A blog for the enterprise open source community
Open source as a shareholder issueMatthew Aslett, October 8, 2007 @ 10:00 am ET
Matt Asay has some interesting news about a shareholder proposal that will be presented to Oracle’s forthcoming shareholder meeting asking the company to detail its commitment to open source and use its patent portfolio to protect open source.
Oracle isn’t keen on the idea, which is the tabloid headline. The interesting news, as Matt suggests, is the fact that this proposal has been made at all.
The proposal has been put forward by Lawrence Fahn of As You Sow, a corporate accountability group, and asks “that the Board issue, at reasonable expense, an Open Source Social Responsibility Report to shareholders by April 2008 that discusses the social and environmental impacts of Oracle’s existing and potential open source policies and practices.”
Asay has some insight from Fahn’s attorney, Jonas Kron, which indicates that the required wording masks the real aim of the proposal – to get “Oracle adopt a firm position that it will use its patent portfolio to defend open source, rather than to attack it.”
Oracle’s board opposes the proposal – which might upset some open source purists – and has outlined its belief that such a report is unnecessary. In its proxy statement the company points out that it already makes available details of its open source projects.
The company added that it does intend to include information about its open source activities in the next Oracle’s Commitment social responsibility report.
Given that ‘patents’ are the elephant in the room, the company does not mention its Open Invention Network license, which includes an agreement not to assert its patents against a wide variety of open source software, including the Linux kernel, MySQL database, the Apache web server and Openoffice.org.
Thanks to that license, the requested patent commitment is less necessary in Oracle’s case as it would be for other vendors.
What is interesting is that a shareholder (albeit one with a vested interest in corporate accountability) brought the matter up in the first place.
According to Asay, the point is for shareholders to be able to demonstrate support for Oracle’s open source efforts and ask it to go further.
The focus is on social responsibility, rather than improving shareholder value, but one can’t help thinking that the proposal would have more chance of winning the support of shareholders if it tied in to the latter.
Is it only a matter of time before we see shareholders routinely asking companies about their commitment to open source?
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