left, middle and right on the intellectual property spectrum

June 5th, 2001

Bring out yer dead! Bring out yer dead!

I’ve done my research in the last week on licensing – open source, commercial, private, you name it. Contrary to my initial hyperbolic stance, reason generally prevails and choice is abundant.

The one major open-source license that significantly restricts one’s ability to integrate the licensed software into a commercial product is the GPL. There is a Lesser GPL, the LGPL, which is meant for the likes of code libraries, which doesn’t have the same restrictions. The Apache and Mozilla Public licenses allow even more flexibility and impose even less requirements on the user.

As I pointed out with The PSL, developers should choose the license that suits their software’s intended use.

Throughout the various discussions I’ve had about the licensing issue, and in the reports I’ve read via other bloggers, a theme is emerging that says there need not be two polarized sides to this issue. When the dust settles, it will be apparent that the two models can coexist, based on different community needs.

Kevin Dangoor writes about The Software Commons in his new blogspace, and articulates my thoughts on this quite well.

From the far left of the GPL to the far right of patent frenzy:

NetObjects has been awarded patents on WYSIWYG HTML editing and they plan to start extracting pounds of flesh from all and sundry – Microsoft and Macromedia will be asked first to turn their heads and cough up a bundle.

This brings us back to The Software Commons. WYSIWYG HTML editing is as fundamental to modern software as a basic roux sauce is to cooking. The idea itself follows so naturally from preexisting word processors as to render it painstakingly obvious.

Will companies be able to get around this like they did with the Unisys LZW patent (ie, just use another compression technique – Had they patented compression itself, where would we be?)? At least that was an implementation of an idea and not the entire concept itself.

Perhaps offending software could be rejigged as WYSIWYG rich text editors, and their HTML component could just be considered a “save-as” conversion feature. That is, until someone appears out of the woodwork to hijack that by-then-entrenched industry with a well-placed patent they bought at a dotcom garage sale…

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