We've recently seen a rush of support for open source by major proprietary vendors. IBM said it will open-source its Cloudscape database.
Sun Microsystems previewed its Project Janus technology to allow Solaris to run Linux applications natively and allow customers to run Solaris and Linux applications side by side.
That's mostly good news, but it does carry with it a certain risk.
Proprietary vendors have their own agendas--serving their own profits and stockholders--and those agendas may conflict with the needs and goals of the open-source community.
Software patents are the issue; established companies have large portfolios of patents, and they use the patents to stifle competition from upstarts. Established companies have a hard time using patents as weapons against each other, because they all have big portfolios of patents and each company has patents that other companies need. As a result, companies will cross-license patents to each other--I'll let you use my intellectual property in X if you let me use the intellectual property in Y.
But patents can and are use to quash competition from startup and open-source developers. And "quash," in this case, is spelled "S-C-O," which has been attempting to use intellectual property law to extort from the open-source community. (SCO is using copyright rather than patent law, but the results being sought are the same.)
A third of the patents are owned by Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Novell, Oracle and other Linux backers. On the other hand, Microsoft owns 27 of the patents, and plans to accelerate patent filings, from about 2,000 this fiscal year to 3,000 next fiscal year.
Software patents represent a significant threat to the Linux community. Fortunately, there are ways of fighting back. Insurance from OSRM is one; defending a patent lawsuit is expensive, averaging $3 million, and insurance can mitigate that cost significantly.
Also, the Linux community is taking matters into its own hands; Pamela Jones, author of the Groklaw
blog, is developing Grokline,
a history of intellectual property in Unix, to help Linux developers mitigate intellectual property risks in Linux.
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