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This is a must read if you or your organization associated with open source software project. If you are interested in a basic understanding of the legal issues that impact FOSS development and distribution, this primer is for you. The guide, written for developers, has sections on copyrights, trademarks, patents, organizational structure and other legal issues:

First, we provide creative, productive hackers insight on how to interact with the legal system—insofar as it affects the projects they work on—with a minimum of cost, fuss and risk. Second, we present a starting point for lawyers and risk managers for thinking about the particular, at times counter-intuitive, logic of software freedom. While these are the primary audiences we intend to reach, we hope others will benefit from this Primer as well, and we have purposefully given it a non-lawyer style of communication (for example, by intentionally omitting dense citation of judicial or other legal authority that is the hallmark of lawyers writing for lawyers).

While FOSS development can raise many legal issues, a few topics predominate in our work; these are the issues most integral to FOSS projects. This Primer provides a baseline of knowledge about those areas of the law, intending to support productive conversations between clients and lawyers about specific legal needs. We aim to improve the conversation between lawyer and client, but not to make it unnecessary, because law, like most things in life, very rarely has clear cut answers. Solutions for legal problems must be crafted in light of the particulars of each client’s situation. What is best for one client in one situation, may very well not be best for another client in the same situation, or even the same client in the same situation at a later date or in a different place. Law cannot yield attainable certainty because it is dynamic, inconsistent, and incapable of mastery by pure rote memorization

Download Primer

The Legal Issues Primer for Open Source and Free Software Projects is available in following formats:

  1. Online HTML version
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Linux creator Linus Torvalds, in an interview being made public by the Linux Foundation Tuesday, stressed that version 2 of the GPL (GNU General Public License) still makes the most sense for the Linux kernel over the newer GPL version 3. Among GPL 3 highlights are protections against patent infringement lawsuits and provisions for license compatibility. Torvalds acknowledged he had spoken out against GPL 3 before it was released. He had opposed digital rights management provisions in early-2006, calling them burdensome.

Linus Torvalds, programmer, creator of the Linux kernel

On patent trolls, he says:

Yeah, they're kind of like the tourists that you can't bomb because there's nothing there to bomb. There are just these individuals that don't have anything to lose. That breaks the whole cold war model and seems to be one of the reasons that even big companies are now starting to realize that patents and software are a really bad idea.

The in-depth discussion has been split into two parts; the first segment is available today at Linux foundation blog. The next installment will be available in two weeks. Transcripts are also available on the LF website.

=> You can listen to complete conversations podcast here. If you'd rather read a transcript, you can find it here. (via Yahoo news - Image credit Wikipedia Linus article)

From the Groklaw Page:

IP Innovation LLC has just filed a patent infringement claim against Red Hat and Novell. It was filed October 9, case no. 2:2007cv00447, IP Innovation, LLC et al v. Red Hat Inc. et al, in Texas. Where else? The patent troll magnet state.

The first ever patent infringement litigation involving Linux. Here's the patent, for those who can look at it without risk. If in doubt, don't. Here's the complaint [PDF].

And now let's play, where's Microsoft? You know, like where's Waldo? Betcha he's in the tree's leaves somewhere if we look close enough. We had our first hint when Steve Ballmer said in his speech the other day that he figured other folks besides Microsoft would want Red Hat and FOSS to pay them for their patents. Remember? Is he a prophet or merely well informed? Or is there more to this? When I lay out all the research, you can decide.

This is really good news. Both Redhat and Canonical (Ubuntu’s parent company) has rejected nasty Microsoft patent deals.

Following Linux distributions and companies made a patent deals with Microsoft:
[a] Novell Suse Linux
[b] Linspire Linux desktop
[c] Xandros Linux desktop
[d] LG Electronics

The drama started last November, when Microsoft inked a deal with Novell to foster interoperability and technical collaboration between the open- and closed-source operating systems. Novell also got protection from possible patent suits as part of the agreement.

Soon after, Microsoft came out with allegations that the open-source camp is infringing on 235 of its patents, and the software giant began making moves to form alliances with other Linux providers. The company was successful in negotiating partnerships with Xandros and Linspire, but has hit a wall with Ubuntu and Red Hat.

Canonical chief executive Mark Shuttleworth has made it clear that Ubuntu isn't interested in forming a deal with Microsoft along the lines of those recently reached by Linspire, Xandros and Novell.

Red Hat Says No to Microsoft 'Innovation Tax'