Novell, EFF Announce Patent Reform Partnership

We were all quick to deride Novell when we perceived they did something that was not in the best interest of the community. I think it’s only fair that we point out when they do something that should be perceived as good for the community. I think they just have:

With all the controversy about software patents in the Linux technology space of late, it may come as a surprise to some people that one Linux company has today announced they will take unprecedented measures to assist the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in reforming the current patent system and eliminating bad software patents.

That company is Novell.

Novell made the announcement during a panel discussion at the Open Source Business Conference entitled “Is the Novell-Microsoft Deal Good for Open Source?”–a panel which included Novell’s Director of Marketing Justin Steinman and Sam Ramji, Director, Linux Labs, of Microsoft.

“EFF is partnering with Novell to try to get rid of software patents that are hurting innovation all over the world,” stated Shari Steele, Executive Director of the EFF in an interview prior to the panel session.

In essence, Novell is committed to working with the EFF to improve patent quality, while at the same time work to lobby with government agencies to reform existing patent policies and litigation, according to Nat Friedman. Novell’s Chief Technology and Strategy Officer for Open Source. Specifically, Novell will assist the EFF in two ways.

As previously mentioned, I was at that session and it was very interesting. There are two basic pieces to this agreement. The first is that they will work with and support the EFF’s existing Patent Busting Project, which targets existing patents that cover technology concepts that are perhaps too fundamental or already have prior art. The second piece will have Novell working with the EFF and legislators to lobby for patent reform, initially in the US, but also branching out to Europe, where patent problems continue to arise. The EFF and Novell will also work with standards groups to assist in patent reform. The EFF has confirmed that this is the first time a corporate entity has publicly thrown in this level of support for the EFF on the patent issue. Kudos to Novell. I’m surprised Nat didn’t play this up a bit more at OSBC (has was not on the panel for this session, but was in the crowd and was called upon by Justin to answer a question).

With the Microsoft-Novell deal slated to become public knowledge, with redactions, before the end of the month we will soon be able to put some if the previously missing puzzle together and see what implications there really are. One thing I think Novell has learned here is that increased transparency really would have eased this whole process. Let’s hope that’s not a lesson they soon forget.


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