Last week it was announced that former Cape Verde president Pedro Pires won the $5 million Mo Ibrahim prize for exceptional African leadership. As the citation explains, Cape Verde is among the smallest countries in Africa, poorest in natural resources, and yet managed to move its population of 500,000 forward much faster and much further than many other countries that shared similar (or presumably stronger) attributes. The key to their success? Openness.
For the first ten years of my open source life, I spent tens of thousands of hours pouring over hundreds of thousands of lines of source code across perhaps a dozen or fewer projects, mostly GCC, G++, GDB, and various other parts of the GNU toolchain. If there were a PhD in open source software, I was definitely specialist enough to have earned one. I was vaguely aware of the mountains of source code in the BSD distribution, and obviously Linux, but didn't really pay much attention to that until I joined Red Hat.
For the ten plus years after that, I have barely succeeded in scratching the surface of the 10,000+ packages that can be easily installed without the need to study the source code. It is both a luxury to have available the resources that are represented by the 200+ million lines of source code packaged for a typical Linux distribution, but it is also overwhelming...how can one possibly know all there is to know? And yet, I find that when I need to look for something, it's there. When I needed to control and monitor some PTZ network cameras, I looked for an open source solution and discovered a really wonderful package called Zoneminder.
In a special board meeting convened for board elections on March 16 2011, the OSI board elected three new illustrious members of the open source community - Jim Jagielski, Karl Fogel and Mike Godwin. As Simon Phipps posted in his Board Meeting report, the OSI board voted to expand the board from 10 to 11 members to enable all three members to join. Two board members were re-elected to serve a second term - Mr. Harshad Gune and Dr. Martin Michlmayr. For more details, see here.
Towards the end of March, we received a message from the German Bundeskartellamt (Federal Cartel Office or FCO) advising us that the CPTN transaction had been re-notified to them. That means that the consortium seeking to acquire Novell's patent portfolio - Microsoft, Apple, EMC and Oracle - had once again asked for permission to proceed.
OSI Concerns Heeded
Notably, the terms of the transaction seem to have been significantly changed, apparently in response to concerns like the ones OSI expressed at the start of the year. OSI is very pleased that the FCO has been clear about the transaction with CPTN and congratulates them on continuing to consider the overall health of the evolving software market and not just the concerns of the existing dominant players.
Here is a non-expert summary of the differences (summarised with permission from the FCO):
CPTN will now only exist for long enough to distribute the shares equally among the participants in the transaction (no more than three months), and thus will not form a new long-term patent troll itself.
All parties to the transaction will retain a license to the full Novell patent portfolio, thus immunising themselves from patent actions with the shares they do not hold.
Microsoft will sell its 25% share of the patents on to Attachmate and retain only a license to the portfolio.
EMC will ensure that the 31 patents it has determined relate to virtualisation are not among the 25% share it acquires.
All patents will still be subject to all existing licenses, covenants not to sue and similar restrictions.
OSI Still Concerned
The FCO went on to ask OSI for its views on the revised transaction. The OSI Board responded to their questionnaire as follows:
The Open Source Initiative (OSI) Board meet this weekend in San Francisco for its annual face-to-face meeting (generously hosted by the Wikimedia Foundation). There were two significant topics on the agenda. First, we had to review the substantial number of nominations for the two Board seats that become vacant on March 31st when Danese Cooper and Russ Nelson leave the Board due to term limits after a decade each of service.
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A change of leadership at the Free Software Foundation provides the OSI Board an opportunity to thank the outgoing Executive Director for his work promoting software freedom and to welcome the incoming executive director.
[On] February 2, 2011, each of [CPTN Holdings] and Novell received a Second Request from the DOJ regarding the sale of certain identified patents and patent applications to CPTN contemplated by the Patent Purchase Agreement. The Second Requests have the effect of extending the waiting period under the HSR Act until 30 days after both parties have substantially complied with the Second Requests, unless the waiting period is earlier terminated. Novell is in the process of gathering information to respond to this Second Request and is continuing to cooperate fully with the DOJ in connection with its review.
The Open Source Initiative commends the US Department of Justice for taking this important step to promote innovation by issuing a second request and deepening the investigation of CPTN's acquisition of Novell's patents. As we have stated, the history is clear: patents have been—and are likely to be—used by CPTN and its members to create fear, uncertainty and doubt concerning open source software, raise competitors costs and threaten customers. We trust and hope that following a thorough investigation, the DoJ will impose whatever measures are necessary to ensure that CPTN does not harm the commercial open source development model or market competition.