Many members of the open-source community—including HP—have embraced the concept of non-proliferation of open-source licenses due to interoperability and compatibility issues raised by having a large number of licenses. The reaction to any new license tends to center on whether a new license addresses an unmet need. That’s why I am concerned about a new license proposed by Oracle.

Recently, Oracle submitted the new Universal Permissive License (UPL) for approval to the Open Source Initiative (OSI), claiming the UPL filled the need for a permissive, MIT-style open-source license with explicit patent grants.

Oracle drafted the UPL to address concerns it had with proposed changes to the Java Community Process (JCP), specifically with regard to license rights in others’ reference implementation technology of Java specifications. Oracle expressed concerns with using other open-source licenses for reference implementation technology due to its need to license this technology under both proprietary licenses (with patent grants) and the GPLv2.

Regardless of what OSI and the JCP Executive Committee decide in regard to UPL in their independent review processes, I have the following concerns:

At a high level, the UPL copyright and patent licenses are overly broad. They extend to current and future versions of both the UPL-licensed code as well as any software or hardware identified in a file included with the UPL-licensed code. There is no requirement that the UPL-licensed code be associated in any way with the software or hardware included in the file in order to use the license to that software or hardware. This is a very expansive license.

There is no defensive termination clause under the UPL, which would allow a licensor to terminate part or all of its license if the licensee sues the licensor for patent infringement. As you can imagine, this is very attractive to those who frequently engage in litigation.

What does use of the UPL mean for companies?
Say Company X makes some code available under the UPL. At a minimum, Company X has just granted very broad copyright and patent licenses in the licensed software and any piece of software or hardware identified in an accompanying text file. Another company making a bug fix or more significant modification to this code could inadvertently grant a broad copyright and patent license to various technologies if it uses the same text file when it makes these modifications available under the UPL.
Given these issues, it’s hard to see why any company with IP interests would use the UPL unless it were compelled to do so (for instance, if it wanted to participate in the JCP and could only do so under the terms of the UPL).The most troubling part of all this is that Oracle has no intention at this time to make any of its own technology available under the UPL, and it intends to use it only so it can get the rights to make others’ technology available under another open-source or proprietary license. While there may be a need for a permissive, MIT-like license with an explicit patent grant, the UPL is not that license. Its grants are too broad, and Oracle has admitted it does not intend at this time to license its technology under it. From a non-proliferation standpoint, I have concerns that this license may make approval and adoption of another, more narrowly scoped permissive license with explicit patent license grants more difficult in the future. What can be done? If Oracle views the UPL as the answer to its concerns about potential changes to the JCP, I suggest it revises the UPL to be more narrowly scoped than its current form. Alternately, why not use the Apache 2 license and relicense Java under it? Oracle could call on the community to relicense any Java technology if it doesn’t possess the necessary rights to do so. Either of the suggestions above would solve Oracle’s stated concerns without creating a new, unnecessary open-source license tailored to the interests of only one member of the open-source community. I view the UPL as a cynical use of open source to get broad rights to others’ technology. I would challenge Oracle to make its technology and IP portfolio available under the same terms it wishes to receive technology and IP rights from others. Open source is about community and collaboration; proposing a license you’re not willing to apply to your own technology is counter to these values.

Martin Fink is executive vice president and CTO of HP. Guest Views are contributions by SD Times readers. Interested in contributing a Guest View? See the guidelines for the details.