Open-Source GPL Rewrite on Fast Track?

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Seeking to relieve patent licensing worries by the open-source community, industry heavyweights here at the Linuxworld Summit conference said a revised version of the GPL (General Public License) could arrive sooner than many had expected.

At a LinuxWorld panel, Eben Moglen, the legal counsel for the Free Software Foundation, said that the first public draft of the GNU General Public License 3 will be available for comment shortly. "It won't be long before the first public draft of the GPL 3 will be out and it will include clauses on how to conduct patent defense," he said.

he GPL is the most widely-used, free software license. Moglen estimated that 65 to 70 percent of all open-source projects were licensed under the GPL, which had its last major update in 1991. Since then, change in the software industry-such as the rise of the importance of software patent issues and questions about how the GPL handles derivate works-has made an update necessary.

Part of the push behind a revised GPL, many Linuxworld attendees suggested, is not to create simply another license, but to create a better GPL that can garner popular support and solve the most glaring problems found with the current version.

The GPL's language must be cleaned up, according to Daniel Egger, chairman of Open Source Risk Management, which offers open-source risk management products, services and insurance.

However, the hot-button issue with the GPL for Linuxworld attendees concerned patents.

Steven Henry, an IP (intellectual property) attorney with the Boston-based IP specialist law firm, Wolf Greenfield & Sachs PC, said that dealing with patent issues will be critical for the new GPL.

Patent and the "proprietary rights [that go with them] are the elephant in the room," Henry said. "Proprietary right issues must be dealt with if open source is to survive."

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