RALEIGH, N.C. – Mum is the word at Red Hat about whether the Hatters are talking a patent deal with Microsoft.

Chief Executive Officer Matthew Szulik muddied the picture on Wednesday in an interview with Reuters after Red Hat beat Wall Street estimates with quarterly revenues and profits.

Asked if Red Hat was negotiating with Microsoft about a deal resolving lingering patent questions, Szulik said succinctly:

“I can’t answer the question.”

For months, Microsoft has been stepping up pressure on Linux software providers to make a deal that would free Linux customers from potential patent infringement. It’s Microsoft’s contention that Linux violates Windows intellectual property. In November, Novell accepted a deal from Microsoft that included cash, guarantees and much more. A couple of other smaller Linux providers followed suit.

To this point, Red Hat has been adamant that it’s not interested in working with Bill Gates and company.

Now, who knows – other than Szulik, other top execs at Red Hat, and the folks in Redmond, Wash.

Much if not virtually all of the Open Source community has said that Microsoft’s claims of patent infringement are hogwash. On Friday, the battle could heat up as a new General Public License agreement for open source software takes effect. The Free Software Foundation oversees the license, known as GPL, and this version 3 is much different than version 2.

According to Computer Reseller News, “the new license will have broad ripple effects throughout the software industry. The first revision to the GPL in 16 years, GPL 3 has new terms addressing patent rights, DRM (digital rights management), and compatibility with other open-source licenses.”

Reuters reported that GPL 3 “will forbid companies from distributing Linux software if they enter into patent agreements like the ones that Microsoft signed with Novell.”

GPL 3 was announced on Wednesday, and Computer Reseller News reported that Red Hat and other firms that would be affected by it are withholding comment for the time being.

Sounds as if the lawyers will be even more busy in the weeks and months ahead. It’s no wonder that Szulik didn’t answer the Reuters reporter’s question.