HP Linux Chief Links Patents To Innovation, Services Growth


HP Vice President of Linux Martin Fink chided those in the open-source industry who dismiss the potential threat of patent lawsuits or the value of patents. "Software patents are a fact of life, and to refute them is a little bit naive. We need to be more pragmatic," he said.

Though some developers look at software development as an art, corporations view code as a revenue stream, Fink said. "We live in a society where patent laws exist, and ignoring it leaves you exposed for no reason," he said.

Unlike a copyright, which allows others to make copies or prepare derivative works of intellectual property, a patent is an exclusive right to exclude others from taking, using, modifying or selling someone's work, said Lawrence Rosen, an attorney for RosenLaw and Einschlag.

Fink noted that copyrights and patents are important at a time when innovation in open-source technology is increasing exponentially. For example, the General Public License (GPL) is based on a form of a copyright, he said.

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A significant amount of patented software is being open-sourced under the GPL or made available under other open-source licenses, Fink added. In recent weeks, IBM and Sun Microsystems unveiled plans to donate patented software to the open-source industry under OSI-approved licensing.

In addition, at LinuxWorld, HP announced that it will open-source some of its virtualization management software to the Xen open-source project, and Novell said it plans to open-source its NetMail collaboration products and EDirectory interfaces available under the GPL or LGPL.

"It's what you do with the patent that matters, not whether you have a patent," Fink said.

The popularity of and innovation in open-source software is spurring activity in the services industry, Fink said, noting that a number of services firms are sprouting up to handle businesses' rising demand for open-source solutions. "The next mile is here," he said, citing the popularity of Firefox, MySQL and Novell Evolution and services firms such as Bluecode, Spikesource and SourceLabs.

Over the next five years, the open-source services market will reach $14 billion, and customers will increasingly need integration, deployment and consulting services, according to Fink. "It's the next step—to build value while reducing overall cost," he said. "We finally have an approach that allows businesses and Linux to thrive in the business world."