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Open source contributions face friction over company IP


A mark of open source maturity: Wholesale IP donations

Recent research suggests that open source contributions ultimately have a significant positive impact on the business, and that impact is increased A July 2018 research study “Measuring contribution at a more granular level — the number of contributors and the types of contributions — reveals that firms that contribute more to OSS gain more from their use of OSS than those that contribute less,” the research report adds.

Moreover, the research shows that companies whose employees contributed substantive content to open source projects, rather than smaller editorial changes such as error corrections, benefited most of all.

However, most mainstream companies, even those that have already made a substantial number of open source contributions, are still navigating the process of creating a formal open source advisory council or open source program. Most companies are also focused on contributing to existing projects rather than building communities around open source projects of their own.

“We have a preliminary pattern that we’ve established where anybody with an open source contribution, essentially, has some criteria that they have to go through,” said Alaska Airlines’ Maher. “We have an internal review board that will look at any project an employee wants to be open sourced.”

However, Maher said, the airline has yet to establish a formal rubric for evaluating open source contributions. Choice Hotels is also still working on establishing an organizational process to ensure key corporate IP isn’t exposed in open source contributions, according to Judson.

But while change within traditional enterprises is a slow process, it is possible, as demonstrated At Comcast, that culture began with chief software architect and senior fellow Jon Moore, whose early open source contributions inspired other engineers within the company, including John Riviello, now a Comcast fellow and a member of the company’s Open Source Advisory Council.

In 2011, Riviello developed a novel way to connect multiple open source projects used “People saw me do that, and over the next year, a couple people approached me to say, ‘Hey, how did you actually make that happen?'” Riviello recalled. Eventually, the company established the Open Source Advisory Council and put in place an open source contribution approval process that draws on business managers, legal staff and IT security teams as well as software engineers and has resulted in a more than tenfold increase in the number of open source contributions made Now, the overwhelming majority — more than 90% — of proposed open source contributions are approved by the council, said Nithya Ruff, the head of the Comcast open source program office. Under the current advisory council process, once engineers are approved to contribute to existing projects, they can make further contributions without having to go through the process all over again, according to Ruff. The process typically takes a few days at most. And since 2016, Comcast has donated several entire projects to open source, such as its Traffic Control CDN and Web PA client-server interface.


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