Presentation on “Open Source, Free Software and Intellectual Property”

December 14, 2011

Today I presented about the complicated relationship between FLOSS and Intellectual Property at the Technical University of Berlin. The presentation was part of a lecture about IP Management course, targeting students in an international master’s program in business administration. This setup guaranteed for a kind of culture clash, since the motivation for students to attend this lecture is to learn about how to increase the value of their companies by building IP assets. Openness, sharing and collaborative development is usually not the focus.

The presentation introduced basics about and the philosophy of Open Source and Free Software, went on to explain how companies can actually build businesses and foundations around Open Source projects, and then briefly abstracted the implications for the private sector, the public sector as well as government and politics. Some aspects that are rather unspectacular for software folks actually caught some attention. For example, there is a plethora of different licenses – especially when including the Creative Commons  variants. Or the “4 Freedoms” of the FSF, which are are numbered 0 to 3. At the heart of the presentation was a discussion of the various aspects of the commercial exploitation of FLOSS, including a summary of some of the cases that went wrong. JBB Rechtsanwälte, Till Jäger represented gpl-violations.org at the recent FSFE on AVM vs. Cybits case, and provided valuable background information (thanks a lot, Till!). It is interesting to review the development from the early days of Linux when the idea of Free Software was still considered totally bonkers, to today where it sprawled into “Open Source Everything” (Linus Torvalds). Rousing was of course the mention of Stallman’s “Did You Say “Intellectual Property”?” statement.

I used the Linux Foundation and Qt Project as examples for industry consortia built to help the development of the core technology through cooperation. It might be unintuitive (shouldn’t companies compete, instead of working together?), but both this trend towards institutionalized cooperation and of the price for mass market software converging towards zero make perfect economic sense, and are a result of the specific market structures. More on that later.

During the preparations for the talk, I learned a lot about the complex copyright structure of large Free Software projects that is created by contributors joining and leaving the projects, and building on top of the work that others have done before. I will looking into that aspect in more detail. Next semester, there will be a whole course extending on the topic of FLOSS and IP. The students will writer term papers and hold presentations. For that, I am still looking for suggestions of topics – if you happen to have an idea, let me know!

Thanks for reading. The “Open Source, Free Software and Intellectual Property - Slides” is online.

@mirkoboehm • Mirko Boehm on LinkedIn • @Endocode