Sunday, 14 November 2010 12:01

Perens slams Red Hat over patent deal secrecy


Well-known open source advocate Bruce Perens has questioned the motive behind Red Hat's secrecy about a patent suit settlement with patent troll Acacia.

In an article written for technology site Gigaom, Perens pointed out that it was more than a month since the suit has been settled. Yet, Red Hat had not made public the terms of the settlement.

He contrasted this with a similar case in 2007, when Acacia sued Red Hat; the patents in question were invalidated by the court, reducing by one the risk faced by free software and open source software developers.

The suit in question involved an alleged patent infringement in the JBoss software that Red Hat owns. The suit ended in October this year but to date Red Hat has remained silent about the terms of the settlement.

Perens noted that it was especially worrying as JBoss is released under the terms of the Lesser General Public Licence (LGPL) that prohibits a party from licensing a patent unless that licence is made available to all developers of the software.

Red Hat does not own the entire copyright to JBoss and thus has to conform to the terms of the LGPL.

Given that there are no court papers about the conclusion of the case, Perens concluded that the only reason could be that Red Hat had agreed to sealing up the case as a part of the settlement.

This meant that Red Hat's legal partners in the development of JBoss would never know whether their own licences were being violated.

He said that it appeared Red Hat had left the open-source community, many of whom produce the product that it sells, in the lurch,

"Not only would the JBoss developers be at increased risk, so would users of PHP, Ruby on Rails, and, indeed, most open source and proprietary web platforms,"Perens wrote.

"Perhaps Red Hat's attorneys felt that things would be even worse for the community if they fought the case to its conclusion and lost. But we don't know that, because it appears that they agreed not to tell us."

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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