Last Friday the Free Software Foundation released the GNU General Public License, version 3 and there have been a variety of reactions, not all enthusiastic. Since one of the avowed targets of GPL v3 was Microsoft’s recent patent deals with Linux distributors (e.g. with Novell and with Xandros), there was great anticipation for what Microsoft’s reaction would be to the final version. That reaction was announced yesterday and is basically the claim that GPL v3 does not apply and a disclaimer to make sure it never applies:
Microsoft is not a party to the GPLv3 license and none of its actions are to be misinterpreted as accepting status as a contracting party of GPLv3 or assuming any legal obligations under such license.
While there have been some claims that Microsoft’s distribution of certificates for Novell support services, under our interoperability collaboration with Novell, constitutes acceptance of the GPLv3 license, we do not believe that such claims have a valid legal basis under contract, intellectual property, or any other law. In fact, we do not believe that Microsoft needs a license under GPL to carry out any aspect of its collaboration with Novell, including its distribution of support certificates, even if Novell chooses to distribute GPLv3 code in the future. Furthermore, Microsoft does not grant any implied or express patent rights under or as a result of GPLv3, and GPLv3 licensors have no authority to represent or bind Microsoft in any way.
At this point in time, in order to avoid any doubt or legal debate on this issue, Microsoft has decided that the Novell support certificates that we distribute to customers will not entitle the recipient to receive from Novell, or any other party, any subscription for support and updates relating to any code licensed under GPLv3. We will closely study the situation and decide whether to expand the scope of the certificates in the future.
This will undoubtedly provide argument fodder for months to come, but as usual with patents it all comes down to who wants to sue so the real question is whether the FSF and its supporters care to make an issue of Microsoft’s stance or Microsoft tries to enforce those 235 patents they claim are infringed by open source products.