The software patent issue is being fought on a "geo basis", with South Africa an important battleground, according to Stafford Masie, South Africa country manager for Novell at the CITI forum Q&A.
During the Q&A session, professor Keats pointed out the fact that patents are granted by default in South Africa. Stafford Masie went on to explain how Novell’s strategy regarding the software patent battle in South Africa includes both "proactive counter patenting" while simultaneously working at the ministerial and even presidential level to eradicate them in South Africa.
Question: …Statement, question, call it what you will, thanks for doing the OpenOffice thing… seeing that you’re going to be releasing it, will be great to see if it works with our stuff, we’d like to put that into the market… Because, it is an issue, I admit, it is a big issue… something that we’re looking forward to… so, once we have the OpenOffice as part of our stack and we approach the 4800 server deal in the US, so its a short list now between us and you – put technologies aside, are you going to come after us over patent issues then?
Masie: So, OK, let me paint the scenario and you tell me if I’ve got the context of the question correctly.
So, in that big deal, whatever it was – Ubuntu and Novell, and not Microsoft and Novell, and would we then use this agreement as a competitive edge and come up against you. Yes and no, OK?
If the customer does believe that there’s issues, concerns, etc because they have Microsoft interoperability stuff, I think the agreement might give us an edge, but its not an exclusive edge, and thats why we want to encourage Shuttleworth and the folks to go and do what we did, investigate what we’ve done, don’t be fanatical about it, but take a look at it.
Now, there are… y’know, I kinda want to say a few things here, and I think we’ve created the platform for it – we will compete, and I think competition amongst Linux vendors is good, it needs to be there… but we need to be responsible in our competing, lets make sure that we don’t compete to the detriment of both of us, because there’s someone standing looking over our shoulders wanting that to happen in a certain way. Microsoft is in the Linux game now, but they wouldn’t love it more than for this Linux thing to just implode, ok, they’d love that to happen also.
It’s kinda win-win for them, so we need to be careful how we compete, now will we utilize this patent portfolio? No, in fact we provide protection related to that. We’ll never use it against another Linux company, we never have – you’ve competed with me in South Africa and I’ve never utilized my…my legal indemnification, etc etc to outcompete you, we dont do that.
In fact, we’ve made it pretty clear on the website that we believe competition between technologies shouldn’t be based on the potential legal liabilities and FUD, it should be based on the technology merits of those solutions, and that’s how we want to compete.
What I want to say, just to the community at large that’s sitting here, one of the things we need to watch out for, is y’know, these debates – example, the way Derek surfaced the mail, now I may not appreciate the way Derek surfaced the mail but y’know what it creates? it creates dialog, it creates dialog – lets make sure that dialog is constructive, lets make sure we give each other the proper attention, lets respect each others opinions, some people are not as informed as others, some people are not as philosophical about things as others, we are a very broad community, what we need to watch out for is that we will fight so hard against each other it’ll make everyone who wanted to put this stuff into their environment sit back and say ‘y’know what, lets just let this thing sort itself out, we’ll look at it again in the next few years.’
Let’s be very very responsible, and I think one of the things we should do, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, we should embrace Microsoft, we should. Microsoft’s participation in this community, the way theyre starting to become participants in it, embrace it, take what they have, take a look at what they have, lets not alienate them, lets not be fanatical about their participation.
I think, the more and more people participating in this the better, the only company that we don’t like participating in this is Microsoft, right? because is the only company that’s said bad things to this point about Linux, its still the only company that says Linux is bad, we are good out there on those little banner ads on the web, so they are competing, thats a good thing.
Just like I would say, Red Hat? bring it on, SUSE is better. (inaud), bring it on, our distribution better… thats good, that doesnt mean we cant collaborate, it doesnt mean we cant get together and innovate for the benefit of our customers and the overall movement as a whole, so we need to be careful as a Linux community, as a Open Source community, as a FOSS group of people that we dont do things that at the end of the day is going to be to the detriment to all parties within the community, we need to be very very careful of that, so what I wrote down is watch the divide, let’s ensure we don’t alienate, I love the way Derek’s approach is, I like the way he’s dealing with this with Novell, and hopefully everyone who has objections to what we do will treat us the same way, and we fully concede, and on the call with Derek we conceded, we should have been more open about our stance on patents,
and you know what we’re doing right now? that stuff that’s on our website, our statements about patents, the EU, etc we’re actually redrafting all of that, so we are alot more explicit in relation to this agreement, in relation to the concerns Derek has outlined, alot more explicit about the international transversal aspects associated with patents, but I’ve asked more specifically, for a geo-based statement from Novell, because the patent issue isn’t an issue transversal, yes there’s this abstract transversal international aspect to the patent issue, but y’know what, the patent issue’s being fought on a geo basis.
In South Africa, we’ve got issues with patents because Microsoft is starting to lodge patents with the patent office, and we dont want to see that in our country, we don’t want to see the liberalization of the patent, the broken patent system in our country, we don’t want to see that happening in the EU, the way the EU is introducing it for the European Union, we don’t see it happening in the United States, so I believe that this patent thing should be dealt with on a geo-basis so lets be very very careful, very specific about our debates, where we are, and what we are trying to achieve and lets not just be philosophical and… preaching against things, we need to be very very careful of that and I think alot of that is occurring
so, will we compete with you, Gary on a legal basis? No. we will not, ok we will never do that. And, if we do, please raise it. and again, Will we have a misstep in the future? I don’t know, I think that we will probably will have a misstep, but we want to come to the party and say y’know, what have we done wrong and how can we rectify it? I think that’s in the spirit of the GPL and the overall community.
You ended on a good note there, sort of bringing the focus down locally, which is also what I want to do, it seems to me there’s two ways Novell could approach the local circumstance, I mean if Microsoft is busy registering patents with the patent office you need to understand that patents in South Africa get registered by default, so all you need to do to get a patent is apply for it, basically thats it.
So, you could apply for a patent on tying your shoe with your left hand, practically, and it would be accepted, unless someone challenges it, so there’s 2 possible options Novell could take – one is it could respond by also registering patents, which is just going to accelerate the patent war.
There are other approaches Novell could take, and that would kind of lower the litigous temperature as it were, in this situation, and I am just wondering if you would comment on what is Novell’s stance in South Africa and can we work together as a commmuntiy, including those of us who are completely opposed to software patents, to actually bring it back into some semblance of sanity, because what we have at the moment is nowhere close to sanity.
Thanks Derek, and you know the local context is actually the difficult one, its easy to talk about the transversal patent… the broken patents systems that are out there and how it is being done in Europe and the United States; I do think that Novell should do more, and I believe you’ve created the platform for us to voice our opinion, and right now the official opininion about the patent situation in South Africa is being reviewed by Jamal, so Jamal is actively looking into that.
So, we’ve got our legal… our general manager of our legal counsel in India, looking into the patent situation in South Africa and we will officially reply… it won’t be a reply… I think you are going to release an email today at some point, as a subsequent email to the one you sent out, we will, potentially, release an official statement based upon that email our stance in regard to the local patent situation, and yes, there’s many options, yes filing counter-patents or merely just… there’s several, I think, it’s doing pro-active counter-patenting, or we could go to the patent office, and I think we need to actively lobby, and make sure people within our government strucutures at these institutes reporting to fully understand what the implication of this is from an innovation perspective and understand whats happening on an international basis, and how we are fighting this on an international basis and why it does not make sense.
I think that is probably what Novell should do more, than trying to, on a per-patent basis, attack this because I thinks thats not the way to do it, I think lets go to the root which is to make sure people on the ministerial level, the cabinet level in our country, all the way to presidential level and that patents doesn’t mean protection of IP which leads to innovation, protection… patents are actually bad for innovation, and thats our stance as a company: yes we do have patents, we protect ourselves with those patents, and in South Africa we’ll protect ourselves, with those patents and our customers, but as a broader whole, and as a broader community member and as a broader believer in innovation, and that patents may actually stop innovation, we need to be alot more proactive, and I think we’ve got roads into those senior leadership people within government, and we can be influential and I think we should move our weight around alot more, which we will do.
So, thats a commitment that I will make, because I think we need to figure out what we need to do, and you said something earlier, we could do more, let us know, and I think that on a local context, let us engage, I think people like yourself, from UWC, I think your reputation your participation, etc. that plays alot, I can bring Novell the big blue chip business aspect to it, and here are some things we could do, in South Africa, very very easily, but lets make sure that Jamal and those folks work out an official statement and stance based upon that, and thats our commitment. So, there will be a follow-up to that, proactive
For a contrast to Novell’s espoused strategy, I invite you to read about IBM’s patent philosophies, an immensely more responsible stance than Microsoft and Novell’s cross-license just in case philosophy. Where Novell is trying to game the "broken patent system", IBM is aiming to repair it.
On the whole, this new policy is a reflection of the company’s(IBM) belief that "widespread adoption of a more formal code of conduct around patents could ease the burden on legal and government administrative systems." It’s an attempt to ensure that the patents that do end up issuing are clear, well-founded, and unimpeachable, a highly laudable goal.
Also in this response is the fact that Masie asserts that Novell has not, and will not, use its patent portfolio against a Linux competitor. As I have already pointed out, Novell is using the competitive edge of the patent covenant to FUD Linux and use their partner Microsoft’s patent portfolio against its competitors, a distinction I fail to see.