Readers with a taste for high comedy may remember my post “Why SAP is Such a Sap over Software Patents”, which rather took to task a certain large German software company over its stance on software patents. Now, to be fair, SAP has done some good things for free software – not many, but some – and Matthew Aslett has produced an excellent summary of these on his 451 CAOS Theory blog, which I urge you to read.
He also duly picks up on the software patents issue, and supplies the following interesting comment from SAP people:
SAP actually is a big proponent of strong and concise IPR licensing regimes for all standards and open source initiatives we participate in. Whatever claims of patents and patent applications that essentially need to be infringed to implement a standard or use an open source component should always be licensed in a reasonable and non-discriminatory manner by the individuals and organizations that have contributed to the project (obviously, in open source projects RAND means royalty-free).
There are two problems here.
The first is the phrase “Whatever claims of patents and patent applications that essentially need to be infringed”: this of course implicitly recognises that software patents do exist and can be infringed, despite the fact that Article 52 of the European Patent Convention specifically says that “programs for computers” are not patentable. SAP's comment is therefore extremely unhelpful to campaigns seeking to ensure that software patents remain unpatentable in Europe.
The other problem is the reference to RAND. As the quotation notes, RAND for open source projects means royalty-free – but not for traditional software companies. In that case, RAND means a “reasonable” licence fee – which may be small, but is, as SAP must know, completely incompatible with free software licences like the GNU GPL.
The 451 CAOS post is a valuable reminder of the steps that SAP has taken towards opening up – but also of how far it has to go on its journey.