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Facebook's React Patents License and OSI

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  • Why Not to Overreact to Facebook's React Patents License

    The reaction to this news is surprising, given the parallel patent licensing model is nothing new. Facebook released its “BSD+Patents” grant in 2013 (with a revision in 2015). But a similar model was used with some fanfare by Google with its WebM codec in 2010. This licensing model involves two parallel and simultaneous grants of rights: a BSD license to the copyright in the software, and a separate grant to practice patents that read on the software. Putting the two together means there are two independent and parallel grants of rights. In this respect, it is quite similar to the Apache 2.0 license which, like BSD, is a permissive license, and which also contains a defensive termination provision that exists alongside the copyright license grant.

    Much of the reaction to Apache Foundation’s announcement has just created confusion, such as this article misleadingly calling it “booby-trapped.” In fact, many open source licenses have defensive termination provisions — which are mostly considered a reasonable mechanism to discourage patent lawsuits, rather than a booby trap. They are also the rule rather than the exception; all major open source licenses with patent grants also have defensive termination provisions — each with slightly different terms. The difference between the Facebook grant, which Apache has rejected, and the Apache 2.0 license, which Apache requires for its projects, is more subtle than the controversy suggests.

    [...]

    Defensive termination provisions of the scope in the Facebook grant are very common in patent licensing, outside of the open source landscape. Most patent licenses terminate if the licensee bring patent claims against the licensor. The reason is that a licensor does not want to be unilaterally “disarmed” in a patent battle. Most patents are only used defensively — asserted when a competitor sues the patent owner. A sues B and then B sues A, resulting in mutually assured destruction. If B has released its software under an open source license without a broad defensive termination provision, B is potentially without recourse, and has paid a high price for its open source code release. A gets to simultaneously free ride on B’s software development and sue B for patent infringement.

    Finally, the Facebook grant itself is not new. The grant was released in 2013, and ReactJS’ popularity has been growing since then. As with many open source licenses, the industry’s willingness to absorb a new license depends on the tastiness of the code released under it. In the case of ReactJS, the code was great, and the patent license terms were new, but reasonable.

  • The Faces of Open Source: Till Jaeger

    Dr. Till Jaeger features in the fifth episode of Shane Martin Coughlan's, "The Faces of Open Source Law." The series was shot during breaks at the FSFE Legal Network 'Legal and Licensing Workshop' in Barcelona during April 2017, and is provided here to promote greater understanding of how the law and open source projects and communities are interacting and evolving.

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