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IBM developerWorks: Excerpt from "Open Source: The Unauthorized White Papers"

Sep 02, 2000, 14:12 (2 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Don Rosenberg)

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"Although not well organized, the Open Source Community can bring its weight to bear upon problems it believes to be sufficiently threatening. In 1994 an opportunist filed for a trademark on the word "Linux," and after obtaining it a year later began to send letters to various Linux companies demanding 10 percent of their revenues for the use of the trademark. The trademark apparently held good, for after bringing suit, a coalition of Linux plaintiffs who had called for its cancellation acquired it in a private settlement on undisclosed terms; they subsequently put it in the hands of Linus Torvalds. The danger was averted, but the Community was upset by the close call."

"They consequently descended with all the wrath of public opinion on a set of individuals who presumed in 1998 to set up a "Linux Standards Association" without any discussion of it within the Linux Community. The surprise was followed by rumors that the association was a cat's paw of large computer industry companies plotting to hijack Linux. The association proposed (like many standards bodies) that only fee-paying members could vote on the standards, and that the two companies who sponsored the association would be the final arbiters of those standards. The promoters withdrew from public view under withering scorn, and no small part of the outrage was the idea that the perpetrators might give a watching world a picture of a disorganized Community at a time when it was trying very hard for public acceptance. The Community-based Linux Standard Base (LSB) found itself strengthened by the episode as at least one independent-minded Linux company decided to give it more support as a means of filling what was obviously a dangerous vacuum."

"Businesses venturing into Open Source waters can draw two lessons from these incidents: first, that it is important to deal carefully with the Community when doing something other than straightforward business under Open Source licenses (some companies appoint ambassadors to the Community, a variation on the Apple use of evangelists to drum up interest and support from developers); and second, that the Community can find resources to use to serve its ends. In the case of the Linux trademark, the Community summoned up the necessary effort, funding, and the pro bono services of attorneys. Sun software has begun experimenting with more open licensing in the face of scornful Community opinion, perhaps aided by pressure from IBM, which wants Java, to which IBM has contributed so much code, finally made an Open Source product. The osmotic and networked nature of the Community mean that efforts do not necessarily have to be planned or coordinated to be effective."

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