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Novell to Defend Open Source Using Patents

michael posted about 10 years ago | from the here-he-comes-to-save-the-day dept.

Novell 230

bbsguru writes "As another step in its transition to an Open Source developer, Novell has thrown the considerable weight of its patent portfolio in support of the movement. A letter from Novell North American President Ron Hovesepian to all of their channel partners today said, 'This initiative is aimed at any vendor that tries to mislead customers using intellectual property rights.'"

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seems like Novell has a threatening tone... (5, Interesting)

garcia (6573) | about 10 years ago | (#10505726)

We believe that customers want and need freedom of choice in making decisions about technology solutions. Those considering Novell offerings, whether proprietary or open source, should be able to make their purchasing decisions based on technical merits, security, quality of service and value, not the threat of litigation. Novell intends to continue to compete based on such criteria.

Good, I like to hear that. It's nice having some of the "big dogs" on the side of Linux. But they seem to contradict themselves when they say:

As appropriate, Novell is prepared to use our patents, which are highly relevant in today's marketplace, to defend against those who might assert patents against open source products marketed, sold or supported by Novell.

Seems like a threat to anyone out there thinking about possible litigation to me. Now, I doubt that there is any serious issues w/the Linux kernel code when it comes to IP but what if someone did have a legitimate claim? Someone like Novell making open threats like this might have them think twice.

Just a thought.

Re:seems like Novell has a threatening tone... (4, Insightful)

Jetson (176002) | about 10 years ago | (#10505757)

The difference is that a company like Microsoft says "we don't like you and will sue you for patent infringement" whereas Novell is saying "if you sue us we'll sue you back". Big difference.

Re:seems like Novell has a threatening tone... (5, Insightful)

garcia (6573) | about 10 years ago | (#10505777)

The difference is that a company like Microsoft says "we don't like you and will sue you for patent infringement" whereas Novell is saying "if you sue us we'll sue you back". Big difference.

Well, that's what I thought until I noticed a particular word (emphasis mine):

As appropriate, Novell is prepared to use our patents, which are highly relevant in today's marketplace, to defend against those who might assert patents against open source products marketed, sold or supported by Novell.

That doesn't seem like they are going to fight once litigation is started. That words leads me to believe that they would start litigation if anyone even brought up the idea that their IP was being used w/o permission in the kernel.

MOD PARENT UP! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10505810)

Troll? Give me a break. He's making an extremely valid point. Wordplay has become SO common in today's business world that a single mistake like the one that "garcia" pointed out could change the entire spin of the story.

Re:MOD PARENT UP! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10506312)

STFU garcia, we all know it's you.

Re:seems like Novell has a threatening tone... (4, Insightful)

Cyberdyne (104305) | about 10 years ago | (#10505869)

That doesn't seem like they are going to fight once litigation is started. That words leads me to believe that they would start litigation if anyone even brought up the idea that their IP was being used w/o permission in the kernel.

I think that's aimed at anyone planning an SCO-style FUD campaign, where they weren't actually suing people (for the most part), just using the threat to scare them. Your company comes out making SCO-like claims about products from Novell, they'll club it into submission with a truckload of patents. Remember, as SCO demonstrated, it doesn't take an actual lawsuit to scare people away from a product or into paying "protection money" - the threat alone is often enough. Until you make the mistake they did and sue IBM - which is rather like challenging a statue to a staring contest: you'll die long before it blinks...

Re:seems like Novell has a threatening tone... (4, Interesting)

mefus (34481) | about 10 years ago | (#10505932)

That doesn't seem like they are going to fight once litigation is started. That words leads me to believe that they would start litigation if anyone even brought up the idea that their IP was being used w/o permission in the kernel.

Red Hat sought a clarification of SCOX's copyright as a pre-emptive measure against the good grounds they felt they have that SCOX was going to initiate a suit against them. This is the same thing, but Red Hat didn't act unilaterally, they thought there was a very good chance they would end up in court with SCOX based on McBride's palaver to the press.

Novell is merely recognizing that may be a necessary measure for them, as well. In fact, SCOX did sue them in anticipation of such a pre-emptive move by Novell in such a way they could still deny there was a controversy regarding copyright ownership of Unix SysV (which would, as has been shown at Groklaw [groklaw.net] erode their multiple cases against various Linux users, present their shareholders with evidence they didn't have sufficient control over the copyrights that were central to their fiscal plan and the justification for investment in SCOX's legal plans, and is the reason they sued for "Slander of Title" instead of something actually legally tractable.)

That's all that might implies.

Re:seems like Novell has a threatening tone... (1)

jdray (645332) | about 10 years ago | (#10506013)

Actually, I think it's a factor of somewhat old fashioned language use. I read the sentance something like this (paraphrasing mine):

"...Novell is prepared to use our patents...in the event someone asserts patents against open source products..."

I don't think they're planning any pre-emptive strikes against people who might or might not have LMDs (Litigations of Mass Destruction).

Re:seems like Novell has a threatening tone... (5, Insightful)

antiMStroll (664213) | about 10 years ago | (#10506131)

I don't get it, this is common English usage of the word "might" to refer to potential future acts. The normal reading of this is "to those who might sue us, we intend to defend our open source inventory with the full weight of our patent portfolio." 'Defend' is the operative word. You're completely twisting into a first strike policy read as "we intend to sue first anyone who might some day sue us". It's a ridiculous, doomed to failure legal position for a company with such long experience in litigation to assert.

so instead.... (2, Interesting)

samjam (256347) | about 10 years ago | (#10505815)

so instead the "enemy" sells the "infringed" patents to a shell company (*cough: IP company) that itself makes no use of any patents Novell has.

Sam

Re:seems like Novell has a threatening tone... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10506431)

And when has Microsoft sued people for patent infringement without the other side having started it first?

Oh damn. That's that FUD dismissed then.

Re:seems like Novell has a threatening tone... (4, Interesting)

kevin@ank.com (87560) | about 10 years ago | (#10505914)

Frankly, I'm not certain that Novell's help with patents will be as important to Free software as the simple problem that most open source developers simply aren't worth suing. Taking your patent and asserting a claim against IBM, or Novell is one thing; if you win you might stand to claim some hundreds of millions of dollars. Suing me is comparatively pointless. You might sue to avoid competition, but suing for income is pretty meaningless.

On the other hand, suing (or warning of the intent to sue) to get rid of open source competition really only has the effect of having your patented whatever be removed from the code in question, which ultimately gives you less control over the problem application. You are better off leaving it in, and threatening deep pockets like IBM instead.

Re:seems like Novell has a threatening tone... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10506348)

When you've got a financially poor target infringing a patent, you don't sue them.

You sue their customers. Believe you me, a serious campaign of patent infringement suits against anyone who's using Linux would be Open Source's nightmare and MS's dream.

Access to a patent portfolio helps with those kinds of suits - like mutually assured destruction helped during the cold war. All the OS companies infringe on each other's patents. Nobody sues because they'd get a lawsuit slapped right back on themselves and their major customers and then /everyone/ would be out of business.

The more patents devoted to protecting Linux, the less chance that a Microsoft or a Sun could suddenly decide they have grounds to pull the patented rug out from beneath the system.

Re:seems like Novell has a threatening tone... (5, Insightful)

Chyeld (713439) | about 10 years ago | (#10506101)

The main use, today, for a huge patent profile, is to cross-license it with other companies as protection against them suing you for patent infringement.

I.E. Sun goes to IBM, they both agree to cross-license their patents. Now, Sun doesn't have to worry about being sued by IBM, IBM doesn't have to worry about being sued by Sun. They both are free to sue some third company that isn't part of the alliance.

What I read from Novell's statement is basicly:
"If you attempt to go after any open source product we support, we will pull out our huge portfolio of patents and bury you in litigation for each and every infringing use of our patents we can discover. Our patents are many and powerful, mess with us and you will die a horrible and slow death by lawyers. You won't even be able to afford your funeral. So back off the FOSS projects, unless you think you've got bigger guns."

Useful, as long as no one they've already cross-licensed with is involved.

Re:seems like Novell has a threatening tone... (2, Interesting)

filesiteguy (695431) | about 10 years ago | (#10506184)

Considering that they are drawing the ire of MS and even Sun/Redhat, I think they're wanting to get their ducks (penguins?) in a row and be ready for anything. Novell is positioning themselves to once again be a big player in the server (and desktop) arena.

From what I've read of Novell Desktop, it sounds like a true windows-replacement for many corporate entities. They've really thought it out and already have proven where it works and where it won't (financial departments).

Good luck Novell!

Finally, a voice of reason amidst the madness. (0, Redundant)

Trigun (685027) | about 10 years ago | (#10505731)

Go Novell!

Hmm... (4, Interesting)

ticklejw (453382) | about 10 years ago | (#10505741)

Woot for Novell, I think. It's interesting that they're only defending *their* open source software, but at least it is a step in the right direction.

I wonder what would happen to the world if more Free Software projects started patenting *their* stuff. I figure if you patent your software, you should have to make it open source.

Just some thoughts.

Re:Hmm... (3, Insightful)

Alan Cox (27532) | about 10 years ago | (#10506096)

Its a start. It would be nice to see some kind of statement about use of Novell's patents by open source software to go with it.

In answer to your other question some folks do use patents and open source together. It isn't an ideal world and it cuts out anyone with under about 10 million US to play the game. In the Red Hat case we've published a patent promise which we hope would be a model for others to follow (or improve upon!)

IBM have also provided various patented technologies for free GPL use including key scaling technologies like RCU.

Re:Hmm... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10506113)

ObDisclaimer: I submitted another version of this story.

If you read Groklaw.net (which also has this as the current top story), you'll see more links, such as the one to their patent policy.

In it, they promise to defend those products they support or distribute, explicitly including Linux as one of them.

IMHO, I'd like to be rid of software patents, but having large companies like IBM & Novell ready to stand up & defend Linux from this sort of crap is still a Good Thing [TM].

Re:Hmm... (2, Interesting)

erroneus (253617) | about 10 years ago | (#10506136)

ACTUALLY I think you just hit on something.

When a patent is applied for, all kinds of drawings and stuff like that are needed right? It would then make sense that any company patenting software should have to supply source code in support of their patent application making it available for all to see right?

I'm not a patent attorney or really, I'm not truly familiar enough with the patent process to have a valid opinion, but from the generalities that I understand about the patent process, you have to show proof that you invented it. And I am not sure if software is treated any differently that a hardware patent in the patent office, but if it's not, then source code should be a requirement for the patent process. If it is different in that regard already, then perhaps that should be one of the points to push in the movement to reform software patents.

Re:Hmm... (4, Interesting)

ticklejw (453382) | about 10 years ago | (#10506275)

It's been on my mind a lot lately, actually. Like take a car, since we often hear about "would you buy a car with the hood welded shut." I can patent a car... or maybe more specifically a type of engine or something. But the thing is, once its patented, the plans are out there, plus just anyone can take it apart and see what makes it tick.

This is why I can understand patenting real things, because if you've invented this awesome engine, all I'd need to do is reinvent it myself but find a way to make the same thing faster, smaller, and cheaper, and suddenly I control the market, not you.

Software though... the problem here is that in reality, there's infinite supply. In the supply and demand idea, what happens when you have infinite supply? Things get ugly and the whole system breaks down. That's why people want to try patenting software, to force an artificial supply limitation on something that has an unlimited supply naturally.

So while it'd be best to just eliminate software patents from the picture and let it work itself out naturally as it has for Red Hat, and is starting to for IBM and Novell, I doubt it's going to happen, at least not as long as bigger companies have more money to throw at keeping it law. What's the solution?

If you keep your software closed-source, you can't patent it, because you can't show how you did it. You're free to copyright it if you'd like, just no patenting. If you want to patent your software, you have to let *everyone* see how it works, without reverse-engineering.

Re:Hmm... (2, Interesting)

halivar (535827) | about 10 years ago | (#10506234)

It's interesting that they're only defending *their* open source software, but at least it is a step in the right direction.

Actually, what they said was that they would defend any FOSS they develop or distrubute to their customers or otherwise support.

Novell distrubutes and supports every FOSS app they deliver with SUSE. Sounds like their being pretty broad with their protective umbrella.

Re:Hmm... (1)

mr_z_beeblebrox (591077) | about 10 years ago | (#10506500)

Ahem...

Woot for Novell, I think. It's interesting that they're only defending *their* open source software

Read it again young padawan ;-) They will defend claims against the kernel or other software that AFFECTS their offerings. The kernel is a 'big thing' and it's defense is no 'SMALL' matter.

That is true (about patents and OSS). We as a valid market alternative pushing freedom of choice should definitely demand that others choose as we have.

Re:Hmm... (2, Interesting)

seguso (760241) | about 10 years ago | (#10506514)

they're only defending *their* open source software

Assuming you mean free software (as in freedom), this is contradictory. If they are protecting their free software, then they are protecting any free software. Because free software is owned by everyone to the same degree. The contradiction is in using the word "only", which implies there is some free software they are not protecting.

Re:Hmm... (1)

mattyrobinson69 (751521) | about 10 years ago | (#10506516)

they cant patent other people's oss, but they can patent their stuff that oss software infringes on, therefore protecting the infringing oss software.

they can also say "leave my friend alone or i'l sue you"

Quite interesting (5, Interesting)

metlin (258108) | about 10 years ago | (#10505746)

From Novell's website (emphasis _not_ mine) --

As with all purchasing considerations, customers should keep software patents in perspective. In reality, open source software poses no greater risk of patent infringement than does closed source software.

Well, that's a smart statement. Coming from a company like Novell, I'm sure that it would make other companies take notice.

Consistent with this belief, Novell will use its patent portfolio to protect itself against claims made against the Linux kernel or open source programs included in Novell's offerings, as dictated by the actions of others.

Hmm, whom could the others be? /me thinks it could be IBM, especially considering that they both have a bone or two to pick with His Highness Darth McBride.

As appropriate, Novell is prepared to use our patents, which are highly relevant in today's marketplace, to defend against those who might assert patents against open source products marketed, sold or supported by Novell.

Brilliant! Simply brilliant. We now have atleast two big players (other than RedHat) who are prepared to offer legal support to Opensource, which is a great thing indeed!

Novell has previously used its ownership of UNIX copyrights and patents to protect customers against similar threats to open source software made by others.

We are a corporation, and therefore cannot legally say FUCK YOU! to SCO. However, we'll put it in such sweet-coated words hoping that the idiots over at Utah get what we mean before we haul their asses to court.

Yay! for Opensource :-)

Re:Quite interesting (2, Funny)

AmigaBen (629594) | about 10 years ago | (#10505936)

...that the idiots over at Utah...
Err.. I think you mean "the idiots next door"

Re:Quite interesting (1)

yecrom2 (461240) | about 10 years ago | (#10506270)

However, we'll put it in such sweet-coated words hoping that the idiots over at Utah get what we mean before we haul their asses to court.


um. last time I checked, Novell was in utah also. Unless they made some move since I drove past their building this this morning.

Any vendor? (4, Funny)

anocelot (657966) | about 10 years ago | (#10505750)

heh heh. I wonder if they had any organization in mind when they said that.

Open Source Pwns (-1, Offtopic)

Tie_Defender (753637) | about 10 years ago | (#10505760)

Hooray for Novell! 0p3|/| 50urc3 p\/\/n5 j00!

exactly what i would do (5, Interesting)

Power Everywhere (778645) | about 10 years ago | (#10505770)

use the system to defeat the system. now that novell is going open, they look back and see how much non-free content they've accrued over the years and wonder how they can use it to fight for oss instead of against it.

the only thing novel has to worry about now is making sure this doesnt come back to haunt them... you can't play the devil's game without giving him his due at one point or anther, and patents are the devil.

Re:exactly what i would do (2, Interesting)

i_r_sensitive (697893) | about 10 years ago | (#10506077)

Why would you want to defeat "the system?" Apart from the fact that the term is vague, every software license in the world relies on "the system" to have be enforceable (including the GPL.) Even if you divorce the currency of innovation completely from filthy lucre, these licenses still enforce the currency which matters, the rights of the developer to his or her own work, and to place reasonable conditions on its use and modification.

Without "the system" I fail to see how such rights could be guaranteed. In a utopian world, perhaps such measures would be unnecessary, but that is exactly what it is, Utopian.

Ultimately, why are we celebrating? So Novell is going to use their IP to protect F/OSS. Good, but open-sourcing the IP in question (where relevant and possible) is even better. That would do more to fundamentally alter the IP-landscape than a pledge to defend as offered. That would be a concrete statement. As it is, I guess we wait and see how this is implemented in the near future.

Thanks for nothing, so far.

Mutually assured destruction. (5, Interesting)

theparanoidcynic (705438) | about 10 years ago | (#10505771)

Good to see a company holding a large patent portfolio openly announcing that it will basically nuke any target big enough to hit (includes most software companies) that attacks Linux.

Double Standard (3, Insightful)

z0ink (572154) | about 10 years ago | (#10505785)

So I geuss an agressive patent portfolio is only good when its on the side of Linux?

Re:Double Standard (3, Insightful)

MrWim (760798) | about 10 years ago | (#10505855)

No, an aggressive patent portfolio is almost always bad, but this is a defensive one.

Re:Double Standard (1)

XoloX (816533) | about 10 years ago | (#10505884)

No, but since it seems this whole patenting-hell is happening right now, it's for the better to have some support for the OSS-side of the business. Don't you think? I mean, if people are unable to stop it [software-patenting as an absurd way of destroying the smaller players], they should at least try not to miss the boat. This way they will have done what they could to prevent things from going bad.

Re:Double Standard (1)

noselasd (594905) | about 10 years ago | (#10505887)

Software patents are never good, but if someone have a lots of patent,
and never claims anyone for infringement(be it linux patents or anything else), that's atleast better..

Re:Double Standard (1)

zrobotics (760688) | about 10 years ago | (#10505988)

You make a valid point, but it would be infinitly better for these companies to release their patents into the public domain, so that the "ideas" they patented would enjoy the same status as patented ideas that have expired. that way, we would never have to worry about litigation, and could use the ideas without having to worry about "protective patent portfolios". since it is unlikely that software patents will be banned (since there is so much money in it for the gov't), this would seem to be the next best thing.

Re:Double Standard (1)

mefus (34481) | about 10 years ago | (#10506156)

it would be infinitly better for these companies to release their patents into the public domain

They would still have to worry about litigation, and you are asking them to give up a weapons useful in defense of potential patent litigation directed against them.

Until software patents have been removed or brought under control [groklaw.net] , patent portfolios and the threat of a countersuit are the best defense against patent claim assertion.

Re:Double Standard (4, Informative)

metlin (258108) | about 10 years ago | (#10505927)

No, the way they worded it, it sounded more defensive than otherwise.

I understand what you mean and the unfortunate hypocrisy, but it did not sound like that - it sounded as though they were trying to protect themselves from sue-happy companies.

Consider this -

Consistent with this belief, Novell will use its patent portfolio to protect itself against claims made against the Linux kernel or open source programs included in Novell's offerings, as dictated by the actions of others.

That sounds more like, if you make claims that are offending our business, we would not take it lightly. It definitely does not sound like they would have a sue-first think-later kinda attitude.

As appropriate, Novell is prepared to use our patents, which are highly relevant in today's marketplace, to defend against those who might assert patents against open source products marketed, sold or supported by Novell.

If you sue us with your patents, we'll have to handle you accordingly.

Come on, that sounds quite benign. Looks to me like they're just trying to protect their interests.

Re:Double Standard (1)

advocate_one (662832) | about 10 years ago | (#10506370)

"Consistent with this belief, Novell will use its patent portfolio to protect itself against claims made against the Linux kernel or open source programs included in Novell's offerings, as dictated by the actions of others."

That sounds more like, if you make claims that are offending our business, we would not take it lightly. It definitely does not sound like they would have a sue-first think-later kinda attitude.

Sounds just like the reasoning the superpowers use to explain why they possess nuclear weapons... "purely defensive of course, we'll never use them for a first strike, but just defensively... and of course, we don't want anyone else not in our little club to aquire the technology..."

Re:Double Standard (1)

theoddball (665938) | about 10 years ago | (#10505939)

Well, it's not quite the same tactic...

As I understand Novell's intent here, the patent portfolio is more like a shield than a sword.

If BigAggressiveCorporation X has a big portfolio, they can use it to attack anyone else who could even vaguely be construed as infringing, and thus some small-timers opt to steer clear of what might otherwise be a great idea because of the risk of litigation.

Novell, on the other hand, is basically saying "Hey, all this stuff we've got patented is OK to use in open source. We'll defend that it is, too." Note the "dictated by the actions of others" comment they make.

ianal, ymmv, bbq.

Re:Double Standard (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10505955)

As with most things, its only wrong if its been done to you.

Re:Double Standard (1)

Marc Desrochers (606563) | about 10 years ago | (#10505961)

"The enemy of my enemy is my friend"

I believe that this is what is happening. It's the IT version of the Cold War. Most would prefer that no nukes existed, but as long as they do, most would rather have, than not have. I really think this is Novell and IBM, and perhaps others, watching MS get ready for it's patent assault, and saying you nuke us, we'll nuke you back. Here comes the Cold War analogy again, Mutually Assured Destruction.

Re:Double Standard (1)

pknoll (215959) | about 10 years ago | (#10506050)

So I geuss an agressive patent portfolio is only good when its on the side of Linux?

Yes, you have it exactly correct. I'll assume by "Linux" you actually mean Open Source, since that's really what this is about.

It is not the tool that is at issue here, or even the manner in which it is used. It's the reason behind the action Novell intends to take that you need to look at.

Other companies are attempting to use their patent portfolios to choke off innovation and expansion in the software field, to maintain their market position. They are defending an outmoded and outdated business model. They're fighting to maintain the status quo.

Novell wants to use this same tool to help protect the Open Source community, to allow it to grow and expand. They are fighting for what they see is the future.

The same tool, yes - a patent portfolio. The same tactics, even - litigation, whether in defense of another's actions, or taking action themselves. But it is why they do so that makes it different. It's what makes it a good thing.

please (1)

Deternal (239896) | about 10 years ago | (#10506064)

Who the hell modded this up - at best it's redundant at worst it's flamebait.
NO ONE HERE SAID SOFTWARE PATENTS ROCKS.
However obviously its nice to have a company say they will defend (admittedly a limited amount off) OSS works against weird attacks. Like MS wielding their "innovative" double-click patent against the x.org project or some such.
It doesn't mean anyone condones sw patents, just that people are happy to see someone atleast do some good with a system that is basically crap.

Re:Double Standard (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10506083)

While software patents are bad, I reside in the real world, as does Linux. If war is bad, why does every country in the world have an army? This is a good thing, even though it is not an ideal situation, until we all live in an ideal world, we still have to accept the reality of the situation.

BTW, Novell rocks. You couldn't expect them to vouch for any more than they are involved with anyway. I think its great that Novell is taking steps to legitimize Linux in more corporate enviroments.

Re:Double Standard (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10506133)

Mistaken. We the consumers don't care about patents. We the consumers gain absolutely nothing from patents. The patent as we know, has been used as a tool to attack the competition. Now who ultimately benefits when there is less competition? Who benefits when there is more competition? The patent argument is weak. There is nothing anyone can say today to convince me that patents are good for anyone beyond those that hold the majority of patents. I dare you to start up an argument in favor of patents. I will crush you. Do you even have a good understanding of the history of patents? Unless you have done at least some reading on the subject, don't argue the side that obviously doesn't care about you.

Re:Double Standard (1)

thoromyr (673646) | about 10 years ago | (#10506233)

I think patents and copyrights should be abolished -- but the reality is that they are here and used to prevent competition. Are you trying to suggest that a "high road" should be taken and Novell give up patents? Should they also dissolve themselves as a company to avoid corporate greed?

It's a (very) little bit like nuclear weapons. You have maybe five countries (companies) with a large nuclear arsenal (patent portfolio). They agree to not use them against each other, but to knock any one else down. Then one of the countries (companies) pledges a defense of someone outside of the power group. While it might satisfy someone's sense of morals if they dismantled their arsenel (portfolio) and crawled under a rock instead, that would have no effect on the remaining powers to continue the situation.

While not a perfect situation in a perfect world, Novell's stance seems to be an improvement over the past. I'm not about to get all warm-and-fuzzy over IBM and Novell, but their behavior has been much more commendable than, say, Microsoft or SCO.

thoromyr

Re:Double Standard (2, Insightful)

AvantLegion (595806) | about 10 years ago | (#10506485)

You're confusing two separate stances as being of the same standard.

Stance #1: It would be nice if there were no software patents.

Stance #2: Software patents DO exist, and it would be nice to use the system against those who would abuse the system, helping to prevent (or at least inhibit) the bad things that make us take Stance #1.

A double standard would only exist if Novell were to do what other patent holders are: target companies minding their own business, call them "infringers", and try to squeeze money out of them. Novell is claiming nothing of the sort. Novell is claiming that if they are attacked, they have the means and will to retaliate.

Re:Double Standard (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10506515)

Yee-haw. Obligatory "you guys are double-standardz!" post, without much merit, and getting predictable +5 moderation.

The fact of the matter is that there ALREADY EXISTS these arsenals of Patents of Mass Destruction. And that being the case, you'd rather have them used in defensive manner, which is what the statement is saying. They are not claiming that "some thieves are using our patented stuff" (like some companies are); they are just pointing out that they are prepared to use their arsenal to protect things they distribute.

I'd personally prefer that software patents were just wiped out completely. But short of that, this is the next best thing.

And finally, although Linux is one major part of Open/Free software, it's hardly the only piece... and when more and more OS code is coming out, it will become smaller player, relatively speaking. It's libraries, frameworks and toolkits that will soon mostly/only be written as Open Source.

Nice! (2, Interesting)

XoloX (816533) | about 10 years ago | (#10505792)

Sounds nice... Don't know if this could eventually turn against OSS, but it sure does sound nice to have one of the bigger company's supporting OSS this way. I'm against software-patents (as in "a scrollbar" or "task-grouping", I'm sure there are even worse examples out there), but if they do turn legitimate in the EU, it sure counts to have some defense on the side of OSS. Go Novell!

A step in the right direction (5, Insightful)

Bruce Perens (3872) | about 10 years ago | (#10505798)

The Novell policy notice is a step in the right direction. I'd like the next revision of the document to state that they won't use their own patents against software licensed as Open Source. I'm told that Novell PR person Bruce Lowry has been telling that to reporters, so let's please see it in writing.

Also, I should point out, so that people can understand how far the document goes, that Novell's threat is not useful against companies with which they have already executed a patent cross-license. These could include most of the large companies in the computer industry and might include Microsoft. And of course the document is not a promise to act against anyone. Novell still gets to decide who they sue.

Thanks

Bruce

Re:A step in the right direction (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10505929)

I take your point, but I think possibly one of the most important things here is that Novell have publicly come out and effectively made a statement that the whole software patent issue is nonsense, and they wont play that game - except to defend itself from others trying to.

It might just be a step, but I think this is a pretty significant one for all those threatened by stupid patent laws.

Re:A step in the right direction (3, Interesting)

Bruce Perens (3872) | about 10 years ago | (#10505991)

I agree. Of course the real fix will only come through legislation, and we have a long way to get to that. I wonder if Novell will help with that too?

Bruce

Re:A step in the right direction (1)

richie2000 (159732) | about 10 years ago | (#10505987)

I'd like the next revision of the document to state that they won't use their own patents against software licensed as Open Source.

Messman hints at this in the press release:

"We will use our patents for the original purpose patents were established - to encourage innovation - not to shut down options for customers."

In the context of the rest of the PR, it's no question that's what he means even if it isn't spelled out. Maybe their counsel made them reserve that right in case a really flagrant patent infringment case pops up -- what if Microsoft came along and trampled all over their patents with a new application and made just enough parts of the infringing app open-source to get off the hook but tied the rest to a closed API or DLL -- just enough open for the no-sue clause but not enough for the OSS part to be really useful?

Re:A step in the right direction (1)

Hobberdome (816308) | about 10 years ago | (#10506578)

It is nice to see that even some of the bigger corporations are noticing that software patents stifle innovation and just not us. It seems lately that only companies on a downward spiral use IP litigation as a means of revenue or companies that can't innovate and are holding onto their monopoly until it's ripped from their dead whiteknockled fingers. I hope this brings attention to this issue.

so let's please see it in writing

IBM has stated before that they will not use their patent portfolio against Linux, well... let's see that in writing! Make some type of good faith towards OSS as well. If software IP and litigation continue down this road, then we ALL lose in the long run.

Patetnts still suck... (0, Troll)

etnoy (664495) | about 10 years ago | (#10505807)

Novell or Microsoft; I don't care.
Software patents are still evil.

Brain hurts (5, Funny)

genner (694963) | about 10 years ago | (#10505823)

My inner slashdotter is telling me I like open
source put hate patent law. I'm so confused.
How am I supposed to Karama Whore this one?
Oh well must try my best. I'll just say w00t and
hope it's enought to appease the moderation god's.

Strange but welcome allies (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10505824)

Open Source has two very vocal and very visible advocates -- IBM and Novell. There's a strange contrast here between the big mainstream companies and the original "just for fun" ideas of Linux.

There's a part that want to see Linux dominate the global market...and those simply happy and content to be using it. I'm torn between wanting its ultimate success and being wary of "selling out" to the corporate world.

I guess that's one of the things the GPL is great for -- it allows Linux to take any direction people want it to go and still be perfectly Free.

It almost feels like a socialist slogan -- what's best for all of us (Linux community) is in reality the best for you as well (IBM/Novell).

I for one welcome our new SUSE-maintaining overlords.

Re:Strange but welcome allies (1)

Duke Machesne (453316) | about 10 years ago | (#10506588)

I think Linux is just peaches and fucking creamy, personally, and I'm delighted to be using it and following along in the drama of its community. It's fun.

I could give a fuck less whether it dominates the global market, or whether anyone else in particular is using it.

What the involvement of the big corporations means to me is that it isn't going to go away any time soon, and I think that's all just dandelions and gravy, baby! Also, it means that stuff will probably get done a lot faster than it would have otherwise. Some of it will be way groovy and some of it will be pinstripe stiff, but if anything gets thrown in the mix that I don't like, the odds are pretty good some other people won't like it either. Then maybe we'll start a new branch together.

Life is like a great big happy picnic.

Defensive Patent Pools (3, Interesting)

augustz (18082) | about 10 years ago | (#10505835)

Software companies often generate and cross license patents in patent pools. This type of activity defends against other companies who actually build products and have many patents (though not against the IP firms with nothing to offer but litigation).

Novell's step is a different way of accomplishing this. Would be interesting if the open source movement itself started developing patents to play a role in patent pools.

Re:Defensive Patent Pools (3, Insightful)

Bruce Perens (3872) | about 10 years ago | (#10505931)

According to the American Intellectual Property Law Association, it now costs $3 Million to either prosecute or defend a patent infringement case to completion. For this reason, an offensive portfolio might not be much help. Without the funds to prosecute it, it becomes a hollow threat. I think it's much better to attempt to overturn bad patents administratively, as Dan Ravicher of pubpat.org [pubpat.org] recently did with Microsoft's patent on the FAT filesystem.

Did anyone notice that moments after the FAT patent was invalidated, we started to hear of a Microsoft-specific format for USB "disk" devices? I think they still would like to close out that path of interoperability for us.

Bruce

Novell is on the right track (1)

davesplace1 (729794) | about 10 years ago | (#10505838)

It seems like a lot of companys make some minor changes to code, then think they own that code. Good for Novell to stand up for open source. Oprn source, not open checkbooks.

Speaking of this... (-1, Offtopic)

Chuck Bucket (142633) | about 10 years ago | (#10505840)

what's the latest with the SCO deal? I haven't heard about it in some time. I long for the day when I read "I just heard some sad news on talk radio, SCO has been found dead it it's Utah home..." ;)

CB&*(@#$

Good News, But.... (5, Interesting)

eamacnaghten (695001) | about 10 years ago | (#10505844)

This is good news, both in respect of the defense of direct attacks against Linux that we are expecting, but also in increasing general confidence in the Open Source Model in general.

But there is a but...

Seeing is believing here. On a patent attack Novell will be tempted to cross license the issue, but for Novell customers only, not for Open Source users and distributers in general. It would be nice to see a company like Novell champion the defense of Open Source, and if they do it would be beneficial to the world in general, but how far will they go in a direction that will help competitors like RedHat as well as themselves?

Maybe RedHat and Novell will team up against attacks (RedHat already has a fund to protect Open Source over fraudulent copyright claims). That would really be beneficial, not least to RedHat and Novell!

Re:Good News, But.... (1)

antiMStroll (664213) | about 10 years ago | (#10506214)

"On a patent attack Novell will be tempted to cross license the issue, but for Novell customers only, not for Open Source users and distributers in general."

Novell owns Suse. Suse is almost entirely GPL. The GPL doesn't allow for what you fear. How much of Novell's open source inventory is licensed in a manner that would?

GPL and patents (1)

nuggz (69912) | about 10 years ago | (#10506417)

If they only cross licence for their own users Novell would not be able to distribute GPL code.

They would have to leave it at a simple, we infringe, you infringe, lets leave it at that.

Re:Good News, But.... (1)

Deliveranc3 (629997) | about 10 years ago | (#10506573)

When you start against a monopoly there is only one competitor..(note period 1 should be read period.

Makes Business Sense (5, Insightful)

diagnosis (38691) | about 10 years ago | (#10505868)

It's been pretty clear for a while now that Novell wants to be a part of open source success. They announced their big enterprise server package last week (see http://www.novell.com/news/press/archive/2004/10/p r04068.html [novell.com] ), which is driving continual SuSE upgrades and taking advantage of a bunch of Open Source work. They are making SuSE rock really hard, and it has what is so far my favorite package management tools. And anyway now they are 10 months ahead of schedule with their Enterprise stuff, thanks in part to the magic of open source.

Of course, none of this is helping to make the Netware client less of a beast on Windows.

---------------------
Rate free iPod offers: RateTheOffers.com [ratetheoffers.com]
(Flat screens and Desktop PCs too)

Novell SuSE Linux (4, Informative)

richie2000 (159732) | about 10 years ago | (#10505871)

I recently applied for a Linux eval kit and got a 3-DVD set from Novell with SuSE Linux, both Pro and Enterprise, Groupwise and a lot of other goodies like their Netware implementation for Linux. The program is currently closed, but if they ever re-open it - go for it. The packaging was excellent, SuSE worked fine out-of-the-box and delivery was prompt. They even followed-up with a non-intrusive e-mail a month later asking how it went and pointing me to more resources.

Novell's running a class act here and they deserve our support so if you're in a position to select a distro for your company, take another look at Novell's offerings. If you download an Enterprise eval version 9 [novell.com] , you get 30 days free installation support for it. You can't beat that.

Profits (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10505873)

Novell aren't doing this in "support of the movement", their only interest is to increase profits, don't fool yourselves.

Re:Profits (1)

bbsguru (586178) | about 10 years ago | (#10506360)

1) develop unique products 2) patent them 3) profit! What was so bad about that? now we have 1) patent oxygen 2) use patent to protect OSS movement 3) profit! Even better!

Not as good as it seems (5, Interesting)

dmp123 (547038) | about 10 years ago | (#10505886)

Overall, it's quite positive for open source. BUT:

Among other things, Novell would seek to address the claim by identifying prior art that could invalidate the patent; demonstrating that the product does not infringe the patent; redesigning the product to avoid infringement; or pursuing a license with the patent owner.

This paragraph came from the Novell statement about how they would deal with a patent infringement claim. The last bit "pursuing a licence with the patent holder" might not get you what you want. Imagine if your OSS program ends up being only usable by users of SuSE/Novell Linux, because they bought an exclusive license for the patent...

David

GPL Prevents That (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10506217)

Under the GPL, you CANNOT distribute a work if you cannot give people the rights to *redistribute* it.

So, any license they negotiated would allow everyone, not just Novell, to use the GPL'd work in question.

Now then, it's true--other licenses like the BSD license do *not* have this requirement, so we could get stuck with something becoming "Novell-only" (though even then, other entities could license the patent or use it in venues where the patent isn't recognized). But that's one of the reasons the GPL coerces you to make the software itself free for *all* and not just for yourself :)

Resume of the Novell letter (3, Funny)

Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) | about 10 years ago | (#10505901)

What follows is the heavily PR'ed Novell letter, interspersed with the layman translation. Marvel at its simplicity and at the bully-like tone of it:

* We believe that customers want and need freedom of choice in making decisions about technology solutions. Those considering Novell offerings, whether proprietary or open source, should be able to make their purchasing decisions based on technical merits, security, quality of service and value, not the threat of litigation. Novell intends to continue to compete based on such criteria.

We don't make Netware or NDS products anymore, we don't have the money. So now we jump on the Linux bandwagon and make Linux-based products, and you better believe it's just as good as our old shit. But...

* As with all purchasing considerations, customers should keep software patents in perspective. In reality, open source software poses no greater risk of patent infringement than does closed source software.

...don't be afraid: nooo Linux ain't bad, it's aaall good. It's soft and furry and you can sleep with our products at night. So...

* Consistent with this belief, Novell will use its patent portfolio to protect itself against claims made against the Linux kernel or open source programs included in Novell's offerings, as dictated by the actions of others.

...since our very survival depends on Linux and we still have old patents and stuff that are so vague we could slap a lawsuit on any badmouther's face in less time that you can say "disestablishmentarianism",...

* In the event of a patent claim against a Novell open source product, Novell would respond using the same measures generally used to defend proprietary software products accused of patent infringement. Among other things, Novell would seek to address the claim by identifying prior art that could invalidate the patent; demonstrating that the product does not infringe the patent; redesigning the product to avoid infringement; or pursuing a license with the patent owner.

...if you so much as hint at dissing our new shiny products, we'll sue your ass off with our old patents and...

* As appropriate, Novell is prepared to use our patents, which are highly relevant in today's marketplace, to defend against those who might assert patents against open source products marketed, sold or supported by Novell. Some software vendors will attempt to counter the competitive threat of Linux by making arguments about the risk of violating patents. Vendors that assert patents against customers and competitors such as Novell do so at their own peril and with the certainty of provoking a response. We urge customers to remind vendors that all are best served by using innovation and competition to drive purchasing decisions, rather than the threat of litigation.

...you better believe it cuz we're fucking serious about it! You better remember that...

* Novell has previously used its ownership of UNIX copyrights and patents to protect customers against similar threats to open source software made by others.

...we fucking did it before with that old canard Unix so it's fucking true!

Re:Resume of the Novell letter (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10505953)

How is this a troll?

Re:Resume of the Novell letter (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10506038)

MODS ON CRACK!

Re-read the post, this is not a troll.

Re:Resume of the Novell letter (1)

e9th (652576) | about 10 years ago | (#10506509)

This is no troll. It is an interpretation that some disagree with.

Missing something? (2, Interesting)

dtfinch (661405) | about 10 years ago | (#10505947)

They should give an opinion on lawsuits from patent holding companies, who don't produce any product and are simply used to attack by proxy and are basically immune from counterattacks. IANAL, but a good workaround might be to attack whoever sold the patent to the holding company.

Can't agree with them (1)

AlXtreme (223728) | about 10 years ago | (#10505958)

Software patents are bad, even when used for 'right' (ie. our) reasons. This is fighting fire with fire.

Wake me up when the USPTO burns to the ground. /me is off to find an alibi

Re:Can't agree with them (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10505996)

Wake me up when the USPTO burns to the ground.

I'd stock up on Valium if I were you...

In Soviet Russia... (1)

citizenklaw (767566) | about 10 years ago | (#10505969)

...Novell patents you!

It's about time! (0, Redundant)

disbaldman (804041) | about 10 years ago | (#10506007)

Up until now, software patents SUCKED!

Cast protection from evil before summoning demons (2, Insightful)

RAMMS+EIN (578166) | about 10 years ago | (#10506024)

They're on our side now, but what if they turn against us?

Fabulous position (3, Interesting)

erroneus (253617) | about 10 years ago | (#10506059)

I work in a shop that has Novell as the core controller for email and network authentication. There are plans for migrating to Linux servers with Novell services and ultimately Linux workstations using Novell services.

Some of my peers express hesitation on these moves where I assert "What is Novell but a set of services? They needn't be tied to any particular OS so why not a particularly useful, flexible and free one?" Hell, for that matter, Microsoft could easily do the same thing -- hosting their services on a Linux or BSD host server system to create an ultra-stable server system that can do one hell of a lot more than it does now. (Then they really WOULD have Windows Services for Unix!)

I think this statement goes a long way to ease any potential fears of Novell customers who are moving to their Linux-based products and I think that is their primary target. It's not enough for them to say "if you get sued, we'll pick up the bill." They have to take up a pro-active stance against anyone who would think about making such a move... and so that's clearly what they are doing.

Now I don't read this as them defending the whole of the OSS community, but it's still a rather large umbrella of protection they are suggesting here... potentially larger than they might at first realize? It boggles the mind to think about it, but it's a very reassuring move on Novell's part.

If this stuff keeps up, people will scoff at Microsoft for running a "proprietary operating system" when all others are running something that is more open, trusted and established.

Is This Going To Work...? (1)

mlauzon (818714) | about 10 years ago | (#10506082)

Yes, I've read the article, but do you think this can really work...I am not against or for patents especially in this day and age of computers when innovation is key; yes I could see their use during the early 20th century but are they worth it now?!

Heartwarming! (1)

zonix (592337) | about 10 years ago | (#10506118)

You know, at first I was a bit reluctant to celebrate when Novell acquired Ximian and SuSE, wondering whether this would have the turnout along the lines of their previous Word Perfect acquisition, Netscape partnership, etc.

However, their dealings with SCO thus far have certainly been noteworthy. I especially like their to the point open letters.

This stated patent policy from Novell is a heartwarming read in this respect. It's straightforward - no BS, I feel - talk, and one of the most important points is even boldfaced.

Maybe it's the top-down nature of Novell approach to FOSS, you know, like the executives really (presumably) getting the message and passing it along downwards?

z

This is stupid (1, Insightful)

pclminion (145572) | about 10 years ago | (#10506121)

Sorry, but this is a really bad idea.

Now, the opponents of Open Source are able to point to us and say, "Look, these people want us to give up OUR software patents so they can steal OUR innovations, while at the same time they support the use of software patents whenever it suits THEIR purposes."

It makes us look like a bunch of fucking hypocrites, which we are, if this stupidity actually goes forward.

Boooo, Novell. You really don't get it, do you?

Well, Well (1)

rjdohnert (772699) | about 10 years ago | (#10506127)

People seem to be well enamored to these announcements. The only problem I see is a direct conflict with the terms of the GPL and the fact that you people will hate it if Novell uses its patents against other Open Source vendors, such as dotGNU for example and if they try to patent certain parts of the Linux kernel. I dont think well of this and I for one will not, nor ever consider Novells solutions for my business. I will be holding a meeting with my staff to ensue the deletion of Novell products from my network and I do plan to withdraw myself from their partner channel. If Novell would turn these patents over to OSDL or the FSF so it can be assured that these patents will be enforced unbiased then I would probably feel better about them.

But is it irrevokable? (1)

Nom du Keyboard (633989) | about 10 years ago | (#10506141)

Novell intends to continue to compete based on such criteria.

But is this move irrevokable? What if Novell is bought-out and and some new owner decides to make their profits off of IP licensing? How safe is it to assume that this makes you safe from infringment litigation?

Pay close attention. (2, Interesting)

mumblestheclown (569987) | about 10 years ago | (#10506147)

What Novell wrote sounds open, straightforward, and intelligent.

Alas, it's pure marketing nonsense; FUD as bad as any that MS has ever been accused of putting out.

Consider:

As with all purchasing considerations, customers should keep software patents in perspective. In reality, open source software poses no greater risk of patent infringement than does closed source software.

Now this is a pretty bold assertion. But they seem to back it up..

Consistent with this belief, Novell will use its patent portfolio to protect itself against claims made against the Linux kernel or open source programs included in Novell's offerings, as dictated by the actions of others.

Right? Right? Well, no. not really.

The patent issue in OSS is "third party infringement" that works as such:

  • Company P has a patent on X.
  • OSS Developer A unknowingly uses X in his OSS product L.
  • Company BigCo uses L. P notices that BigCo uses L and claims that because the source for L is "open", that BigCo has a legal duty to check to see that no patents are violated. P sues BigCo.
Contrast this to the case where product L$ is not OSS and so BigCo feels secure that even if there is some infringement, it could not have reasonably known about it (so P sues A$)

The Novell claim does nothing about this third party problem except in the perverse and unlikely situation where invention P just happens to be actually based on some of Novell's prior art in the first place (and probably a few common variants of that, too). Great.. nice to see that Novell would fight for this, I guess. But that hardly seems worthwhile making an announcement over.

So how is this FUD? (or rather some weird inverse of FUD, where you're falsely trying to instill certainty and comfort). Plainly, because Novell has done nothing to address the fundamental problem of OSS and Patents but has claimed nevertheless that patents are not an issue.

N.B. In the final analysis, they might not be an issue. But do you want to be the first BigCo that gets sued by some P? I think it's reasonable for BigCos to sit out and wait until some other BigCo pays the legal bills to get that question solved..

Re:Pay close attention. (3, Insightful)

Knight2K (102749) | about 10 years ago | (#10506338)

So how is this FUD? (or rather some weird inverse of FUD, where you're falsely trying to instill certainty and comfort).


Hmm.. seems like a concrete example of what Terry Pratchett calls 'anti-crime' like: breaking-and-decorating.

They Still Own UNIX Patents and probably more (2, Informative)

HighOrbit (631451) | about 10 years ago | (#10506187)

IIRC, Novell retained ownership of the Unix Patents (if they aren't all already expired) when they transfered the buisness to old SCO. Since Linux is mostly implenting stuff that UNIX has already done, Novell should be safe. Basically, any functionallity that Linux implements has probably already been implemented in UNIX. therefore one of two things come into play 1) Novell already owns it, or 2)The person who asserts it would have to show why they didn't assert it for UNIX also at sometime over the last 30 years of UNIX's existance.

Another thing to remember is that Novell was the big deal in networking and networked apps back in the late 80's-early 90's, so they probably hold a lot of IP from their old netware days.

Seems an odd choice (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10506245)

Novell to Defend Open Source Using Patents
  1. Wouldn't some salve and nice sterile, bandages be more appropriate?

Ha ha ha ha ha... (1)

ReadbackMonkey (92198) | about 10 years ago | (#10506284)


Assert those patents and your turn to the darkside will be complete.

Or something like that.

I thought Novell and Netware were dead... (1)

Ath (643782) | about 10 years ago | (#10506355)

Damn. I knew I shouldn't have stopped reading slashdot over the weekend.

Clear bias (1)

Himring (646324) | about 10 years ago | (#10506372)

There's a clear bias here. We cannot hold it against one company for using patents to defend their interests, and then not hold it against another company for using their patents to defend their interests.

Confused?

Let's at least try a little objectivity. SCO tries to use their patents to come against companies profiting off of Open Source = bad.

Novell uses their patents to warn others not to sue them for using Open Source = good.

To be consistent you must frown upon this move by Novell, not pat them on the back.

"Hey you guys! Don't put rocks in your snow balls! You're gonna hurt someone" [whisper] "ok, here, start making our snow balls with rocks in 'em...."

Bad, bad, bad... (1)

lfourrier (209630) | about 10 years ago | (#10506465)

...software patents are bad.
And as the recent case between sun and kodak demonstrated, patents are much more dangerous in the hands of those outside the industry, because there is no way to retaliate with the same weapons.
Imagine mister Bill create some company with his own money, like he did with Corbis for pictures. Let call this company "Billy et ses tueurs".
"Billy et ses tueurs" then buy a lot of software patents, and then selectively enforce them again linux (and even if not selectively, the fact there is a patent is enough to pose problems to OSS).
How can Novell use patents to defeat "Billy et ses tueurs" ? Look at the damages patents only companies are making.

Patent Cold War (2, Insightful)

Dracolytch (714699) | about 10 years ago | (#10506505)

Really what this sounds like is giving the Open Source guys some weapons in the Patent Cold War, where almost any company could start a litigation WWIII.

While it's a sad statement, it's probably good to have at this point. Without it, it's only a matter of time before MS or someone else tries to litigate RedHat or similar to fiscal obilivion.

I'd prefer the market weren't in this situation, mind you (And Novell probably does too), but all things considered, it's probably a good thing to have.

Now, let's just hope Novell stays relatively beneficent.

~D
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