Red Hat offers infringement warranty for Linux software

With competitors Novell Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Sun Microsystems Inc. all offering legal indemnity for users of their Linux products, Linux vendor Red Hat Inc. on Tuesday hopped on the bandwagon and unveiled a program to guarantee that its Linux code is free of intellectual property infringement issues.

In an announcement on Tuesday, the Raleigh, N.C.-based vendor said its new Open Source Assurance program will protect all existing and future Red Hat Enterprise Linux customers from legal challenges while using the software.

Bryan Sims, vice-president of business development at Red Hat, said that under the included Intellectual Property Warranty, the company would replace any software code that allegedly infringes on other code so users and developers can continue to work with the products.

“It’s clear that this is much better than indemnification because it provides the customer with a continuing right to actually use the software,” Sims said. “We think this is a huge benefit to customers and will keep the development going” in the event of any legal challenges.

The Red Hat program follows a recent string of indemnification moves by Linux companies to protect customers from infringement lawsuits, such as the US$3 billion case filed last March against IBM Corp. by The SCO Group Inc. SCO alleges that IBM illegally contributed some of its System V Unix code to the Linux open-source project, which would infringe on SCO’s software rights.

Last week, Novell, which recently bought SUSE Linux AG, said it will indemnify SUSE users from any lawsuits relating to alleged code infringement.

Sims, however, said the new Open Source Assurance program “has nothing to do with SCO. This is not a response to anything, customer pressure or industry pressure. It has to do with innovative things to making open-source solutions available to customers.”

Also part of the program is legal help from the Open Source Now Fund, a legal defence fund started last August by Red Hat to provide money to defend Linux users from infringement lawsuits.

Red Hat has been offering these kinds of code guarantees to its largest enterprise customers since August and has now decided to expand the program to all of its customers, Sims said.

Bill Claybrook, an analyst at Harvard Research Group Inc. in Harvard, Mass., and a past critic of Red Hat’s slow pace in providing some kind of assurance program for its users, called the new program “a good thing to do.”

“In some ways, it’s better than the others because (Red Hat is) saying they will replace the code that allows the infringement problem and we will then protect you in the event of a lawsuit,” Claybrook said. “The difference is they said they would replace the code, which no one else has said they’d do.”

Stuart Cohen, CEO of the nonprofit Linux advocacy group Open Source Development Labs Inc. in Beaverton, Ore., also lauded Red Hat’s action.

“Anything that provides piece of mind for users so they can continue the acceleration and deployment of Linux, I think is terrific,” Cohen said.

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