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Microsoft’s Partners In Novell Patent Buyout Revealed

Peter Judge has been involved with tech B2B publishing in the UK for many years, working at Ziff-Davis, ZDNet, IDG and Reed. His main interests are networking security, mobility and cloud

Apple, Oracle and EMC are apparently the joint owners, with Microsoft, of 882 patents bought from Novell

It has emerged that Microsoft’s partners in the consortium that bought 882 patents from Novell last month are Apple, Oracle and EMC.

When Novell was bought by Attachmate in November, a Microsoft-backed consortium called CPTN acquired 882 patents for $450 million, from the one-time leader in networks and application software. There is still no word which patents have been bought, but the other members of the consortium have been revealed as three dominant industry players.

Heavy hitters get Novell rights

According to a page on the site of the German federal antitrust authority (the “Bundeskartellamt”), CPTN is composed of Microsoft, Oracle, Apple and EMC, and its key business is unsurprisingly ”

Members of the consortium have taken controversial stances on patents in the past – Oracle is currently suing Google over the implementation of Java in the Android OS, and Apple is suing Nokia and HTC.

However, open source advocate Florian Mueller is optimistic on his FOSS Patents blog, arguing in essence that Oracle, Apple and Microsoft have such different mindsets they will not agree on anything which would hurt  the rest of the industry, and commenting that this situation is better than one where Microsoft would be ruling the roost amongst “several considerably smaller companies”.

“I do know that Apple and Oracle are clearly companies who have different approaches to some important issues than Microsoft,” said Mueller. “Within the consortium, the four players will have to agree on a common denominator concerning the patents to be acquired. They’ve apparently been able to agree that those patents are valuable assets to own.”

The three co-members of the consortium are “true counterweights” said Mueller. “I don’t have a crystal ball that would tell me what their business plan with those patents is, but those organisations have a track record and, very importantly, they have a reputation to protect. They all want to enjoy excellent relations with software developers, and software developers expect large players to make reasonable and constructive use of whatever patents they own.”

But what patents are they?

At this stage we still don’t know what patents are involved.  Novell has reassured the Unix and Linux communities that the consortium will not get the copyrights to Unix (which should be no surprise since these are copyrights, not patents).

Many people expect the patents to relate to WordPerfect, a one-time rival to Microsoft Office, which was owned by Novell at one stage, and formed the basis of a still-ongoing court case between the two companies. Oracle might be interested in those patents too, as it now finds itself looking after the OpenOffice project.

Meanwhile, the Mono project, an open-source implementation of Microsoft .Net APIs that was backed by Novell has reassured its users that it will remain unchanged in the acquisition.

“I still don’t know the list of those patents, but it’s important progress that we now have the names of the companies, thanks to the German competition authority,” said Mueller.

Meanwhile, users are still waiting to find out the fate of the Novell products which they use day-to-day.