Alice kills trolls

The effects of Alice Corp. v CLS Bank are beginning to be seen and they highlight the landmark status of the case. The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, previously considered by many to be strongly pro-patent, has now used the Alice decision to resolve large numbers of patent cases by finding the software patents in question to be invalid. In fact, even lower courts are beginning to use Alice to strike down patent cases, declaring them invalid because of unpatentable subject matter.

Of course, the patent trolls are not going to be caught sleeping. Conceding that Alice invalidates many of their cases, pro-patent advocates will now begin hunting ways to get around the ruling. As software patent consultant Bob Zeidman said “every time there’s a court ruling it just means that you have to word the patent claims differently.” This might well mean adding function claims to patents, a move which also significantly limits their disruptive power. Perhaps that’s a compromise open source developers could live with, but let’s not let our guards down. In the meantime though, I propose a toast, “to Alice”.

For more on this topic, read Simon’s article on InfoWorld.

All your data are belong to us

If we store… data in a place with public access, it will eventually become public.

Simon’s conclusion might seem a little paranoid, but it seem’s there’s plenty in the news at the moment to back up his position. From the hacking of celebrity Apple iCloud accounts, to the DEA using decades old phone records (stored by AT&T) as a covert source in investigations, vulnerable data is in the headlines.

The NSA and GCHQ also come under the spotlight. Simon’s contention is that all intelligence agencies worth the name are now actively gathering all online information that doesn’t require illegal action to take. This information includes all email, instant messages, Web pages, and social media traffic just for starters. The legality of the information harvesting is justified by a whole series of explanations, definitions and broad interpretations of legal doctrines, which enable such agencies to claim the information gathered is “public”.

Most of this data never gets looked at. Instead it’s cached in gigantic data lakes. According to the NSA’s legal advisers, “wiretapping” or “hacking” starts at the point a human being actually analyses or interprets the data. Of course, given the availability of the data, as soon as legal permission is given, tools like the NSA’s XKeyscore enable them to fish the data lake for relevant information. Given that you can’t dissociate data gathering from data usage, we all need to account for all the costs of putting information online, not just the ones associated with our primary goals. Don’t just think about what your data is being used for now; think about what it could be used for when it’s no longer your job. Read Simon’s full article in InfoWorld.

An Interview with Simon

After discussing a little history, (some of the things that have brought Simon to the place he’s at today), Simon’s interview for Australian Science mostly concentrates on his role at OSI and the work of the Open Rights Group. Check up on some of the things he’s involved with at the moment as well as some insight into institutions with an anti-open source bias, by reading the full interview.

Good News Roundup Podcast

The effects of the Alice v. CLS Bank Supreme Court case have been felt in the recent Federal Court of appeals, Digitech case. The court decided to not even check for infringements, as the initial image processing software was deemed not to be a significant improvement to the computer, but merely a computer implementing a non‑patent‑eligible technique.

On an entirely separate, but equally positive note, last week the UK government announced that from hence forth it will be using an open document format as its standard. To hear (or read) more detail and insight on both these stories, check out Simon’s recent podcast with Red Hat Cloud Evangelist Gordan Haff.

Formal certification for open source projects, is this progress?

By announcing its new certification process for Linux professionals at Linuxcon, The Linux Foundation made their pro-certification stance pretty clear. They’re not the only open source foundation endorsing peer-verified certification as an effective and useful way for those outside a community to place their trust in an individuals community credentials. The Document Foundation also offers a certification scheme, in their case for for LibreOffice migration professionals.

The two qualifications use slightly different procedures to assess candidates, but the outcome is a similar endorsement of community-recognised skills. How many other projects might be a good fit for this sort of certification? Should this become a more widespread practice? There are some obvious benefits to the practice, for a start it creates a concrete parameter for those outside the community to use when making hiring decisions. Both certifications appear to have made an impact in their respective fields, with the TDF certification already a requirement in some recruiting activities and The Linux Foundation’s introductory offer $50 certifications already sold out.

For more details about both certifications as well as more detailed discussion of potential criteria for new qualifications, see Simon’s InfoWorld article.

Walmart’s big open source investment

Walmart’s backing of the Hapi project, an open source Node.js framework, represents a significant financial commitment (over $2m). Why would Walmart be investing in open source options when it could simply pick up some proprietary code from elsewhere? Eran Hammer, a senior developer at Walmart labs lays out some of the reasons for us in a recent blog post. Key to the argument in favour of open source spending is return on investment and as Hammer explains, for the decision to make financial sense first required them “to develop success parameters that enable us to demonstrate the value”.

Once the ROI becomes quantifiable, the expense becomes much easier to justify. Walmart is ready to work in the open precisely because it recognises that it get’s a lot of value for its money that way. In fact, by Hammer’s assessment “by paying developers to work on Hapi full time, we get back twice (or more) that much in engineering value.” Read Simon’s thoughts and interpretation in his Infoworld article.

SAP’s open source journey continues

The stand of German IT superpower SAP might have seemed like a surprising addition to this years OSCON. Announcing its sponsorship of both Cloud Foundry and the OpenStack Foundation, the firm is committed to adding support for its SAP HANA in-memory database to both platforms. In addition, SAP was also promoting its own open source project OpenUI5, a substantial JavaScript UI library it previously delivered as a proprietary project under the name SAPUI5.

In previous articles, Simon has explored the idea of a seven stage model of open source adoption by large corporations. SAP’s latest moves to embrace open source more fully demonstrate its progression into the middle stages of the ladder. Whilst there’s still a long way to go, this progression is a welcome development. Read Simon’s full article on InfoWorld.