Red Hat's chief executive has revealed that the company held talks with Microsoft last year over a possible patent agreement like the software giant's controversial deal with Novell.

Red Hat CEO Matthew Szulik made the admission during an interview with Reuters, the news-wire reported.

Szulik said talks with Microsoft broke down before the Microsoft-Novell deal was signed.

And while some Linux companies - notably Canonical - are making definite statements against collaborating on a patent deal with Microsoft, Red Hat is keeping quiet.

When asked in Reuters' interview whether Red Hat is currently in negotiations with Microsoft over such a patent agreement, Szulik said: "I can't answer the question."

The patent agreement with Novell has split the Linux community - possibly one of the effects Microsoft was hoping for. While high-profile figures from the likes of the Free Software Foundation (FSF) and Canonical, the makers of Ubuntu Linux, have criticised the agreement as a protection racket, open source companies Xandros and Linspire have signed up.

This follows Microsoft's declaration in May that open-source software, including Linux, violates 235 Microsoft patents and that the company wants distributors and users of open-source software to start paying royalties for the alleged violations.

Microsoft has provided no specifics about which of its patents are involved.