us. they deny any involvement in our current state of mayhem, madness & holycost, referring to some sort of altered chromosomal issue, suffered by a minute portion of the population, who are irregardless doing a biblical amount of damage. bag up the bips, it's almost over? see you there?

There's probably a lot more to Novell than *nix (2)

yuna49 (905461) | more than 3 years ago | (#35456378)

While everyone here always focuses on what this means for Linux, Novell sells a number of products [novell.com] that have nothing per se to do with *nix like GroupWise and ZenWorks. Hell, there still may be existing patents that relate to NetWare.

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Linux is being screwed on many levels (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35462810)

Microsoft now has control over KDE via its business arrangements and proxy CEO at Nokia (who now own Qt.
Gnome is being undermined by Miguel's agents
Shuttleworth doesn't care about the GPL; he just cares about the free (as in doesn't cost him anything) source of software which he can package and use as a sales platform.
Debian has been undermined by Ubuntu because Shuttleworth has bought off some of the developers and swayed the morals of others.
Open Office is going down the pan because of the business interests of Oracle
Libre Office is going to become the platform through which Microsoft infiltrates its ooxml code.
The cool crowd have got confused and mix up the GPL with Open Source and can't see how the one protects the code from abuse by corporations while the other, on its own, opens the door to such corruption (the BSD license was designed to allow business people fleeing academia to take the code with them and close source it. Where do you think so many software companies got their start).

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