A colleague of mine, Drue Reeves, pointed me to a recent Channel Register article indicating that it is not just Microsoft behind the CPTN holding company that was created to acquire key Novell patents. The article indicates that it appears Apple, EMC, and Oracle were also involved with Microsoft in creating the holding company. To me, this spells that these companies were together concerned about Novell patents getting into the hands of patent trolls.
As many of you know, I worked for Novell in its research and development division for 20 years, and for about six of those years, I served as a technical expert on Novell’s internal Inventions Committee – a group of lawyers and engineers that analyze and review intellectual property submissions from the R&D teams to determine if the invention is worthy of patent application. As a result, I have an unusual knowledge of Novell’s patent portfolio. More importantly, in that position, I learned that large technology companies will purposefully seek out and attend defunct technology company intellectual property auctions, with the only goal of purchasing patents to keep them out of the hands of patent trolls. All of the companies listed know each other from attending these types of events together. So it makes sense that they would talk with Novell about ensuring its patent portfolio doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.
So what do large technology companies do with their patents? These days they serve two goals for the most part: Protection from other companies and a “big stick” when negotiating with a potential business partner. However, on occasion large technology vendors use their patents to extract royalties from another company that has used its patented technology and is hurting its revenue stream. Another patent analogy is the arms race during the cold war between the USA and former Soviet Union – the arms (patents) kept each other in step and behaving and bring both to the ‘negotiating’ table on many occasions.
However, if a patent troll gets a hold of a patent, they are only after one thing: royalties while offering nothing tangible in return. Some have termed this “patent extortion.” Technology vendors do not like this as it can seriously disrupt a product line (and its revenue stream).
Knowing how Novell thinks and the partnerships it has forged with many other technology vendors, this move to place its intellectual property with a holding company is about protecting the industry, and customers, from patent trolls.
Oh, and another side note: One bit of confusion that I continually see crop up from the Open Source Linux community is that the sale of Novell patents to CPTN spells bad news for them. NOT TRUE. Novell never owned UNIX patents (needless to say that any would have long since expired anyway). Novell owns the UNIX copyrights. That’s a different animal altogether, and Novell still retains those copyrights – they were not a part of the CPTN deal.