Moonlight Patent Coventant Extended

The Moonlight Team, with Mono 2.6 finally bringing the verifier to completion, was able to release Moonlight 2.0 to the masses. Moonlight’s been pretty stable for a while, so it’s really nice to see that development has finally reached the completion state, and should now be able to continue at a more rigorous pace (the team had been waiting to release Moonlight until the verifier was complete), since Silverlight 4 is right around the corner, and it’s difficult to wait when new releases of Silverlight fix so many shortcomings of the previous version.

What I found most interesting about the release was the changes to Microsoft’s Patent Covenant with Novell. Namely, that the Patent Covenant covers all versions of Moonlight (though not Mono, sadly), regardless of where you get it from. Before, only the version distributed by Novell was covered. With luck, this will alleviate a lot of people’s concerns about using Moonlight. The Patent Covenant doesn’t change the fact that, if you want to use Microsoft’s Media Pack (Audio-Video streaming codecs), you have to use Novell’s distributed version, but that’s probably okay, since it allows people to use Moonlight in a completely open source way.

Since Moonlight’s source is largely shared with Mono, the patent covenant does cover with parts of Mono, but unfortunately not all of it. Now, I, like Miguel, am not that concerned with it. Microsoft has a lot of patents, yes, but their history with the patent system has been generally to hold them in reserve, pulling them out to resolve patent disputes. Unfortunately, this strategy means that they’d have a lot of difficulty applying a blanket patent license to anyone, because then in the event they need that weapon to defend themselves, they won’t have it anymore. This idea makes them nervous, and understandably so.

In truth, this just shows the problems with the patent system as it relates to software. We have no reason, at this time, to think Microsoft will make a patent claim against Mono, but the fact that they, in theory, could, scares a lot of people. Hopefully this is a step toward protection for the rest of Mono, but in the meantime, if this is enough to make people feel safe about Moonlight, it’s a huge step forward.