Qualcomm gets into open source, pigs begin to fly

If Qualcomm wants its new open-source subsidiary to be more than just marketing, it needs to start contributing actual code.

Apparently, Qualcomm didn't get the memo. Open-source developers as a group tend to be hostile to patents, believing that they're detrimental to technology innovation.

But Qualcomm, a company devoted more than most to acquiring and prosecuting patents, announced Monday the launch of a wholly owned subsidiary called the Qualcomm Innovation Center (QuIC) to focus on open-source development for mobile.

The patent king seeks to become the open-source king?

Maybe. Maybe not. The mission of QuIC signals an intent to blend the best of mobile open source with the best of Qualcomm's proprietary technology:

Open source and community-driven software development is becoming increasingly important to the wireless industry....Qualcomm Innovation Center, Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Qualcomm that brings together a dedicated group of engineers focused on this area of growing innovation. With the goal of investing greater resources into enabling and optimizing open source software with Qualcomm technology, Qualcomm Innovation Center, Inc. works closely with the open source community to enable the faster advancement of the wireless industry as a whole.

It's a welcome sign, but as yet Qualcomm has demonstrated negligible involvement with any open-source community One of the cardinal rules for engaging with open-source development communities is to, well, engage with them.

Typically, this means writing and contributing code. Code is the coin of the open-source realm, and I'm unaware of much involvement from Qualcomm in this area.

So let me offer a suggested shortcut for Qualcomm: hire someone to educate you. Danese Cooper, formerly of Intel and Sun Microsystems and recently departed from Revolution Computing, could help to shake things up on Qualcomm's San Diego campus. And there are others.

In whichever way Qualcomm opts to do it, the company must engage with open-source communities through free code transfer in order to be taken seriously and to have a chance of influencing such communities.

For example, as noted in GigaOM, Qualcomm intends for QuIC to help it optimize its technology for Android, Chrome, Moblin, and other mobile open-source projects. Yet given that the company doesn't even show up in the list of top Linux contributors, how can we expect to see Qualcomm play a meaningful role in distributions like Android?

No one is going to give Qualcomm bonus points for creating a subsidiary to focus on open-source development, if little open-source code is actually contributed.

In this Qualcomm could learn a lesson from Adobe Systems, which despite maintaining a healthy business in proprietary software, is learning to engage productively with open-source communities, as highlighted in The H Online.

In sum, it is welcome that Qualcomm finally sees enlightened self-interest in leveraging open-source software for the good of its business. Now it just needs to learn to accelerate such benefits through real code contributions--and not simply nice-sounding business units.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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