September 15, 2004

Sun denies report it is 'selling out' OpenOffice

Author: Jem Matzan and Chris Preimesberger

UPDATED Today a site called LinuxElectrons posted a story categorizing Sun Microsystems' recent 10k filing as "probably as close as Microsoft can legally get to buying" Sun, however, strongly disagrees with this characterization and listed several clarifications for us. In short, it's just not true.

The 10K filing, submitted as the result of a landmark, $1.6 billion agreement last April Fool's Day between the two companies, lists three exhibits that deal specifically with the highly publicized Microsoft settlement agreement. The meat of the document states that Microsoft reserves the right to pursue patent infringement claims against, but allows for indemnification against such claims against StarOffice. StarOffice is a commercial office suite sold by Sun that is based on the free project.

"Sun is strongly committed to," May Petry, a Sun Microsystems spokesperson, told NewsForge today. "The patent protection indemnification is a common, standard practice among software corporations," she added.

Like many other companies, Sun protects its customers against patent infringement and other so-called "intellectual property" claims. is not a Sun product, but Sun does support it and contributes substantially to its development. " is not disadvantaged by this agreement," said Petry, clarifying that the 10K filing did not bring to light any change in policy or practice regarding the project.

So the 10K only outlines StarOffice's specific indemnification against patent claims from Microsoft -- something corporations do all the time. LinuxElectrons' claim that Sun must legally aid Microsoft in a claim against is "ridiculous," said Petry. "We are and always have been committed to the community."

A Microsoft spokesperson issued a general statement late Wednesday to NewsForge but refused to address the topics discussed above: "This agreement is a component of a larger arrangement with Sun that constituted the April settlement between Microsoft and Sun. As is common when two large patent holders structure a patent agreement covering many products, the Sun/Microsoft agreement is complex. We believe that the patent and technology agreements provide the companies with the framework to work collaboratively in the future to drive innovation for our customers."

As a result of the 10-year agreement signed on April 1, Microsoft is paying Sun $1.6 billion -- $900 million to resolve patent issues and $700 million to end pending antitrust problems -- in settlement and will maintain and update its support of the Java Virtual Machine in its desktops and servers. In addition, Sun and Microsoft have agreed to pay royalties for the use of each other's intellectual property, mostly involving Windows Server, Windows Client, the Sun Java System Identity Server, and JVMs. Microsoft will make an up-front payment of $350 million when the JVMs are updated in the next Windows XP patch. Sun will begin making royalty payments to Microsoft when it starts upgrading Windows-interoperable networking components in its Solaris server boxes.

For its part, Sun has agreed to license the Windows desktop system communication protocols -- which is interesting in light of all the time and money Sun has invested in the Java Desktop System -- and said it will work closely with Microsoft to improve the interoperability of the Java and .NET platforms. Cross-licensing agreements will be involved, and a Windows certification for Sun's new Xeon-based servers was also announced.

Groklaw has a cogent analysis of the Microsoft-Sun SEC 10K filing. has submitted to NewsForge a useful list of FAQs for general reference.

In a related story, Sun and Microsoft are planning to divulge details next month on progress to make their products interoperable. Mark McClain, vice president of software marketing at Sun, told analysts Monday in Burlington, Mass., that the announcement will focus on their work regarding interoperability in Web services and directory services. Both companies have repeatedly said that users have been demanding interoperability between Sun's Unix and Java environments and Microsoft's Windows and .Net for years.


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