Microsoft purchasing 882 Novell patents

Attachmate's planned acquisition of Novell will allow it to work with vendors such as IBM and Microsoft

CPTN Holdings LLC, a consortium of technology companies organized by Microsoft, is purchasing 882 Novell patents for US$450 million cash, according to a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing submitted Monday by Novell.

The deal is part of the Attachmate acquisition of Novell, also announced Monday, and expected to close in the first quarter of next year. In the original announcement, Novell stated only that CPTN would acquire "certain intellectual property assets."

In a Form 8-K filing with the SEC, Novell stated that in the patent purchase agreement "Novell will sell to CPTN all of Novell's right, title and interest in 882 patents ... for $450 million in cash."

A quick look through the U.S. Patent Office database finds 461 patents that listed Novell under the assignee name.

Microsoft declined to comment beyond sending out a statement from the company's general counsel. "We are pleased to be a part of the acquisition of certain intellectual property assets of Novell. Microsoft looks forward to continuing our collaboration with Novell into the future, to bring mixed source IT solutions to customers," said Horacio Gutierrez, Microsoft's corporate vice president and deputy general counsel.

It was not clear Monday which other technology companies are involved with CPTN Holdings. A limited liability corporation of that name was formed in Delaware on Nov. 4, according to a search of the state's website, but few other details were immediately available. A similar search on the website of Microsoft's home state of Washington turned up no results.

Also not clear is Microsoft's interest in these patents. In 2004, Novell hit Microsoft with an antitrust lawsuit, alleging that Microsoft tried to squelch competition in the office-productivity-applications market during the time that Novell owned WordPerfect, which is now owned by Corel.

The patents that would be acquired by CPTN in Attachmate's purchase of Novell probably wouldn't have that much bearing on the antitrust case, though, noted Charles King, Pund-IT's president and principal analyst of the Pund-IT analysis firm.

Another possible area of interest for Microsoft would be the IP around Unix held by Novell. In March, the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah confirmed that Novell owned the copyrights around Unix, ending a seven-year battle between SCO and Novell over ownership rights.

Microsoft has asserted in the past that it owns some of the intellectual property in the Linux kernel, an open-source version of the Unix kernel. In 2006, Novell struck a five-year agreement with Microsoft in which Microsoft agreed not to assert patent rights for any technology it may posses that would be in Novell's SUSE Linux distribution.

The deal "was controversial in the open-source community because Microsoft was less than transparent about where the actual IP infringements were," King said. The two companies also agreed to develop technologies that would help Unix and Microsoft Windows computers interoperate more smoothly.

Attachmate will continue to manage Suse Linux as a stand-alone separate business.

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