Freeware's end run
- By William Jackson
- Jun 22, 2007
Brand X Pictures
In the latest draft of its General Public License, the Free Software Foundation takes a shot at cooperative patent agreements such as the one announced in November 2006 by Microsoft and Novell.
The new license, expected to go into effect at the end of June, does not interfere with the two software companies' agreement to provide each other's customers with patent protection. It would require Microsoft to extend the same protection to all customers using Novell software distributed under the new version of the GPL, however, and it would ban further such agreements.
The Free Software Foundation does not like software patents. The whole point of the free-software movement is to keep software free from use and dissemination restrictions. It sees Novell's acceptance of the Microsoft offer of protection from patent infringement claims against SUSE Linux Enterprise software as an implied acceptance of those claims.
Free software is free not in the sense of price but in the sense that it comes with no restrictions for the user. 'Think free speech rather than free beer,' Richard Stallman, who founded the foundation in the 1980s, recently told GCN. Linux is a product of his GNU's Not Unix (GNU) Project to develop a Unix-like operating system. The GPL is an effort to ensure that free software remains free by requiring that all rights to use, copy, modify and distribute the software be conveyed to each user.
The foundation released the final discussion draft of GPL Version 3 May 31. It will be formally promulgated after a 29-day public comment period.
Patent issues are addressed in Section 11 of the license, which says that if you 'grant a patent license to some of the parties receiving the covered work'then the patent license you grant is automatically extended to all recipients.' The next paragraph forbids future agreements such as those between Microsoft and Novell.
'The main reason for this is tactical,' the foundation explained in releasing the final draft. 'We believe we can do more to protect the community by allowing Novell to use software under GPL Version 3 than by forbidding it to do so.' However, the new version 'will block Microsoft and other patent aggressors from further such attempts to subvert parts of our community."
William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.