One of the key elements in the Novell / Microsoft Collaboration announcement from last week was a patent covenant that was intended to provide non-commercial, individual open source developers with the coverage necessary for them to develop code without concern of infringing any of Microsoft’s patents. (Before you go too far, please be aware that we are getting rid of the “hobbyist” label – there have been many comments about this. Also, this blog posting is not about the openSUSE.org covenant.) While the idea was solid, the execution seems to have missed the mark a bit. There has been much written in the past few days in the blogosphere about this, and many questions have been raised about what is or is not covered by the existing covenant. I think it important for the community to know that Nat Friedman and Miguel de Icaza from Novell have been extremely clear with us that the existing covenant is not good enough – they are being excellent advocates for OSS developers. Nat, I’d like to thank you publicly for your cogent arguments and for the cooporative approch you have taken on this so far.
At this point I am working with a broad range of folks both inside Microsoft, at Novell, and in the community. That said, the real voice of the community is…well…from those of you I don’t know. I have to tell you that the issues with getting this covenant right are incredibly complex and there are real concerns on all sides. Our design goal is to get language in place that allows individual developers to keep developing. We are not interested in providing carte blanche clearance on patents to any commercial activity – that is a separate discussion to be had on a per-instance basis. As you comment, please keep in mind that we are talking about individuals, not .orgs, not .com, not non-profits, not…well, not anyone other than individual non-commercial coders.
As comments come in, and as we continue down the path of driving this to resolution (I hope quickly), I will provide greater clarity around our thinking and the issues at hand. Remember, I am not a lawyer – I am a business guy looking to find a workable solution for all parties.
I look forward to your comments. I think we should be able to find a really smart approach to this.
Updating from my flight to Barcelona:
Someone forwarded me this link from Bradley Kuhn at the Software Freedom Law Center. I have crossed paths with Brad in the past and he is a very bright guy. Clearly, our philosophical approach to software differs, but I respect his intellect and think that this criticsm should be recognized by us. I don’t agree with everything he says in this post, but it is in the direction of things that I need keep working to address.