Open Source Summit Review

The resounding message of the Olswang’s and Greenberg Traurig’s Friday Open Source Summit (PDF) was that software patents are bad for business. Bruce Perens’s message against software patents and that the European Patent Litigation Agreement (EPLA) should not become a reality was echoed throughout the day by numerous speakers to be restated once again during Simon Phipps closing keynote. The main argument was that these patents hinder software development because of their high transaction costs, and that Europe can maintain advantages by not allowing these patents (available in the US and elsewhere) on its shores. Naturally enough, there wasn’t anyone calling for the abolition of patents, only as they relate to software. But software patents weren’t the only theme of the day. Bruce Perens – Opening keynote Perens is one of a handful of early and influential ‘founders’ of free and open source software (FOSS) and he gave an entertaining and informative overview of the benefits of FOSS and how they fit in with a company’s business model. The key for any business is to look at what is the “differentiating software” — the model or software that makes the business different from others. For non-differentiating software open source is key as it can help control costs while delivering a robust architecture. Beyond his call against software patents, he suggested that the UK and Europe could use a law requiring open source software to at least be considered for (presumably) public purchasing. Heather Meeker, of Greenberg Traurig, gave an excellent overview of the legal side of FOSS licensing. Jim Markwith of Microsoft concentrated on issues surrounding open source in a mergers and acquisition (M&A) context. Often one of the issues is finding inappropriate (copied w/o permission) code in FOSS projects. Many of the problems that he sees in the M&A role at Microsoft are a result of poor IP management and not open source per se. As regards software patents, he only stated that Microsoft takes a different position than the other speakers. On the GPLv3, he did note that “GPLv2 has built up a legal understanding over the past fifteen years and now v3 means that they don’t have that understanding.” Nigel Swycher, Olswang and chair of the event, and Kat McCabe, Black Duck, both further reviewed FOSS within the M&A context. Black Duck makes a product that reviews and audits software code to make sure that it does not contain illegally copied code. In the afternoon Jan Wildeboer, Red Hat, and Pieter Hintjens, iMatix, both further made the case against software patents and open source business models. Hintjens had the notable quote that the GPL is “an ‘ultra capitalist tool’ because it allows dual licensing a commercial option plus the GPL version.” Dietmar Tallroth, Nokia, discussed some of the practical aspects of managing open source software through his experiences as the legal director of open source and licensing at Nokia. David Wood from Symbian gave an overview of open source and smartphones. John Powell, Alfresco Software, got back to one of the main themes of the conference. From the conference site:

The software development and licensing landscape has changed, and the US are perceived to be leading the way. The Summit seeks to address this imbalance.

Powell blamed the close ties and use of the English language for waves and waves of US commercial interests following a proprietary licensing model for crushing both the UK’s indigenous software industry and free and open source software development. In short, because of the lack of a language barrier, UK companies and public sector organisations bought into the FUD against FOSS and thus never got off the ground. Now however is the time for the pendulum to swing the other way and for a UK FOSS community and use to dramatically take off. Graham Taylor, Openforum Europe, discussed open standards and mentioned that in his opinion the UK government has been largely absent when compared to its EU counterparts at European meetings on open standards, open source. Michael Robinson, Deloitte, covered how they saved large amounts of money and introduced greater stability by introducing open source into the Oyster card system for London’s transport. Simon Phipps, Sun Microsystems, closed the day with a slight restatement of the day’s theme against software patents. He wasn’t against them per se, however he thought that their granting should be greatly tightened so that they were very hard to get. There was still some room for their use if limited in this way. He did however note that trade marks are the next wave of legal problems for the FOSS community and that this would be the most troublesome area moving forward. In addition, he gave a load of practical advice on using FOSS within a company and how to relate to the greater open source community. The day was well attended by a diverse set of lawyers, academics, developers and others. A definite tip of the hat to Olswang and their partners on the event Greenberg Traurig for the day.