Infrequently Noted

Alex Russell on browsers, standards, and the process of progress.

A Quick Word On Dojo and Patents

A relatively light-on-data article is up at Slashdot right now, and it casts aspersions both on the IBMers who contribute to Dojo and on the Foundation itself based on the Free Software party line that all software patents are inherently evil.

I won't address the background point regarding software patents here. I'll only to say that reasonable people can disagree on this, particularly when it comes to proposed solutions. What I would like to focus some attention on is the background that this patent filing is made against.

IBM has executed a CCLA with the Dojo Foundation. This agreement gives Dojo (and the rest of the OSS community) a license to whatever patent rights may be embodied in contributions of code. While IBM may file patents on things they build and contribute to Dojo, there's no risk to any users regarding use of that code or "submarine" issues of patent infringement. As a result of the Dojo Foundation's insistence that ALL code come with CLAs, Dojo is more trustable in terms of IP than most of the JavaScript you can choose to use. A similar patent claim in a less rigorously developed toolkit would indeed be apocalyptic, but the Dojo community has adopted a mature process for dealing with IP that both makes the concerns plain and then works to eliminate them, step-by-step. That's what licensing agreements are, after all: links in the chain that together help you trust that your anchor is indeed set.

It's clear to me that IBM filed this patent fully aware that they were giving away all follow-on rights to enforce it in anything but a defensive way for the benefit of the Foundation and users of Dojo. After watching IBM counsel decimate SCO in court, does anyone in the OSS world really think that IBM's lawyers are fools? And if so, to what end?

It's sad that Slashdot hasn't, for a decade of coverage of IP issues, learned that licensing is harder than the zealots would have you believe and that malice isn't always the intent of those who participate in communities with a commercial interest.

The good news here, of course, is that IBM is just as generous today toward the OSS and Dojo communities as they were yesterday. We have the legal documents to prove it.