Free vs. Commercial Open Source Software


I'm now back focusing on open source (OS) and intend to offer an application to the OS community, hopefully this week.

By coincidence, I just read a post to the OpenHealth organization about a new wiki at http://freeopensourcesoftware.org/. In it, Bill Stewart wrote an excellent article in which he compared "Free Open Source Software" (FOSS), which is free in all versions, "Commercial Open Source Software" (COSS), which might include FOSS components, but requires fees for some code.

The article made the point that COSS isn't "true" open source because, for example, COSS vendors typically "intend to profit from proprietary add-ons to their … software." To FOSS purists, this is an ethical dividing line: While they wound not "deny others the right to make a living providing value-added open source support services," they are concerned about where this is heading. They ask,
"If there is a valuable principle at stake here, if open source is a precious gift to the world and future generations, what can or should be done about these developments?"
The article continues:
While business involvement with open source can be productive, many remain seriously concerned about a development that has blurred the lines around core principles -- the increasing proliferation of companies that call themselves "open source" because they provide open code and a free version of their software, but require a commercial license and fees for advanced versions. The increasing popularity of this kind of software, sometimes inaccurately called "dual licensed" open source … is becoming a popular open source business model, and increasingly of popular concern.
While I understand this issue and do firmly support working for the greater/common good, I have trouble with an apparent double standard that states it's OK to make money selling value-added open source support services, it's not OK to make a dime selling value-added code! Maybe I'm missing something, but I don't understand this dichotomy.

Let's say someone spends 15 years of his own time (without pay) inventing a software process that no one else ever conceived, and then he spends tens of thousands of dollars obtaining and maintaining a patent for that process. Let's also say that software code he's using to run this process can be re-written in many different ways and in many different programming languages.

Now imagine the inventor deciding to offer his patented process, his current version of code, and his support services to the open source community under a dual licensing agreement. This agreement states that it's OK to use and modify the code in private to develop new (or improve) applications, but once any product containing the original or derived code is put into production (i.e., for sale), the vendor must seek a commercial license from the inventor.

According to the FOSS-based double standard above, the inventor is being unethical because the original code should be offered free, even if developers sell their own applications containing the inventor's code and patented process. And the inventor should provide all his applications, enhancements, and add-ons for free, rather than selling them to earn a living. Thus, only if the inventor has an opportunity to offer value-added services (e.g., training workshops) would he survive financially.

My question is: What makes the inventor's intellectual property (the patented process), and the thousands of hours spent programming the software code, less worthy of monetary compensation than the training course? Why is it unethical for the inventor to collect a reasonable royalty/licensing fee from vendors who use the patented process and code in the products they sell? Can anyone help me with this?

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