Patent threat lifted from Mono

Regular readers of this blog will know of my interest in Mono, the open-source implementation of Microsoft’s .NET Framework.

A common objection to Mono is its fuzzy legal position. Although parts of .NET are ECMA standards open for anyone to implement, other parts (including ASP.NET) are not. Mono implements ASP.NET as well as other non-ECMA class libraries. The worry has been: if Mono gets successful enough to threaten Microsoft, will there be legal problems?

I say “has been”, because it appears that the just-announced agreement with Novell covers Mono. See Miguel de Icaza’s post where he says:

…today we have secured a peace of mind for Novell customers that might have been worried about possible patent infringements open source deployments. This matters in particular for Mono, because for a long time its been the favorite conversation starter for folks that find dates on Slashdot.

This is big news for anyone with an interest in cross-platform .NET. However, note that the agreement refers to Novell’s customers. I am not a lawyer; but it is not clear to me whether this deal provides comfort to Mono users not using Novell’s SUSE Linux. For example, what about those using Mono on the Mac, one of its more interesting applications? I hope to discover more next week at Tech-Ed, where there will be an out-of-hours presentation on Mono.


See the comments below for more. It seems this falls short of a promise not to sue over patent breaches in Mono, if they exist, except in certain defined circumstances (Novell customers or non-commercial). I guess that is not surprising.

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2 thoughts on “Patent threat lifted from Mono”

  1. Tim, I’m a Delphi programmer from Spain, subscribed (RSS) to your blog, that I like very much. Have you seen this news in Groklaw? It seems that this isn’t good news at all. Microsoft threatened Novell with lawsuits and Novell agreed to pay for patents, an agreement that doesn’t cover any other ditribution.

  2. It seems that this isn’t good news at all. Microsoft threatened Novell with lawsuits and Novell agreed to pay for patents, an agreement that doesn’t cover any other ditribution.

    Yes, there are some big questions to be answered, to say the least. This bit from the Patent Cooperation Agreement is a worry:

    Enterprises or individuals are not Customers when they (1) resell, license, supply, distribute or otherwise make available to third parties additional copies of the specific cop(ies) of a Covered Product they otherwise utilize as a Customer; or (2) resell, license, supply, or distribute the output of SDKs or embedded developer kits they utilize as a Customer.

    On the face of it, this suggests that the aggrement does not cover the distribution of Mono applications or indeed Mono itself, other than by Novell to its customers. That won’t help Mono much, sadly, and could even be counter-productive because it may make other distros less inclined to include Mono. But there is also this, from Novell’s open letter:

    Microsoft announced today that it will not assert its patents against individual, non-commercial developers. Novell has secured an irrevocable promise from Microsoft to allow individual and non-commercial contributors the freedom to continue open source development, free from any concern of Microsoft patent lawsuits. That’s right, Microsoft wants you to keep hacking.

    My quick reading would be: if you use Mono with software purchased from Novell you won’t be sued. If you use Mono non-commercially you won’t be sued. But if you are using Mono in other contexts, the agreement doesn’t give you any comfort. This hasn’t played out yet. 

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