Samba Team Receives Microsoft Protocol Documentation

December 20th 2007. Today the Protocol Freedom Information Foundation (PFIF), a non-profit organization created by the Software Freedom Law Center, signed an agreement with Microsoft to receive the protocol documentation needed to fully interoperate with the Microsoft Windows workgroup server products and to make them available to Free Software projects such as Samba.

Microsoft was required to make this information available to competitors as part of the European Commission March 24th 2004 Decision in the antitrust lawsuit, after losing their appeal against that decision on September 17th 2007.

Andrew Tridgell, creator of Samba, said, "We are very pleased to be able to get access to the technical information necessary to continue to develop Samba as a Free Software project. Although we were disappointed the decision did not address the issue of patent claims over the protocols, it was a great achievement for the European Commission and for enforcement of antitrust laws in Europe. The agreement allows us to keep Samba up to date with recent changes in Microsoft Windows, and also helps other Free Software projects that need to interoperate with Windows".

Jeremy Allison, co-creator of Samba said, "Andrew did a superb job in negotiating the agreement with Microsoft. We will be able to use the information obtained to continue to develop Samba and create more Free Software. We are hoping to get back to the productive relationship we had with Microsoft during the early 1990's when we shared information about these protocols. The agreement also clarifies the exact patent numbers concerned so there is no possibility of misunderstandings around this issue."

Volker Lendecke, head of the Samba Team in Europe said, "I am very pleased to see that the European Commission acknowledged Free Software as a valid competitor in the IT industry and that the License conditions on the protocol information offered to the Free Software world are indeed compatible with the GPL. This is much better than what we have seen in similar cases in other countries and the Commission has done a great job to push the case to this point."

Compatible with Free Software

After paying Microsoft a one-time sum of 10,000 Euros, the PFIF will make available to the Samba Team under non-disclosure terms the documentation needed for implementation of all of the workgroup server protocols covered by the EU decision.

Although the documentation itself will be held in confidence by the PFIF and Samba Team engineers, the agreement allows the publication of the source code of the implementation of these protocols without any further restrictions. This is fully compatible with versions two and three of the GNU General Public License (GPL). Samba is published under the GNU GPL which is the most widely used of all Free Software licenses. In addition it allows discussion of the protocol information amongst implementers which will aid technical cooperation between engineers.

Under the agreement, Microsoft is required to make available and keep current a list of patent numbers it believes are related to the Microsoft implementation of the workgroup server protocols, without granting an implicit patent license to any Free Software implementation.

No per-copy royalties are required from the PFIF, Samba developers, third party vendors or users and no acknowledgement of any patent infringement by Free Software implementations is expressed or implied in the agreement.

The patent list provides us with a bounded set of work needed to ensure non-infringement of Samba and other Free Software projects that implement the protocols documented by Microsoft under this agreement. Any patents outside this list cannot be asserted by Microsoft against any implementation developed using the supplied documentation. Unlike the highly dubious patent covenants recently announced by some companies this warranty extends to all third parties. Also unlike past agreements, this agreement has been carefully scrutinized by the Software Freedom Law Center, the premier legal experts for the GPL and Free Software.

Microsoft must keep the documentation up to date with new products and provide error correction assistance to parties signing the agreement. Disputes will be resolved by the Trustee appointed by the Commission as part of the court decision.

The Samba Team would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to Carlo Piana from the Free Software Foundation Europe and Eben Moglen of the Software Freedom Law Center, who have been our legal representation on this case. They have provided world-class legal services for many years and we are sincerely grateful.

The Samba Team.
20th December 2007.


Samba Web site:
For more information on the agreement see:
An article on the history of the case:

An article explaining some details of the agreement:

The Protocol Freedom Information Foundation Web site:

The PFIF agreement text:


a Microsoft trick-?

tridge-!??! Isn't this clearly a trick on Microsoft's part -- to force the Samba team into a NDA and then later sue anyone who uses Samba for patent royalty issues??? With Samba sewn up no one else will be able to talk to legacy networking devices using SMB.

Only sort of

Microsoft lists the patents that a straight-forward implementation would infringe. Samba can learn from that; they learn what *not* to do, so they don't infringe on any patents. Furthermore, they cannot be sued for any patents that Microsoft hasn't listed. They can't be blindsided by patent issues.

"Any patents outside this list cannot be asserted by Microsoft against any implementation developed using the supplied documentation."

Sounds Like ...

... a REALLY big "get out of jail free" card. Microsoft has no idea what sort of implementation Samba could eventually grow into, and what other technologies it could touch upon (which could be, conceivably, pretty numerous, with the right code branch :).

This can't be right, can it? This would leave all of MS's non-NetBios-related patents open as fair game to anyone who simply tied the Samba project's codebase into their project ... wouldn't it?

Another microsoft style grant?

Do this will be another microsoft style grant? microsoft's licensing of proprietary information represents the first fruit of the software giant's capitulation to the European Commission's landmark 2004 antitrust decision.

The agreement clarifies the exact patent numbers involved so there is no possibility of misunderstanding. Microsoft is prevented from asserting any patents against any implementation developed using the supplied documentation.

Because of the way the MS

Because of the way the MS protocols are structured, this should benefit integration with other RPC-based stuff too, such as Exchange and SQL server, although I don't know whether the documents will tell developers stuff that hasn't been reverse-engineered already.

Janet Kellman

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