Open Source – A Business Reality

First Publication Date: 5th October 2010
Open source has today become a necessity for most businesses. It is estimated that 99 percent of all companies using software use at least one open source component. The business value added by open source products makes them inevitable for every company. In addition to software, open source has today expanded its tentacles to many areas from open text books to open drug discovery and is fast spreading to other areas.No business shift happens without legal hurdles and complications. With the rise in applications of open source to businesses, the legal battles with respect to such application have also increased. Adaptation of new technology always involves discarding of an old one and thereby causing loss to companies based on old technology. It happened with the electric bulb and continues to happen today as well.
Google’s android has become very popular and is being adapted extensively in the mobile space. Players such as Microsoft, Apple and Oracle being the first ones to face the heat have initiated patent infringement suits against companies like Motorola, HTC, Google and so on. They have alleged in their suits that the companies’ use of the Android operating system violates their patents and other IP rights. The latest among them is the case filed by Microsoft against Motorola alleging that Motorola’s adaptation of Android for its mobile devices infringes nine of its patents relating to email synchronization and so on. The attempt of Microsoft some scholars believe is an attempt to get some revenues from its old customer, which is moving away from its products.
Based on history, most scholars believe that most of the cases will end in settlements. The process of litigation has never been a happy one and to most companies settlement makes better sense. The most recent open source settlement is the one between RedHat and Acacia. Acacia had earlier sued RedHat for infringement of its patents by RedHat’s middleware JBOSS. The parties have now settled the lawsuit but the details of the settlement, as usual, have not been disclosed.
Open source is spreading to many areas and has today become more than business reality. The increase in open source activity increases the risks inherent in distributed development of technology, works of authorship and so on. Companies must note that risk from open source is a reality and it must be tackled in a manner that maximizes benefits.

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