Next GPL to protect free software from lawsuits?

Next version of General Public License may restrict companies from using patents against free software, FSF Europe president says.

Ingrid Marson
The next version of the General Public License may contain a clause to penalize companies that use software patents against free software.

GPL version 3, a draft of which will be released in January 2006, may contain a patent retaliation clause, Georg Greve, the president of the Free Software Foundation Europe, said Tuesday. Such a clause would mean that if a company accused a free-software product of infringing its software patents, that company would lose the right to distribute that product.

Joachim Jakobs from FSF Europe said such a clause would only affect companies that used their software patents against free software. "We don't want to hinder people from using free software if they merely hold software patents," Jakobs said.

The GPL may also contain a clause to penalize companies that use copy-restricting technologies. "There could be something that addresses this if we can find a sensible way to put it," Greve said.

It is not currently certain whether clauses opposing software patents and digital rights management will actually make it into GPL 3, Greve said.

"These are things that are being tossed around, but whether, how and in what form it will take place, we don't know," he said. "Even (GPL author) Richard Stallman hasn't sat down to work it out yet."

The next version of the GPL is also expected to offer improved compatibility with other free-software licenses and improved internationalization.

Ingrid Marson of ZDNet UK reported from London.