Breaking news: Twitter user @VM_gville (whose account has meanwhile disappeared) pointed me to the website of the German federal antitrust authority ("Bundeskartellamt"), which discloses a merger (or more precisely, joint venture) notification filed a week ago (on 09 December 2010), according to which the four companies behind CPTN Holdings LLC -- the acquirer of 882 Novell patents -- are Microsoft, Apple, EMC, and Oracle. The product market in which the newly formed company plans to operate is defined as "patents".
Three weeks ago I already commented on the recent announcement of Attachmate acquiring Novell and the sale of 882 Novell patents, in exchange for $450 million, to CPTN Holdings LLC. At the time, the full list of CPTN Holdings LLC partners was not known. The entity was described as a "consortium organized by Microsoft."
Just like many people, I was certainly curious as to which companies were Microsoft's partners in this new organization. The group could have consisted of Microsoft plus several considerably smaller companies. But this impressive list of companies shows that Microsoft's partners are very powerful players themselves, true counterweights without a doubt.
When I commented on the original announcement, I wrote that "it's certain that the decisions of the consortium will not be taken by Microsoft singlehandedly. That fact should actually give a lot of comfort even to those who don't want to trust Redmond."
Now that the other companies are known to be such major players, I can only reiterate what I wrote then. I don't know much about EMC other than that it's a very significant company. I do know that Apple and Oracle are clearly companies who have different approaches to some important issues than Microsoft. Within the consortium, the four players will have to agree on a common denominator concerning the patents to be acquired. They've apparently been able to agree that those patents are valuable assets to own. I still don't know the list of those patents, but it's important progress that we now have the names of the companies, thanks to the German competition authority.
I don't have a crystal ball that would tell me what their business plan with those patents is, but those organizations have a track record and, very importantly, they have a reputation to protect. They all want to enjoy excellent relations with software developers, and software developers expect large players to make reasonable and constructive use of whatever patents they own. I guess that's exactly what will happen in this case.
[Update] AllThingsD quotes an anonymous source inside one of the four companies describing this patent deal as "cheap defensive insurance".
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