What a long strange trip it's been.

Perhaps it's just the aging process. But I've been reflective lately and thinking about the amazing changes I've witnessed during my career. As an in-house attorney in Silicon Valley, I've been fortunate enough to experience two major technology shifts – arguably, the most significant technology shifts in the last century.

I still remember the day in 1994 when one of my colleagues at Sun sent me instructions on how to use something called the "Mosaic browser". It was about 4 p.m. in the afternoon when I first accessed the Internet.... and well after midnight when I logged off and went home (after repeated calls from my wife inquiring about my whereabouts). I was simply stunned. I wasn't sure of exactly how, but I knew that the world had changed forever. Of course, Mosaic later became Netscape which lead to eBay, Google, Amazon, Salesforce.com, YouTube, Facebook, Technorati and, well, this blog.

As the internet rapidly evolved from just a means for the exchange of technical information to an engine for economic and social change, we lawyers debated things like: How do we ensure that engineers don't inadvertently reveal trade secrets via an FTP site? What trademark rights attach to a domain name? Which jurisdiction or choice of law applies if a server is located in one country, but the wrongful conduct occurs in another? What is the appropriate tax structure for electronic commerce? And, should employees be permitted to access the Internet while at work? (That last question seems particularly silly in hindsight.)

And, now, as the legal community has developed a framework and as cases have been decided, this area of law has become, maybe not routine, but for the most part - settled.

The second significant change has been the advent of the open source movement. For years, our legal team devoted itself to building barriers around our intellectual property. We spent countless hours creating restrictive license grants and strong confidentiality provisions limiting access to our proprietary information. We also frequently negotiated with customers the appropriate terms for source code escrows. (These days when a customer makes that request, we smile and point them here.)

Since 1991, when Linus Torvalds released the Linux kernel the legal practice has been evolving to support this innovative business and licensing model. As a result, the internal conversations in my organization are now focused around things like: What is the most appropriate license for sharing our IP (CDDL, BSD, GPL, Apache, etc.)? How can we create the strongest community? How do we effectively balance commercial and community interests? What is the best way to handle indemnification issues? What is the appropriate brand? How can we most effectively conduct due diligence on our products to ensure that we have the rights necessary to open source third party components? And, with OpenSPARC we've had to consider export issues as well.

It makes me wonder what is coming in the next decade.

P.S. Happy 15th Birthday Linux!

Comments:

Wow. A lawyer who's a technogeek early adopter. I started out with Lynx (a very early text-based HTTP client) but Mosaic indeed was a seismic shift. I'm enjoying your blog!

Posted by Fritz on September 06, 2006 at 04:12 AM PDT #

well, michael you have said all...What is the most appropriate license for sharing our IP (CDDL, BSD, GPL, Apache, etc.)? How can we create the strongest community? How do we effectively balance commercial and community interests? What is the best way to handle indemnification issues? What is the appropriate brand? How can we most effectively conduct due diligence on our products to ensure that we have the rights necessary to open source third party components I think that we have to say "thank you very much" for a couple of thing in this world. Once, a years ago, someone ask me what about the RFC?, what about the RFC´s intellectual property?...Well, yes, we know something about that, but look how many techniticians or genius as Jon Postel wanted to share big things.

Posted by gustavo g. mármol on September 11, 2006 at 06:20 AM PDT #

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