EFF defends Novell partnership

Digital rights group has explained its decision to team up with the company involved in a high-profile patent deal with Microsoft

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has defended its decision to partner with Novell over patent reform.

On Wednesday, Novell and the EFF issued a joint press release claiming that the two organisations would co-operate on EFF's "patent busting" programme. Novell is providing funding for the initiative and supporting patent reform in general.

However, the move has surprised many in the open-source community, given that Novell signed a high-profile agreement with Microsoft last year that saw millions of dollars change hands between the two companies to settle patent claims. The deal also saw Microsoft agree to sell coupons entitling customers to use Novell's Suse Linux Enterprise Server without fear of a patent-infringement suit from Microsoft.

Microsoft stirred up the patent issue further this month when the software giant's top lawyer Brad Smith told Fortune magazine that open-source software infringes 235 of its patents.

The controversy surrounding Novell's pact with Microsoft has prompted questions on why an organisation such as the EFF — which is firmly against software patents, DRM and other inhibitors to the free flow of information — would partner with the Suse Linux owner.

EFF executive director Shari Steele defended the move by hinting that it was better to have Novell on side. "To have a company like Novell stand up and say it's willing to commit to changing the system is a very welcome thing," she said. "Along with some funding to support projects like the expansion of patent busting to Europe, Novell will be joining us at standards meetings and government forums in an effort to make systemic changes to the way software patents are awarded and enforced."

Rival Linux distributor Red Hat said the move was surprising, given Novell's history, but welcome.

"The announcement from EFF and Novell, while perhaps surprising to some, is further indication that the patent system, when applied to software, is seriously broken. Red Hat applauds this move by both organisations and welcomes Novell to the effort to bring sanity to the global patent system," said Mark Webbink, Red Hat's general counsel.

CNET News.com's Stephen Shankland contributed to this article.