vice president, HP
"At the end of the day, software patents are a way of life. To ignore them is a little bit naive," Martin Fink, HP's vice president of Linux, said here at the . It's fine to object to software patents, but it's foolhardy not to try to acquire them, he said.
"Refusing to patent one's ideas is leaving oneself exposed for absolutely no good reason," Fink said. "For some, (getting patents) may seem like selling out. You can comfort yourself that it's what you do with the patent that matters, not the fact that you have one."
Critics of software patents include some of the highest-ranking members of the open-source and free-software movements. Among them are Free Software Foundation; , founder of Linux, which piggybacked on Stallman's Gnu's Not Unix (GNU) operating system project; and Brian Behlendorf, a founder of the Apache Web server software project., president of the
In contrast, HP boasts of its patent glories. In 2004, it received 1,775 U.S. patents, placing it fourth on the list of those who acquired the most patents in the United States.
Intellectual-property issues--that is, matters involving patents, copyright and trade secrets--arebecause of open-source software, which by definition may be shared, changed and redistributed. Those freedoms stand in stark contrast to the secrecy and distribution constraints of traditional proprietary software.
Fink said that open-source software is built on a copyright law foundation, but that patents are more awkward because programmers see them as curtailing their liberties. Companies, on the other hand, see patents as protecting valuable ideas.
Linux doesn't come with any guarantees that it's not violating patents. Indeed, one study by a company selling insurance against intellectual-property lawsuits said that the. And an HP executive warned in 2002 that against open-source software.
Still, no patent attacks have materialized publicly so far, and the landscape for launching such an attack is becoming increasingly complicated. Linux sellers Red Hat and Novell have vowed to use their patent portfolios to defend against such attacks, whileand have declared they won't sue over open-source infringement of hundreds of patents.
Also Tuesday, Fink lambasted the practices of the Open Source Initiative, the group that approves prospective open-source licenses such as Sun's .
In August, Fink said that Open Source Definition, instead of trying to consolidate to advance open-source business foundations.. Now there are more, he complained, because OSI simply approves any license meeting the
"Clearly, the OSI has not internalized the critical role it plays," Fink said. "Approving licenses based on compliance with a specification rather than the ability to further open-source business models makes...a clear and present danger."
Fink is chairman of the intellectual-property subcommittee of the Open Source Development Labs and will work to bring the Linux consortium's weight to bear on the matter. OSDL has an "aggressive plan to drive (OSI) to a new direction," Fink said.