October 5, 2009, 4:09 pm
Tom Callaway of Fedora explains some of the intricacies of licensing and ensuring that a software package included in Fedora and Red Hat is actually verified to be open source.
He provides an overview of the various open source licenses, including the MIT, BSD, GPL, LGPL, and Apache licenses, plus the public domain and many more. He mentioned that Red Hat/Fedora tracks more than 180 valid open source licenses--more than the Free Software Foundation or Open Source Initiative does. He cites problems with the Artistic 1.0 License and shows how holes in that license almost caused it to be invalid.
He urges developers to pick an existing license rather than writing their own, especially if they do not feel it necessary to contact a lawyer while doing so.
He also speaks about patents, and how "patents can halt development in an area until the patent expires." His specific example is the patents on MP3 audio compression technology. Most of those patents will expire in the next eight years. Callaway explains that patent-free MP3 decoding will likely be possible in 2015, with patent-free encoding possible in after 2017.
Unfortunately, due to the high cost of patent litigation, most lawsuits never make it to trial. Instead, the open source community and others must rely on the laborious and lengthy patent review process, as well as educating the USPTO about the rapidly-developing nature of software.