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JBoss Indemnifies Customers

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In a first for the Java community, JBoss Group officials said they would protect customers from legal hassles surrounding any potential patent claims involving the popular open-source application server.

Following the lead of HP, and creating its own lead in the Java world, the consulting company said Monday that it will indemnify its customers from future patent claims.

“We really want to show people that open source is an equal or better way to doing business as commercial software,” said Bob Bickel, JBoss vice president of strategy and corporate development. “The companies that we typically compete against, like BEA Systems, have these terms and so we want our customers to have similar terms.”

The announcement signals a change in atmosphere when it comes to open source software, where the perception of the movement has always been one of a benevolent community of developers working towards a common goal.

The SCO/IBM fracas changed all of that, with System V Unix source code owner SCO Group threatening to go after individual companies and customers to protect the code it claims IBM developers used to build Linux into an enterprise-safe operating system.

While IBM and others have claimed the allegations are without merit, very few have been willing to put their money where their mouths are and promise to protect its customers in the event SCO wins its patent infringement case. To date, only Hewlett-Packard has come forward to pledge legal support to its customers. On several occasions, Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy has said his company would also be indemnified against any SCO suits, however, the network computer maker is only one of two companies that have publicly purchased licensing agreements with SCO — Microsoft is the other.

JBoss Group will cover its future customers — as well as the independent software vendors that resell JBoss — up to the amount of its contract. Existing customers will be grandfathered into the program free-of-charge. The company retained the services of Boston-based Testa, Hurwitz, & Thibeault to work out the indemnification policy and will represent JBoss in the event of a Java-based patent lawsuit.

The new policy, however, does not include the more than 1.5 million people who have downloaded the free application server software from the Web site, only customers of the JBoss Group services company. Officials said, currently 50 to 100 existing customers fall under the new legal umbrella.

The indemnification for the amount of contract wasn’t designed to provide a legal fund for the company under suit, but enough to get the inquiries passed along to JBoss, Bickel said.

“What it does is provide enough money to direct all inquires back to us centrally,” he said. “What we want to protect and what we want to own up to, basically, is the worst-case scenarios, so if JBoss software infringes on somebody’s patent or copyright, we want to take ownership for that — we want to step up and correct the problem and move on.”

Bickel said the indemnification policy is the latest stepping-stone in making open-source software a viable corporate solution. Last month, the JBoss Group started offering 24/7 global production support for its customers using the application server, with guaranteed service-level agreements (SLAs) to back it up.

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