SOFTWARE FIRMS Microsoft, Attachmate and their partners must alter the terms of their deal with Novell to acquire 800 patents.
The companies, or more precisely a holding company called CPTN Holdings, has been told by the US Department of Justice (DoJ) that it must alter its bid in order to address open source concerns.
"To promote innovation and competition, it is critical to balance antitrust enforcement with allowing appropriate patent transfers and exercise of patent rights," said Sharis Pozen, Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department's Antitrust Division.
"Although we recognise that the various changes to the agreement recently made by the parties are helpful, the department will continue to investigate the distribution of patents to ensure continued competition."
The DoJ has lent its ear to open source supporters such as the Free Software Foundation (FSF), as well as Germany's Federal Cartel Office, before making its decision.
In February the FSF reported that its actions had pushed the DoJ into investigating the bid, and welcomed the extra scrutiny.
"CPTN Holdings was formed jointly by Microsoft, Apple, Oracle, and EMC for the express purpose of buying Novell's patents," it said in a statement.
"We're very concerned that CPTN Holdings will attack free software with those patents. That's the simplest explanation for why these competitors cooperated for this one specific acquisition. We expect the DOJ to get complete answers about CPTN's intentions before they approve any sale. Their follow-up letter represents the first step in that process."
The resulting agreement will see Microsoft sell back a selection of Novell patents to Attachmate but receive licences for them, while EMC will be prevented from acquiring 33 patents and applications that are related to virtualisation software.
Importantly, all of the Novell patents will be acquired subject to the GNU General Public Licence, Version 2, a widely adopted open source license, and the Open Invention Network (OIN) Licence.
The DoJ added that CPTN will have to right to limit any of the covered patents. µ
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