JBoss Group LLC, developer of the open source JBoss application server, announced today that it will indemnify its app server customers against potential legal action stemming from any intellectual property infringement.
Bob Bickel, JBoss' vice president of corporate development and strategy, said the move brings the company's support program in line with that of commercial vendors, and is not necessarily a response to the SCO Group's $3 billion suit against IBM and the ensuing legal threats against the Linux and open source communities.
Hewlett-Packard Co. recently announced it would indemnify its customers against SCO's threats. It is the only major server vendor to do so. IBM and Dell Inc. have said they have no plans to offer indemnification.
"Our business motivation is clear; we want to make professional open source safe, and we want to make money [offering support]," Bickel said. "We want to make it as similar as possible to commercial vendors' terms that our customers are used to. Also, we are not blind to the fact that the industry and the media thinks this is a hot topic. That's why we're going public with this and not just including it with our support contracts."
JBoss will include indemnification with its Production Support Agreement contracts, which were introduced in October and offer customers 24/7 support. Current Production Support customers will be covered retroactively, and there are no additional charges or rate increases, Bickel said.
Bickel said JBoss employs 85% of the developers who work on the JBoss app server and is fairly certain of the veracity of its code. Bickel, however, did acknowledge that the possibility exists that JBoss could someday get litigated right out of business.
"I don't think it's a big risk to our business because we think our code is clean," Bickel said. "We feel that if someday we did infringe, that we'd be able to rectify. Also, we believe we have adequate revenue and profit insurance that would cover us."
Altruistically, Bickel said that if JBoss were to go out of business defending its customers, that the company's flagship open source application server would live on in the open source community.
"In a lot of ways, open source indemnification protects a customer better than a commercial vendor, because the projects could continue on," Bickel said.
JBoss has a set of conditions that accompany indemnification, the highlight of which is that JBoss will limit indemnification to the value of the contract, Bickel said.
"If a customer is buying a $40,000 support contract from us, for example, we will limit indemnification to $40,000," Bickel said. "We figure that provides the money to forward the claim to us and for us to remediate the infringement."
Hewlett-Packard announced Sept. 24 that it would indemnify its Linux customers against potential legal action by the SCO Group. SCO alleges that IBM has illegally contributed code from System V Unix, which SCO owns, to Linux. In response, IBM and Red Hat Inc. have sued SCO, in large part to get the Lindon, Utah, firm to publicize the code in question and give the Linux community a chance to clean the code from development trees.
HP included a caveat with its protection that says a customer must have purchased a Linux solution from HP, running on HP hardware. The customer also must not have modified the source code.
SCO countered HP's indemnification announcement with a statement that contends HP's decision is an acknowledgement that SCO's claims of IP infringement have some merit.
"Rather than deny the existence of substantial structural problems with Linux as many open source leaders have done, HP is acknowledging that issues exist and is attempting to be responsive to its customers' request for relief. HP's actions are driving the Linux industry towards a licensing program. In other words, Linux is not free," the statement read in part.
"Indemnification is something that all software vendors, open source and proprietary, should provide, if their customers want it for the software that they sell," said Bill Claybrook, research director for Linux, open source and grid computing at Boston-based analysis firm Aberdeen Group.
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