OSDL: Patent Infringement Not a Real Open-Source Threat

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.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick 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.

/zimages/6/28571.gifThe 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.

/zimages/6/28571.gifCan 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.

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