What's in the 882 patents Microsoft bought and four other questions on the Novell sale

Attachmate will sell 882 patents to CPTN, a Microsoft-backed intellectual property consortium. The move is raising key questions.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Novell sold out to Attachmate, which makes network and systems management and terminal emulation software, in a deal valued at $2.2 billion. Another wrinkle: Attachmate will offload Novell's intellectual property to a consortium backed by Microsoft.

The more you dig into this deal the more questions you run into. Here are the top five burning issues.

What is CPTN Holdings LCC and what kind of patents did it acquire? Mary Jo Foley has highlighted the Microsoft connection in the Novell sale to Attachmate. CPTN is a Microsoft-backed consortium. Here's what we know: Attachmate will sell 882 patents for $450 million in cash to CPTN. Here's what we don't know: Any history about CPTN. There are no court documents---odd for an intellectual property consortium---and SEC filings turn up dry before today. It almost looks as CPTN was created just a few days ago. Also unknown: Other companies in this consortium.

What kind of patents did CPTN buy? Details of the patents are unknown, but that hasn't stopped analysts from guessing a bit. Jefferies analyst Katherine Egbert said:

We believe these assets are most likely related to WordPerfect, which Novell acquired in the late 1990's, and through which Novell had sued Microsoft for anti-competitive behavior. Recall that Microsoft had settled outstanding litigation with Novell related to Unix in 2006, paying what amounted to ~$350mm to Novell over several years.

Others suspect that the patent deal revolves around Platespin. Conspiracy theories are going to multiply given the lack of information. It's a safe hunch that these patents have something to do with Linux. If the CPTN role had to do with Platespin, Microsoft would be chattier about it. Also: Attachmate-Microsoft-Novell deal raises big questions for Linux

What is Attachmate? Attachmate is a privately held company that will have Attachmate, NetIQ, Novell and SUSE in its portfolio. The company has managed file transfer products, legacy modernization suites, mainframe access and other terminal host applications. And another Microsoft connection: Attachmate is a certified gold partner of the software giant. Attachmate also has a bevy of other partners including CA, Citrix, HP, IBM and Unisys.

What are the strategic implications here? Novell's Linux rivals---notably Red Hat---are probably breathing a bit easier on news that Attachmate would buy the company. Egbert explains:

The sale of Novell to Attachmate is a slight positive for Red Hat. Attachmate is not a strategic buyer like IBM or VMware.

What does SUSE's future look like? Attachmate said it will continue to put resources behind SUSE. However, Attachmate also said it would operate Novell and SUSE as distinct businesses. Don't be surprised if the SUSE business is sold down the line.

Editorial standards