Welcome!

Open Source Authors: Carmen Gonzalez, Elizabeth White, Mike Kavis, Liz McMillan, Yeshim Deniz

Related Topics: Open Source, Java, SOA & WOA, Virtualization

Open Source: Article

Buying Proprietary Software?

Protect your organization from open source surprises

Open source software has probably been the biggest driver of complex software solutions in the last decade. Access to a large variety of quality, peer-reviewed software has accelerated product development, reduced product introduction intervals and lowered the costs for producers of software and for those of us who leverage third-party software in our projects.

Many of us have heard about the trouble that organizations have come across when using open source improperly... remember Cisco/Linksys, Katzer, and the BusyBox chronicles? You may think that your organization is safe because you are buying proprietary software. However, if your software supplier unknowingly incorporated open source into its product, your organization may face unexpected legal and financial consequences arising from open source licensing obligations and the resulting intellectual property infringement claims. The good news is that there are various tools available at your disposal that can assist your organization in protecting itself from such open source surprises, such as contractual measures such as representations and warranties and indemnities; and extra-contractual tools such as software audits and a structured Open Source Software Adoption Process (OSSAP).

Some Basics About Commercial Contracts Relevant to Software Purchases
Commercial contracts include various provisions that protect and allocate risk among buying and selling parties. Among the most important are representations and warranties ("reps and warranties") and indemnities. Reps and warranties are assurances made by one party that are intended to provide certainty to the other party that relies on them. For example, a hypothetical software company ("Softco Supplier") may represent and warrant that it owns all of the intellectual property rights in the software it sells. If Softco Supplier does not in fact own all of the intellectual property rights in the software, the buyer ("Softco Buyer") has a right to claim damages for Softco Supplier's misrepresentation.

However, in many instances it is impossible for contracting parties to fully guarantee the accuracy of a statement. In these cases, parties opt to provide reps and warranties that are qualified by the knowledge of the party providing them. These types of reps and warranties can be problematic from the perspective of the party that seeks to rely on them. We will return to this in the following section, which specifically deals with the application of reps and warranties, and indemnities to open source.

Indemnities provide security against losses that are triggered by the occurrence of contractually specified events. Unlike reps and warranties, recovery from indemnities is not contingent upon whether a misrepresentation was made. In our example, if Softco Supplier (the "indemnitor") indemnifies Softco Buyer (the "indemnitee") for any intellectual property infringement claims against the software being sold, then in the event that such claims arise, Softco Supplier is obligated to compensate Softco Buyer for its losses.

Reps and Warranties vs. Indemnities in an Open Source World
In the software procurement context, it's important for buyers to determine whether open source code is incorporated into the software that is being purchased. The primary reason for this is that open source license obligations are binding. Failure to comply could have a diminishing impact on software value, as some open source cannot be mixed into products that have trade secret value. In addition, if a buyer purchases software without the knowledge that it includes open source, the buyer runs the risk of commercializing the product in a manner that violates the license that covers the open source code. This can leave the buyer exposed to costly intellectual property infringement claims.

The recent focus on open source reps and warranties and indemnification is linked to the growing instances of intellectual property infringement claims involving open source software. As courts in the United States, Germany and elsewhere have acknowledged the enforceability of open source licenses, notable violators have succumbed to costly settlements, and enforcement organizations such as the Free Software Foundation have become more aggressive in launching suits.

Because of the immense financial and legal implications of intellectual property infringement suits, a software buyer will often require its supplier to represent and warrant that the software being purchased does not contain any open source code. If open source is later discovered in the software, the buyer is entitled to seek damages from the supplier for the breach of the representation. However, as mentioned earlier, it's often difficult for contracting parties to fully attest to the accuracy of a representation. This situation arises in instances in which the contracting party experiences knowledge gaps. In these cases, a contracting party will seek to limit its liability by narrowing the representation to apply to the knowledge that it possesses. Taking our earlier example, if Softco Supplier had acquired code from a third party, or engaged in outsourcing of programming, it may not be positioned to fully attest to the fact that the software it sells does not contain any open source. As a result, Softco Supplier will represent and warrant that ‘to the best of its knowledge, open source is not incorporated into the product.' In this case, Softco Buyer is only entitled to damages if it can show that Softco Supplier knew that its representation was untrue at the time that it was made. If this fact cannot be established, Softco Buyer is left without a remedy for any losses arising from Softco Supplier's misrepresentation.

Unlike reps and warranties, recovery from indemnities is not contingent upon whether a misrepresentation was made. Thus, if Softco Supplier indemnified Softco Buyer for open source infringement claims against the software, Softco Supplier would be obligated to fully cover the losses arising out of any such claims. In this case, it would be irrelevant whether Softco Supplier had knowledge of the presence of open source, as liability is triggered by the occurrence of the contractually specified event (the presence of open source) rather than the misrepresentation made by Softco Supplier.

Buyer's Duty
Another important distinction between reps and warranties and indemnities in our example is in relation to the duty imposed on Softco Buyer to mitigate its own loss. Common law imposes a requirement on parties relying on reps and warranties to take action to mitigate their own losses. In the context of open source reps and warranties, once a software buyer becomes aware that open source is embedded in the software, the buyer must take action to minimize its loss, for example by immediately replacing the code, or making the code freely available. In contrast, there is no parallel requirement for the beneficiaries of indemnities to mitigate their own losses.

Software Audit Can Minimize Exposure
Although open source reps and warranties and indemnities can provide software purchasers with remedies for losses arising from intellectual property infringement suits, they cannot shelter the buyer from being sued in the first place, or from experiencing the loss of goodwill in relation to litigation. As a result, reps and warranties and indemnities should not be regarded as due diligence replacements. Rather than taking the risk of open source surprises, software purchasers can engage resources (internal or external) that have the ability to analyze software to determine the presence of open source prior to executing the purchase.

A software audit entails code scanning aimed at detecting third-party and open source code. After the scanning stage, the purchaser is provided with an audit report detailing the identified code and associated license obligations. Performing such audits at the pre-purchase stage allows the buyer to understand whether the license obligations of the open source code are in line with the intellectual property policies of its organization, and if not, then the buyer is positioned to request the supplier to replace the code in question, or to engage an alternate supplier.

Software Audit in the Supply Chain
One of the contexts in which software audits are particularly beneficial is in the supply chain. Shortly after Cisco acquired Linksys in 2003, it was faced with an infringement suit relating to the use of GPL covered code in its router firmware. It turned out that the infringing chipset was provided to Linksys by Broadcom, which in turn outsourced the development to a third party. As a part of the settlement that was reached, Cisco was forced to make the infringing source code freely available on its website, appoint an open source compliance officer, and make a monetary contribution to the Free Software Foundation. As the Cisco case suggests, software audits can be a helpful tool at the pre-purchase stage when dealing with a supply chain context in which the immediate supplier has little control or knowledge over the code pedigree of the final product.

Review of Available Contractual Tools
Software purchasers have contractual tools (reps and warranties, and indemnities) at their disposal to protect their organizations from open source liabilities; however, it is important to remember that not all tools provide equal protection. While reps and warranties can provide the buyer with a remedy against misrepresentation, in instances where these assurances are qualified by the knowledge of the supplier, the buyer may be left without recourse. From this perspective, indemnities offer increased protection to software purchasers concerned about intellectual property infringement claims in relation to the use of open source.

Open source indemnities are also beneficial in comparison with reps and warranties, as they do not impose an obligation upon the party relying on them to take any action to minimize their own losses in the event of a breach.

Although open source reps and warranties and indemnities can provide software purchasers with means of recovery from intellectual property infringement claims, these contractual measures provide for an imperfect after-the-fact solution to a problem that lends itself well to management practices that would reduce the risk in the first place. Structured open source license management practices and software audits aimed at identifying third-party and open source code and ensuring open source compliance provide an optimal level of protection. These tools provide certainty regarding code pedigree, and enable software purchasers to avoid the negative consequences arising from intellectual property infringement suits.

More Stories By Diana Marina Cooper

Diana Marina Cooper obtained a BA in Politics and Governance and a MA in Globalization Studies. She is currently a JD Candidate (2013), and is pursuing a concentration in Law and Technology. Follow Diana @Diana_M_Cooper

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@ThingsExpo Stories
DevOps Summit 2015 New York, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that it is now accepting Keynote Proposals. The widespread success of cloud computing is driving the DevOps revolution in enterprise IT. Now as never before, development teams must communicate and collaborate in a dynamic, 24/7/365 environment. There is no time to wait for long development cycles that produce software that is obsolete at launch. DevOps may be disruptive, but it is essential.
“In the past year we've seen a lot of stabilization of WebRTC. You can now use it in production with a far greater degree of certainty. A lot of the real developments in the past year have been in things like the data channel, which will enable a whole new type of application," explained Peter Dunkley, Technical Director at Acision, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Windstream, a leading provider of advanced network and cloud communications, has been named “Silver Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9–11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York, NY. Windstream (Nasdaq: WIN), a FORTUNE 500 and S&P 500 company, is a leading provider of advanced network communications, including cloud computing and managed services, to businesses nationwide. The company also offers broadband, phone and digital TV services to consumers primarily in rural areas.
The major cloud platforms defy a simple, side-by-side analysis. Each of the major IaaS public-cloud platforms offers their own unique strengths and functionality. Options for on-site private cloud are diverse as well, and must be designed and deployed while taking existing legacy architecture and infrastructure into account. Then the reality is that most enterprises are embarking on a hybrid cloud strategy and programs. In this Power Panel at 15th Cloud Expo (http://www.CloudComputingExpo.com), moderated by Ashar Baig, Research Director, Cloud, at Gigaom Research, Nate Gordon, Director of T...
The Internet of Things is not new. Historically, smart businesses have used its basic concept of leveraging data to drive better decision making and have capitalized on those insights to realize additional revenue opportunities. So, what has changed to make the Internet of Things one of the hottest topics in tech? In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Gray, Director, Embedded and Internet of Things, discussed the underlying factors that are driving the economics of intelligent systems. Discover how hardware commoditization, the ubiquitous nature of connectivity, and the emergence of Big Data a...

ARMONK, N.Y., Nov. 20, 2014 /PRNewswire/ --  IBM (NYSE: IBM) today announced that it is bringing a greater level of control, security and flexibility to cloud-based application development and delivery with a single-tenant version of Bluemix, IBM's platform-as-a-service. The new platform enables developers to build ap...

"BSQUARE is in the business of selling software solutions for smart connected devices. It's obvious that IoT has moved from being a technology to being a fundamental part of business, and in the last 18 months people have said let's figure out how to do it and let's put some focus on it, " explained Dave Wagstaff, VP & Chief Architect, at BSQUARE Corporation, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
SYS-CON Events announced today that IDenticard will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. IDenticard™ is the security division of Brady Corp (NYSE: BRC), a $1.5 billion manufacturer of identification products. We have small-company values with the strength and stability of a major corporation. IDenticard offers local sales, support and service to our customers across the United States and Canada. Our partner network encompasses some 300 of the world's leading systems integrators and security s...
"People are a lot more knowledgeable about APIs now. There are two types of people who work with APIs - IT people who want to use APIs for something internal and the product managers who want to do something outside APIs for people to connect to them," explained Roberto Medrano, Executive Vice President at SOA Software, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at Cloud Expo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Nigeria has the largest economy in Africa, at more than US$500 billion, and ranks 23rd in the world. A recent re-evaluation of Nigeria's true economic size doubled the previous estimate, and brought it well ahead of South Africa, which is a member (unlike Nigeria) of the G20 club for political as well as economic reasons. Nigeria's economy can be said to be quite diverse from one point of view, but heavily dependent on oil and gas at the same time. Oil and natural gas account for about 15% of Nigera's overall economy, but traditionally represent more than 90% of the country's exports and as...
The Internet of Things is a misnomer. That implies that everything is on the Internet, and that simply should not be - especially for things that are blurring the line between medical devices that stimulate like a pacemaker and quantified self-sensors like a pedometer or pulse tracker. The mesh of things that we manage must be segmented into zones of trust for sensing data, transmitting data, receiving command and control administrative changes, and peer-to-peer mesh messaging. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Ryan Bagnulo, Solution Architect / Software Engineer at SOA Software, focused on desi...
"At our booth we are showing how to provide trust in the Internet of Things. Trust is where everything starts to become secure and trustworthy. Now with the scaling of the Internet of Things it becomes an interesting question – I've heard numbers from 200 billion devices next year up to a trillion in the next 10 to 15 years," explained Johannes Lintzen, Vice President of Sales at Utimaco, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
"For over 25 years we have been working with a lot of enterprise customers and we have seen how companies create applications. And now that we have moved to cloud computing, mobile, social and the Internet of Things, we see that the market needs a new way of creating applications," stated Jesse Shiah, CEO, President and Co-Founder of AgilePoint Inc., in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 15th Cloud Expo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Gridstore™, the leader in hyper-converged infrastructure purpose-built to optimize Microsoft workloads, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Gridstore™ is the leader in hyper-converged infrastructure purpose-built for Microsoft workloads and designed to accelerate applications in virtualized environments. Gridstore’s hyper-converged infrastructure is the industry’s first all flash version of HyperConverged Appliances that include both compute and storag...
Today’s enterprise is being driven by disruptive competitive and human capital requirements to provide enterprise application access through not only desktops, but also mobile devices. To retrofit existing programs across all these devices using traditional programming methods is very costly and time consuming – often prohibitively so. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jesse Shiah, CEO, President, and Co-Founder of AgilePoint Inc., discussed how you can create applications that run on all mobile devices as well as laptops and desktops using a visual drag-and-drop application – and eForms-buildi...
We certainly live in interesting technological times. And no more interesting than the current competing IoT standards for connectivity. Various standards bodies, approaches, and ecosystems are vying for mindshare and positioning for a competitive edge. It is clear that when the dust settles, we will have new protocols, evolved protocols, that will change the way we interact with devices and infrastructure. We will also have evolved web protocols, like HTTP/2, that will be changing the very core of our infrastructures. At the same time, we have old approaches made new again like micro-services...
Code Halos - aka "digital fingerprints" - are the key organizing principle to understand a) how dumb things become smart and b) how to monetize this dynamic. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Robert Brown, AVP, Center for the Future of Work at Cognizant Technology Solutions, outlined research, analysis and recommendations from his recently published book on this phenomena on the way leading edge organizations like GE and Disney are unlocking the Internet of Things opportunity and what steps your organization should be taking to position itself for the next platform of digital competition.
The 3rd International Internet of @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that its Call for Papers is now open. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the biggest idea since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago.
As the Internet of Things unfolds, mobile and wearable devices are blurring the line between physical and digital, integrating ever more closely with our interests, our routines, our daily lives. Contextual computing and smart, sensor-equipped spaces bring the potential to walk through a world that recognizes us and responds accordingly. We become continuous transmitters and receivers of data. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Andrew Bolwell, Director of Innovation for HP's Printing and Personal Systems Group, discussed how key attributes of mobile technology – touch input, sensors, social, and ...
In their session at @ThingsExpo, Shyam Varan Nath, Principal Architect at GE, and Ibrahim Gokcen, who leads GE's advanced IoT analytics, focused on the Internet of Things / Industrial Internet and how to make it operational for business end-users. Learn about the challenges posed by machine and sensor data and how to marry it with enterprise data. They also discussed the tips and tricks to provide the Industrial Internet as an end-user consumable service using Big Data Analytics and Industrial Cloud.