Microsoft has issued a statement saying it is "not a party to" the new open-source licence, GPL version 3, apparently in a bid to escape liabilities that could arise when Novell adopts it.
"While there have been some claims that Microsoft's distribution of certificates for Novell support services... constitutes acceptance of the GPLv3 licence, we do not believe that such claims have a valid legal basis under contract, intellectual property, or any other law," said a Microsoft statement about the GPLv3 licence, which was released last Friday.
According to ZDNet blogger Mary Jo Foley, Microsoft has belatedly realised a problem with the vouchers it issued to users of Suse Linux, immunising them from prosecution over the patents Microsoft claims Linux and other open-source software infringes.
Novell had expressed fears that GPLv3 might prevent Microsoft from continuing its agreement to issue the controversial coupons that guarantee users of Novell's Suse Linux operating system immunity from Microsoft's claim that Linux violates 235 Microsoft patents.
Novell is currently distributing Suse under the GPLv2 licence, but plans to move to version 3. The Microsoft coupons apparently have no expiry date, so in theory could be used to acquire GPLv3 code, even though GPLv3 prohibits future deals of that kind.
Microsoft has said it has no legal obligations under GPLv3, and does not require a licence under GPL to carry on its Novell agreement, "even if Novell chooses to distribute GPLv3 code in the future." The certificates will simply not apply to GPLv3 code: "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."
"The [5 July] Microsoft statement seems a bit premature and over reaching," said open-source expert and former Microsoft employee Stephen Walli, quoted in Foley's blog. "Stating outright that they aren't a party to it, means they've cut themselves off from using it in some future circumstance where it might be genuinely business beneficial. They would need to unmake this statement... They remain 'committed to working with the open-source community' without actually wanting to participate in it'."