March 28, 2007 8:23 AM PDT

GPL getting tougher on patent deals

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The third draft of General Public License version 3 includes provisions to toughen the license's stance on patent deals between software providers.

The Free Software Foundation posted draft 3 of GPL 3 on its Web site, as expected, Wednesday.

Modifications were made since the second draft, which came out in July 2006, to address a patent deal between Microsoft and Linux seller Novell, under which Microsoft agreed not to sue Suse Linux customers for patent infringement.

"The recent patent agreement between Microsoft and Novell aims to undermine (software users') freedoms. In (the third) draft, we have worked hard to prevent such deals from making a mockery of free software," Richard Stallman, president of the FSF and principal author of the GPL, said in a statement Wednesday.

Novell and Microsoft on Wednesday said that the added patent provisions of the third GPL 3 draft will not derail their partnership.

"It is unfortunate...that the FSF is attempting to use the GPL 3 to prevent future collaboration among industry leaders to benefit customers," Horacio Gutierrez, Microsoft's vice president of intellectual property and licensing, said in a statement.

Novell said it will continue to participate in open-source software projects and remains committed to its partnership with Microsoft.

"If the final version of the GPL 3 does potentially impact the agreement we have with Microsoft, we'll address that with Microsoft," Novell spokesman Bruce Lowry said.

In supporting documents to the new draft, the FSF said it has not yet decided whether the patent addition will apply to all such commercial arrangements or only to those signed in the future. The latter option would let the existing Novell-Microsoft agreement stand.

The basic idea of the GPL is unchanged: Anyone may use, modify and redistribute GPL software, but a party that redistributes GPL software must publish any changes that are made.

One change in GPL 3 governs patents. An earlier draft required an organization that distributed GPL software to grant rights to its patents related to the software. But the new draft is narrower, requiring only that it grant rights to patents relating to any contributions it makes to that software.

Another change is a narrower scope for a section that had concerned digital rights management (DRM), technology that can be used to restrict users' access to software or content. The new version avoids reference to the DRM concept and requires that installation instructions be provided to permit users to install modified software. However, a company doesn't have to supply support, warranty and updates if the user modifies the software, and the instructions don't need to be supplied

Also new in the third draft are simplified terms to make GPL 3 more compatible with GPL 2, which is used for thousands of open-source software products, including the Linux kernel, Java and MySQL.

Previous drafts of GPL 3 have drawn mixed reviews, including major reservations from Linux founder Linus Torvalds and a majority of the Linux kernel developers.

Earlier this year, Torvalds panned GPL 3, saying the new version seeks to promote the Free Software Foundation's philosophy rather than produce a pragmatic legal foundation.

"The GPL was designed to ensure that all users of a program receive the four essential freedoms which define free software," Stallman said of the philosophy behind the open-source license. "These freedoms allow you to run the program as you see fit, study and adapt it for your own purposes, redistribute copies to help your neighbor and release your improvements to the public."

Version 3 has been more than a year in the making, with its first public presentation in January 2006.

The next step to completing GPL 3 is a 60-day comment period, followed by a "last call" draft. The final GPL 3 will arrive 30 days after that, according to the FSF.

The timing pushes back by about three months the original deadline of March for a new version of the license.

See more CNET content tagged:
GPL 3, GPL, Free Software Foundation, draft, Novell Inc.

3 comments

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GPL change means little unless governments involved
Make your choice. Private-to-private agreements - fine. Choose GPLv.(whatever) reflecting your personal preference and business model.

But, when governments get into the act of exclusively endorsing the GPL's license, then it's a whole different story. Right now, most all governments world-wide have wide open choice to pick amongst all models - and this results in, well, a lot of options. An exclsive GPLv.3 regime would reduce those choices, and will bring about fewer workable solutions for government customers and citizens. Period.

Through liberal governmnet one can justify most anything, usurping the rights of individuals because of "higher" state interests. We know that open choice - one that allows governments to choose freely amongst all models works. That's a pretty high state interest in my book, one that would caution against some of the attempts we're seeing stateside and overseas to implement GPL-oriented/preferred procurement regimes.

Private-to-private - choose the GPL v. etc., BSD, proprietary EULA. Whatever fits with your busines plan. But for governments - keep those options open.
Posted by mwendy (64 comments )
Reply Link Flag
MSFT Astroturfers mean little unless they can come up with facts...
[i]"But, when governments get into the act of exclusively
endorsing the GPL's license, then it's a whole different story"[/i]

So what if they endorse the GPL? They buy software with
taxpayer money - whay shouldn't their citizens have free and
open access to the source code of software that the government
bought and paid for with citizen's tax money?

This has nothing to do with "liberal" vs. "conservative ideology -
it has to do with openness and transparency in government.

...so put down your bullhorn; we already know that your
benefactors at MSFT hate the idea.

/P
Posted by Penguinisto (5042 comments )
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