Home Business IT Open Source Patching a running kernel: legal issues unknown

If there are legal issues around the module being developed by SUSE to patch a running Linux kernel, then they are not going to be known right now.

Following the news that SUSE engineers are working on a kernel module called kGraft that can patch a running kernel, iTWire contacted the company to find out if Oracle's ownership of Ksplice - a mechanism for doing the same job - would pose any legal issues.

Ksplice was developed by Ksplice Inc under an open source licence until July 2011 when it was bought by Oracle and taken proprietary.

It is now used by that company as an incentive to get companies to use Oracle Linux. Prior to being acquired, it was available for the Red Hat, CentOS, Debian, Ubuntu and Fedora Linux distributions.

Oracle is known for aggressively defending its software; in the latest such instance, in 2010 it filed a case against Google alleging that the search giant's use of the Android mobile operating system violated its patented Java technology. The suit failed, with the verdict being declared in 2012, but Oracle has appealed the verdict and that case is continuing.

However, Vojtech Pavlik, director of SUSE labs and head of kernel development at SUSE, was unable to say anything. "I'm afraid our legal folks don't allow us to comment on any legal matters, including intellectual property. Sorry," was his response.

Asked about the possibility of live patching of shared libraries, Pavlik said: "Patching shared libraries as well as running services is the logical next step in delivering continuously running systems."

A first kGraft release is planned for next month. The release will be under the GPLv3 licence for parts that touch GCC, and under the GPLv2 licence for Linux kernel parts.

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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