September 17, 2001

RTLinux leader: GPL violation may be a mix-up

Author: JT Smith

- By Grant Gross -

Victor Yodaiken, CEO of the company that makes RTLinux, says he believes the Free Software Foundation's accusation that his company is violating the GNU General Public License with its patent of RTLinux may be a misunderstanding.

Editor's note: has a followup late Monday saying the issues have been at least partially resolved. Here's a press release from FSM Labs saying the issue has been resolved.

On Sept. 14, the Free Software Foundation issued a statement accusing FSM Labs of violating the GPL. From the statement: "Yodaiken has attempted to use the patent to impose restrictive terms on a GPL-covered program (Linux, the kernel used in the GNU/Linux operating system). These terms conflict with the GNU GPL, and imposing them is a violation of the GPL."

But Yodaiken, who says he was surprised by the statement, says negotiations continue with the Free Software Foundation over the license language FSM Labs uses on the GPL release of its patented RTLinux, a real-time operating system. FSM Labs and the Free Software Foundation lawyer are scheduled to meet later today to discuss the latest language of the license, which Yodaiken says has "minor problems, which we'd be happy to change."

"We have provided a license for allowing people to freely use the GPL RTLinux," Yodaiken says. "There's a no-royalty license that you can use RTLinux GPL as long as it stays GPL."

The RTLinux patent has been controversial, with some members of Free Software/Open Source communities decrying the use of a patent by an Open Source company. Yodaiken says the issue seems to be a political one at the Free Software Foundation, and he suggests the foundation is mixing its roles as defender of the GPL and intellectual property advocate.

"The FSF has its own opinion about patents, which we do not share," he says.

The controversy illustrates some of the difficulties an Open Source business can have with creating a sustainable business model, Yodaiken adds. "We're one of the few profitable companies out here [in the Open Source community]," he says. "We never took any venture capital, and we've been developing both proprietary and GPL code."

Yodaiken says he was taken aback by some comments on the issue posted at Slashdot, when some readers there questioned who FSM Labs is. Yodaiken notes that his company has contributed what he calls "a significant amount of code" to the Linux kernel, and company employees drove the Linux Power PC port.

"We're a long-term member of the Linux community," he says. "I hope people stay calm and remember the difference between what's important and what's not."

Yodaiken says he expects a press release to come out of the discussions with the Free Software Foundation early this week.


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