Why accommodating open source at a standards body is like growing blueberries.
Fresh-from-the-bush blueberries are one of the good things of life. When I set up my home office about a decade ago, I had to install an underground conduit to supply essential services — power, water, network — and dug a deep trench all along the path that leads there. When I refilled the trench I decided to plant a blueberry hedge so looked into how to grow good blueberries.
Of late there have been a number of interventions sponsored by the world’s largest and most profitable tech patent holders to muddy the waters about open source and FRAND licensing of patents in standards by arguing contentious minutiae like the intent of the authors of the BSD license. This is happening because of the clash of industries I wrote about in 2016, with companies fundamentally based on extracting patent royalties unable to imagine any other way of doing business so mistaking the issue of FRAND as being about license compliance rather than as it being an obstacle to the very purpose of open source in commercial software — collaboration with others.
I found an amazing number of experienced and expert colleagues across industries failing to grasp this fundamental, so I’ve written a paper 🗎 about it. Published today by Open Forum Europe, it explains why compliance legalities are the wrong lens for studying the issue and introduces terms for exploring why representatives from different industry background fail to understand each other despite apparently using the same terminology (spoiler: they mean different things by the same words).
Many thanks to the colleagues who have made valuable suggestions that have improved the clarity of the document, and to the various patrons who have contributed to covering my time. Get in touch if you’d like me to come to your event or company and talk about these things.
The largest forces in technology today – consumer-facing companies like Google and Facebook, business-facing companies like Salesforce, now even first-gen tech corporations like Microsoft and IBM – all increasingly depend on open source software. That means collaborative inter-company development of the software components and infrastructure technology these enterprises use for their business success. It’s enabled by the safe space created when they use their IP in a new way – to ensure an environment for collaboration where the four essential freedoms of software are guaranteed. Continue reading
The European Commission has been persuaded by lobbyists to change its position on standards to permit the use of FRAND license terms for patents applicable to technologies within those standards. This is a massive mistake that will harm innovation by chilling open source community engagement.
I participated in a study asking about the fairness, reasonableness and non-discriminatory nature of FRAND licensing in the context of licensing of patents in standards. I was surprised to find people there asserting there was no conflict between FRAND licensing and open source software. Here’s a simple explanation why that’s wrong.
Since patent licensing is by definition bilateral, and since open source communities that aren’t run by a single vendor are by definition multi-lateral, any standard which includes patents that require licensing discriminates against true multi-participant open source implementation. By definition, patent licensing as a precondition of implementation of a standard cannot ever be non-discriminatory. Even zero-fee licensing is discriminatory as it still requires implementers to seek permission, the antithesis of open source.