20 November 2007

What Can You Protect in Open Source?

Marc Fleury is a Frenchman who famously made lots of dosh when he sold his open source company JBoss to Red Hat. That puts him in a strong permission to pontificate about what does and what doesn't work in the world of businesses based around free software. Try this wit and wisdom, for example:

B.D asks: "marcf, my open source project is starting to enjoy a measure of success, I am thinking of going professional with it, I am thinking about business models. How much thought should I put in protecting my Intellectual Property?"

Answer: B.D. protecting IP in OSS is extremelly important. The only "private" property that exists in OSS are 1- brand 2- URL. Both are obviously related but really you need to protect your brand name, in other words REGISTER your trademarks, use them, declare they are yours and enforce the trademark, meaning protect against infringement. Other products, specifically based on your product should not include your name. Consultancies will be able to say they know and work with your "product name" but they cannot ship products using your trademark. Educate yourselves on brand IP, that is a big asset in OSS.

The URL deserves the same treatment. A successful website with traffic is a source of revenue in this day and age, either directly through ad placement or indirectly by lead generation.

It's interesting that Fleury concentrates on trademarks, rather than copyright or patents (of the latter he says: "you will have little protection against thieves that want to copy what you have done without letting you know and put it under different licenses, I have seen it done, such is the nature of the beast.") I think this indicates that trademarks can be useful, even with open source, just as copyright is necessary for licences to work. It's patents that remain the problem.

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