IBM has issued another statement on the TurboHercules imbroglio. This one is reported by the Linux Foundation, but comes from Dan Frye. Dan Frye heads IBM’s Linux Technology Center and was actually at the top of my mental shortlist of likely voices of sanity over there. (Full disclosure: Dan kept me supplied with IBM Thinkpads for a couple of years as a thank-you gesture.)
The good news is that Dan says IBM will stand by the letter of its 2005 pledge. Furthermore, the second sentence of Dan’s pledge leaves no room for doubt that Hercules is a covered project. This is in flat contradiction to whatever brainless droid the Wall Street quoted yesterday on IBM reserving some right to decide that Hercules is ineligible. It also contradicts the previous implication that IBM is prepared to go to court over those two patents.
The bad news is that Dan leaves open the possibility that IBM may sue over the other close to 200 patents. I think it’s important not to overreact to this; his statement was clearly immediate damage control rather than a final ukase. The effect is that IBM now looks as though somebody with a clue has woken up to how much reputation damage their previous blunders have done them.
My guess is that the matter is now being debated (or soon will be) at a level higher than Frye or either of the pair of clowns who had previously made IBM’s posture look so very wrong. This might, still, blow over.
But IBM should hear this, loud and clear: the letter of your pledge is not enough. You cannot simultaneously hold yourself forth as an ally of open source and conduct patent warfare against an open-source project. Betrayal stings; we won’t abide it, and I wouldn’t argue that we should even if I thought I could win that argument. If you try to have this both ways, you will enrage the community more than if you had been a frank enemy all along.
Understand that our intransigence on this score this is only partly on behalf of Hercules itself. We detest the patent weapon, even in the hands of a sometime ally, because we fear it so much. What IBM does in this matter will set a precedent for the behavior of others; if IBM chooses to set the wrong precedent, it will make enemies of us.