There's a lot of talk about patents recently with Florian Mueller's campaign against IBM and Microsoft (MSFT) suing salesforce.com (CRM). The discussion is typically wrapped into some aspect of open source license terms and conditions (Ts&Cs) combined with corporate greed and nefarious behavior. Now, via its acquisition of On2 (ONT) in February 2010, Google (GOOG) is being caught up in the debate despite apparent efforts to stay out of the firefight.
On May 25, Bruce Perens -- one of the movers and shakers of the open source culture and a founder of the Open Source Initiative (OSI) -- wrote to the OSI License Review Committee:
"Since Google hasn't submitted the WebM license, and it's in the community's interest to review it, I am making a third-party submission."
The technology involved compresses video streams for Internet transmission. It may or may not be really hot stuff with implications for Adobe (ADBE) Flash and Microsoft Silverlight but that is not the issue at hand. On2 had developed the technology using some related open-sourced technologies that were licensed in a manner known as restricted among the open source crowd (e.g., it's sort of open source but not really by the purist view of the Free Software Foundation (FSF)).
In addition, the package -- what On2 had developed plus the open source pieces it used -- was not itself open sourced. A hotly debated question since the On2 acquisition was announced almost a year ago has been whether Google would keep it closed, keep the restrictions, truly liberate the code, or come up with some combination. From an investment point of view, the issue is whether Google giving away shareholder assets and, if so, what can shareholders expect in return?
What makes Perens' move interesting is that this is not just the usual OSI vs. FSF sort of thing. His professional experience is primarily with similar technology. He goes on to say:
"I plan to issue a derivative work of the WebM project under the WebM license, and thus have a legitimate interest in the license. This submission is not an endorsement of the license text exactly as written. I think there's a mistake in the text, possibly not deliberate. I believe the formal review process, rather than any back-channel discussion that might be happening, is the best forum for repair of the license."
My guess is that "possibly not deliberate" mistake has something to do with patents. If it is "possibly not deliberate" than it is also "possibly deliberate." If the OSI suggests changes to which Google does not agree, Perens is in the position of dropping his development plans or using closed source software. And if Google does not agree to OSI 'improvements' to its WebM license, it further degrades its already degrading reputation as a good corporate citizen of the open source world.
-- Dennis Byron
(no interest in companies mentioned except for the $12 a year I pay to Microsoft for Office)