OSDL: Patent Infringement Not a Real Open-Source Threat

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2006-09-28 Print this article Print

The issues of patents, indemnification and the potential risk of using open-source software took center stage at the keynote panel of industry leaders at the Gartner Open Source Summit.

PHOENIX—The issues of patents, indemnification and the potential risk of using open-source software took center stage at the keynote panel of industry leaders at the Gartner Open Source Summit here Sept. 28. Patent infringement against open-source projects is not really a threat and is just noise, said Stuart Cohen, the CEO of OSDL (Open Source Development Labs).
"This is just not going to happen," he said.
Click here to read more about the OSDL patent project under attack. Brian Behlendorf, one of the founders of the Apache Foundation and the CTO of Collabnet, told attendees that if a contributor to the Apache Foundation submitted some code that the contributor did not to have the rights to, the agreement that contributor signs makes him or her responsible for the legal consequences. Mike Millinkovitch, the executive director of the Eclipse Foundation, said: "We have three full-time employees, one of whom is a lawyer, who do nothing but scrub our code, and when we are done, companies like IBM and BEA do that all over again. Open-source code is among the most closely scrutinized code out there." The vast majority of Linux kernel developers also now work for either the vendors or the adopting companies, Cohen said, noting that this helps those companies identify and fix potential issues while also contributing back to the community. The Free Software Foundation recently clarified "inaccurate" information about GPLv3. Click here to read more. Software is also not about religion, but about meeting business needs, and if there is a piece of commercial software that meets a particular business need, companies should go out and buy it, Millinkovitch said, adding that proprietary software and open-source software will continue to operate side-by-side for a long time to come. Asked why an enterprise user who has spent decades creating a long-term relationship with commercial software companies like IBM and BEA should move to open-source software, Millinkovitch said users should just carry on doing what they have been doing, because those companies have embraced open source. Collabnets Behlendorf said that while software can be treated like a black box for mature products like operating systems, often the things that will make a difference to a business are not yet fully baked, and the ability to look under the covers at the code is very important at that point, allowing them to look at, and change, the code. "The ability to treat software as more than a black box is a key differentiator of open-source software," he said. Can Windows and open source learn to play nice? Click here to read more. The lines between whats commercial and whats open source are also blurring, OSDLs Cohen said, pointing to the fact that companies buy software because of value and the fact that it solves their business needs. "They do not look at this as an issue of closed source versus open source," he said. When asked what its like being the boss of Linus Torvalds, the founder of the Linux operating system and employee of the Labs, Cohen said "I prefer to think of it as us employing Linus rather than my being his boss. We leave him alone to run the Linux kernel project," he said. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest open-source news, reviews and analysis.
Peter Galli has been a financial/technology reporter for 12 years at leading publications in South Africa, the UK and the US. He has been Investment Editor of South Africa's Business Day Newspaper, the sister publication of the Financial Times of London.

He was also Group Financial Communications Manager for First National Bank, the second largest banking group in South Africa before moving on to become Executive News Editor of Business Report, the largest daily financial newspaper in South Africa, owned by the global Independent Newspapers group.

He was responsible for a national reporting team of 20 based in four bureaus. He also edited and contributed to its weekly technology page, and launched a financial and technology radio service supplying daily news bulletins to the national broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which were then distributed to some 50 radio stations across the country.

He was then transferred to San Francisco as Business Report's U.S. Correspondent to cover Silicon Valley, trade and finance between the US, Europe and emerging markets like South Africa. After serving that role for more than two years, he joined eWeek as a Senior Editor, covering software platforms in August 2000.

He has comprehensively covered Microsoft and its Windows and .Net platforms, as well as the many legal challenges it has faced. He has also focused on Sun Microsystems and its Solaris operating environment, Java and Unix offerings. He covers developments in the open source community, particularly around the Linux kernel and the effects it will have on the enterprise.

He has written extensively about new products for the Linux and Unix platforms, the development of open standards and critically looked at the potential Linux has to offer an alternative operating system and platform to Windows, .Net and Unix-based solutions like Solaris.

His interviews with senior industry executives include Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Linus Torvalds, the original developer of the Linux operating system, Sun CEO Scot McNealy, and Bill Zeitler, a senior vice president at IBM.

For numerous examples of his writing you can search under his name at the eWEEK Website at www.eweek.com.


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