Tag Archives: FLOSS

Open Forum Academy round table on patent non-aggression pacts

Another day, another trip to Brussels. Today the Openforum Academy, the Openforum Europe think tank “with a broad aim to examine the paradigm shift towards openness in computing” is inviting to a round table and discussion about “Patent non-aggression pacts: a way forward for technological innovation?” Next to Clara Neppel, an examiner in the field of computer-implemented inventions at the European Patent Office, and Carlo Piana of the FSFE, I will be speaking about Open Invention Network and it’s role as a non-aggression network with a strictly defined field of use, namely Open Source software. The results of the round table will be compiled into a whitepaper and published later by Openforum Academy.
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Defensive Publications: Shedding Light on Innovation


The patent system is broken. The point of patents is to encourage innovation and inventiveness. Instead of promoting innovation, patent offices have awarded overly broad, vague, and unoriginal patents that draw unclear lines allowing bad actors to profit and threaten costly lawsuits. Patent examiners have a strong sense of the technology that is patented, but they’re missing an understanding of what has been and is currently being developed in the open source world. As shocking as it may seem, the result is the examiner formulating an inaccurate sense of what is innovative. As the final arbiter of a very significant monopoly grant, they are often grossly uninformed in terms of what lies beyond their narrowly scoped search. This is not wholly their fault as they have limited resources and time. However, it is a strong indication of a faulty system that is so entrenched in the archaic methods under which patent offices have been operating.

We have faced and continue to cope with the effects of bad patents on multiple fronts. The most widely known are being displayed on the large stage where huge companies battle in the courts, resulting in large money settlements or high stakes jury verdicts (i.e. Apple v. Samsung). This leads to higher costs to consumers and users, uncertainty amongst innovators about what is patented, a veritable arms race to secure patents to corner the market, and limited competition. These ‘wars’ cost companies money and that cost trickles down to the consumer.

On another stage, we also see the threat of trolls exponentially increase as more patents are acquired and used against small companies, nonprofits, and independent developers. The fear of costly litigation forces licensing agreements with the result of stifling innovation by suffocating independent inventors. On all fronts, more money is being spent on co-existing with undeserving patents rather than developing new ideas. We are losing out on breakthroughs and advancement in technology because of the environment of fear and uncertainty that has been created.

The answer has to be more than abolition of the patent system, as from a pragmatic point of view, it won’t happen. It does us little service to ignore patents and abandon the system. Rather, we need to address and combat the threats to innovation so that we can begin to bring an end to the age of fear and litigation. We can continue to deal with patents as they are issued, identify those that abuse the system, then spend the money and invest time to work to invalidate these. Taking this one step further, we can also proactively prevent these obstacles to innovation from even existing by directly communicating to the examiner what is being and has been developed. The tools to do so are available through the use of defensive publications.

A defensive publication essentially describes what is known or currently being developed. For those who are developing software, these documents are regularly created in the form of blog posts, community updates or releases. However, examiner constraints prevent these sources from being found. The last step is formalizing this and ensuring that the patent examiner has access to an open source database of these documents.

With increasing amounts of low quality patents being issued worldwide and a lack of clear boundaries, patent examiners are losing a sense of what is indeed inventive. Those who patent are getting a voice. Every free software release, solved issue or innovative development process can be turned into a defensive publication. References to current or older releases can also be demonstrated to help illustrate how the community of developers resolves obstacles. By writing these disclosures, free software can demonstrate how to be proactive. In turn, a patent application is rejected and a potential lawsuit is avoided.

Through the Linux Defenders program, Open Invention Network works  with open source developer communities to create defensive publications. We will be working closely with Linux kernel and Qt  developers, because we think that these represent major driving innovative forces in the Open Source spectrum. Important innovations in Linux and Qt should be documented in defensive publications following the releases of the software. We invite interested individuals and companies to contribute to this, and will support the authors in getting their publications out. If you are interested in writing Qt related defensive publications, or will be able to help identifying topics that should be documented, consider joining the mailing list to follow the discussion: http://lists.qt-project.org/mailman/listinfo/defpubs

[Image by Nick Kocharhook, thanks: http://www.flickr.com/photos/k9/35010906/%5D

KDE Frameworks 5 Tech Preview released, with updated ThreadWeaver

Today, the KDE Community released a tech preview of the upcoming KDE 5 Frameworks, the new, modularised incarnation of what was previously distributed simply as the KDE libraries. The new frameworks are drop-in extensions to Qt applications, with minimal and well-documented dependencies for easier deployment. The tech preview contains two frameworks that are marked as mature, namely KArchive and ThreadWeaver. The updated ThreadWeaver was my major piece of library coding work in 2013, and was finished just in time for the release. Even though it is a tech preview, it is stable, and no major (or even significant but minor) changes in the current API are expected until the final release. Programmers are already encouraged to use it, and provide feedback and bug reports.

2897019812_c6bddd5fb1_oThreadWeaver is a concurrent execution scheduler written in C++. Available for all target platforms of the Qt framework, including desktop, mobile and embedded environments, ThreadWeaver delivers concurrent execution of tasks, load balancing with regard to user-defined criteria, multiple independent queues, processing graph modelling, aggregate jobs and other comprehensive features. As all other KDE frameworks, ThreadWeaver is Free Software. Its only dependency is Qt, which makes it a tier 1 framework in KDE’s lingo.

A number of the new features of ThreadWeaver were announced at Akademy 2013. Jobs, the unit of concurrent execution in ThreadWeaver, are now managed by the queue using shared pointers, meaning that auto-delete behaviour is implicit and controlled by the user. Helper templates are available to queue stack or member variables, so allocation of jobs can be static or dynamic. Functors or lambda functions can be used to construct jobs. Job aggregates like collections and sequences now execute their own run() method before queueing their elements, so that aggregates can generate their own elements. Success and queueing state of jobs are now integrated into a single status. Jobs can signal the result of execution by setting a status, but also using exceptions, simplifying error reporting in more complex job classes. Jobs can be decorated, and no more inherit QObject by default. Decorators can be used to add signals, change priorities or modify just about any behaviour of jobs independently of the actual job class used. The construction of the global queue can now be customised using a queue factory. The QueueStream API greatly simplifies queueing jobs with a familiar iostream-like C++ syntax.

ThreadWeaver follows the Unix idiom of doing one thing, and doing it right. Similar to how small Unix programs can be combined to create an practically infinite space of computing solutions, ThreadWeaver offers itself to programmers as an add-on module with minimal dependencies. Including it extends an application with concurrent scheduling capability. But the same Unix idiom is also applied in a second sense. Within ThreadWeaver, a few basic concepts – jobs and their aggregates, queues and policies – are implemented that again provide simple building blocks that can be combined creatively, offering a vast space of potential solutions within the scope of the application.

The history of ThreadWeaver goes back to KDE 3. The idea of implementing a thread pool based execution scheduler that manages dependencies between jobs was implemented as a proof of concept using Qt 3. However it turned out to be difficult to implement and use because of the lack of thread-safe reference counting of the implicitly shared classes at the time. These fundamental problems have been solved with the release of Qt 4. Additionally, the introduction of cross-thread signal-slot connections further simplified the communication between jobs and the application’s user interface. The first production ready version of ThreadWeaver was released as part of KDELibs with KDE 4.0. For KDE Frameworks 5, it was almost completely re-written to simplify memory management of jobs, make use of new Qt 5 features like atomic variables, and in part to reflect new language constructs in C++11 like lambda functions. ThreadWeaver comes with an extensive set of unit tests that all pass in the tech preview (hear, hear).

In the following weeks and months, the framework will be polished and debugged based on user feedback. Also, a series of posts here on this blog will introduce individual ThreadWeaver concepts and features in depth, mostly based on example programs, including contrasting it to thread handling in Qt using QThread or Qt Concurrent. ThreadWeaver is very close to production quality, having been tested continuously in the last couple of months. There may still be smaller, source compatible changes to the framework. We ask interested programmers out there to provide feedback and bug reports to make ThreadWeaver what it should be — a worry-free, easy to use and powerful add-on to Qt that programmers enjoy using. Have fun!

[Image by Shannan Sinclair, thanks: http://www.flickr.com/photos/originalbliss/2897019812%5D


FLOSS in the Cloud: EOLE, Brussels, Dec 6

Happy Saint Nicholas day everybody! What better purpose could the day be used for to than to travel to Brussels through a storm, and attend the 2013 incarnation of EOLE, the “European Open Source & Free Software Law Event”, held today in Brussels. Philippe Laurent opened the conference with the still blurry question of what cloud is, quoting the FSF: “[cloud] … is a marketing buzzword with no clear meaning…” that is best to avoid. The whole world did not listen and now uses the term widely. The post reflects both what was discussed, and what I learned from the event.

It seems that while the cloud is still opaque, a common understanding is emerging on what cloud computing means. It represents a convergence of all the individual bits of running a service – software, platform, infrastructure, storage, hosting, billing, scaling and more – into a single, standardised, comparable offer. Essentially, it is the message to the engineers that nobody cares about the details, the individual twiddly bits, and clients want one unified package of hosting something that is actually used by a user. Economically, it is another critical step towards massive standardisation of IT operations, making procurement easier because all relevant bits are integrated, and improving competition by making the offers of various providers comparable. We should expect average service prices per user to fall, pretty dramatically, and especially fixed cost overhead in companies that formerly self-hosted to go down as well. In a couple of years, owning your own metal might sound like getting milk delivered to your door in cans.

It helped that Christian Verstraete from HP opened with a detailed overview of OpenStack. It showed the audience that there is a strong convergence of the market towards one free software solution, with backing from 95% of the relevant industry players. A standard test similar to the JavaScript Acid test can be expected to emerge for compatibility between offerings by different cloud providers. With that, migrating from one provider to another should pose no technical issues, only contractual ones. Based on the ForgeRock experience, Lasse Andresen underlined that by stressing that solutions have to be completely free software, not open-core. And the fact that if there is a well-adopted Open Source solution, it cannot easily be killed. In this, the freedoms provided by the licenses do prove useful – companies may fail, but the technology remains.

So far, that was all good, but not very law-related. Things became interesting from a legal point of view when Patrice-Emmanuel Schmitz opened the panel, with his background as one of the authors of the European Union Public Licence. However, he summarised the issues of current licenses and the debate of what distribution or conveying software means for web services, and it seems like that is still mostly murky. The concentration of services into cloud offerings has led to the rise of new licenses (a trend nobody was hoping for, considering the mess of tons of mostly identical not-invented-here licenses that were used a couple of years back). The underlying problem, though, is fundamental: Open Source licensing is based on copyright, which governs reproduction, distribution, adaption and performance of a copyrighted creation. None of these happen under auspices of the user of the site, and therefore there is no copyright relationship regarding the software between the site provider and the consumer. There is a remainder of code being distributed to the user, like JavaScript libraries. It is hard to construe a derivative work relationship between that code and the rest of the application that runs server-side, especially because these JavaScript libraries are often treated more like data than code and not even linked server-side at all. It is more similar to an client-side running interpreter than to a program part. If the web application is not a derivative work of the distributed libraries, the chain is broken, and a provider can claim not to be at fault with Open Sources licenses and not offer the source code for their modifications of the server application. The Affero GPL solves this problem partially by requiring the provider to offer the source code to the user when it is run on the server. This again ties the licensing to an element of the copyright rights bundle, performing. But it leaves a trace of a bad taste, because now there is a problem of proof – the user usually does not know what software was involved in rendering a response. Also, not all server software is licensed under the AGPL or similar licenses.

Contributing to Open Source is not something people do just because the license says so, but because they are somehow driven to collaborate. Web applications can still benefit from the Open Source way. What is different is that for libraries and applications, what the licenses are modelled for, users and developers are effectively treated the same and the distinction only exists in what they do. For web applications, users do not necessarily acquire a right to use, study, modify and improve the source code even if the developers published their product under a copyleft license. This is the norm that made it fun and enjoyable to contribute to Open Source projects. New norms and governance setups should be designed to maintain that situation and thus keep the motivation of contributors (individuals as well as institutions) intact. Compliance should be the norm by now, and I hope that the distrust sometimes underlying the relation – “Are they really showing all the software that is running?” will be a thing of the past.

Many thanks to the organisers!


“Open Source in Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft” an der Sommeruni 2013 des evangelischen Studienwerks

Jedes Jahr wieder findet die Sommeruni des evangelischen Studienwerks statt. In diesem Jahr mit dabei war das Seminar “Open Source in Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft” von Mirko Boehm. Paul Adams unterstützte als Ko-Referent. Karsten Gerloff, Präsident der FSFE, trat als Gastredner auf. Da sich die Teilnehmer ihre Seminare nach eigenem Interesse selbst aussuchen, fand sich ein bunte Mischung von Medizinern über Naturwissenschaftlern bis zu Theologen zusammen. Die Verbindung aus Neugier, Heterogenität der Gruppe und inspirierender Umgebung sorgte für explosive Debatten, hitzige Diskussionsrunden und eine wie Flug vergangene Woche.

Schwerpunkte des Seminars waren die Fragen, wie Open-Source-Communities eigentlich funktionieren, was Einzelne zur Mitwirkung motiviert, wie sich freie Produkte in die Wirtschaftsordnung integrieren und welche politischen Herausforderungen und Veränderungen zu bewältigen sind. Während schnell Einverständnis herrschte darüber, das der Open Source Way ein gesellschaftliches und kein technisches Problem ist, wurde zu anderen sonst in der Netzgemeinde als selbstverständlich vermutete Ansichten wie “das Internet gehört den Benutzern” gut argumentiert hinterfragt. Wer trägt die Verantwortung für durch unvorsichtige Bewertungen beschädigte Reputation, muss alle Teilhabe in Zukunft im Netz stattfinden, braucht es eine Internetpolizei, das Strafrecht der realen Welt erweiternde Sanktionen, die Regulierung des Netzes? Durch die diversen Blickwinkel war manchmal nicht klar, wer mehr von wem lernte, die Seminarleitung oder die Teilnehmer.

Karsten Gerloff berichtete über die politische Bedeutung von Freier Software und offener Innovation, die Bedrohung durch Softwarepatente und die Kampagnenarbeit der FSFE.


Paul, Karsten und Mirko bei der Sommeruni

Die Beschäftigung mit der Materie war dabei von deutlicher Ernsthaftigkeit geprägt. Zum Beispiel brauchten die Teilnehmer etwa fünf Minuten, um den systematischen Unterschied bei der Integration von Copyleft- oder Permissive-lizensierten Beiträgen zu verstehen – ein Prozess, der bei nicht wenigen Freie-Software-Communities entweder gar nicht oder erst recht spät verstanden wird. Paul Adams war sichtlich beeindruckt. Dieses tiefe Eintauchen ins Thema steht beispielhaft für das allgemein starke Engagement der Stipendiaten, die ihr Studienwerk in weiten Bereichen selbst verwalten – bis hin zur Zusammenstellung des Programms der Sommeruniversität selbst.

Bei der traditionell turbulenten Abschlussveranstaltung am Donnerstagabend wurden die Vier Freiheiten anhand der kollaborativen Beschwörung des Geists von Villigst illustriert – wenn das nicht eine erfolgreiche Wissensvermittlung verdeutlicht… Unser einstimmiges Fazit – definitiv eine Woche lohnend investierter Zeit, die Paul Adams und ich in guter Erinnerung behalten werden. Neben den Teilnehmern war auch das Organisationsteam (ebenfalls sich freiwillig engagierende Stipendiaten) ausgesprochen engagiert und sorgte für einen reibungslosen, angenehmen Ablauf von insgesamt sechs parallel verlaufenden Seminaren. Sehr beeindruckend.