Novell Warns Against Potential Linux Lawsuits - InformationWeek

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Novell Warns Against Potential Linux Lawsuits

Novell Corp. executives this week fired a warning shot in the continuing industry battle over software patent lawsuits.

Novell Corp. executives this week fired a warning shot in the continuing industry battle over software patent lawsuits.

In a policy statement issued Tuesday, the software vendor stated that it "is prepared to use our patents . . . to defend against those who might assert patents against open source products marketed, sold or supported by Novell."

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

According to Bruce Lowry, Novell director of public relations, the company decided to issue its statement due to increased interest in software patent issues. "As one of the few companies with both extensive patents and a commercial open-source software business, we concluded we needed to take a public stand on the issue," Lowry said.

"We want to give customers confidence that, if someone challenges a Novell open-source offering with a patent claim, we are prepared to use our own patents to fight back," he added.

Novell currently holds 411 patents, Lowry said, and the company receives about 30 new patents each year.

Lowry declined to name specific cases where Novell used its patent portfolio to deter other companies' claims. Novell has, however, played a prominent role in SCO's ongoing lawsuits against IBM and other firms for allegedly including SCO intellectual property in their Linux distributions. Novell claims that it retained many of its Unix copyrights when it sold its Unix rights to SCO in 1995. SCO sued Novell earlier this year to force the company to drop its Unix copyright claims, and the case remains unresolved.

Novell has also, along with several other prominent Linux vendors, agreed to indemnify its customers against potential lawsuits involving SCO.

According to legal experts, software firms with large patent portfolios often attempt to deter patent litigation by threatening to file counter-claims. It is also relatively common for firms with large patent portfolios to enter agreements with one another not to pursue patent infringement or other intellectual property claims.

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