Saturday, November 05, 2011

The Decision Model IP Trap

part 1 part 2 part 3

Remember the Gif submarine patent from Unisys?
It's a classic story of why OSS and standards in general do not mix with patents.

While at business rules forum this year I was asked by Larry Goldberg, one of The Decision Model (TDM) authors what our plans were for Drools and TDM. You can read more about what TDM is here:

While discussing future ways we could work together I asked them what their business model was. After discussing consulting and training I asked if there was a scalable business model, thinking maybe certification centres around the TDM brand. He answered IP. I asked what IP, for I was not aware of any software they had, he answered TDM is patented......... Say what now?

Yes I was kinda stunned by that too. I replied I couldn't discuss TDM any further or look at software that implemented it, without Red Hat legal guidance. This field is covered extensively in research, I don't believe they have anything that for instance isn't already covered by the god father of decision tables at Leuven University, Jan Vanthienen.

Mr Goldberg seemed confused by this, offering that everyone has to deal with patents when using software. Obviously someone who has not got the Red Hat message. So for those that don't know, let me spell it out :)

Open Source and Patents do not mix. When you get software from Red Hat you are guaranteed its 100% Open Source, not maybe OS or partly OS. From top to bottom, inside and out 100% OS goodness. But it doesn't stop there Red Hat guarantees and indemnifies it's customers that the software is not IP encumbered in any way. Those are cast iron assurance built universally into the Red Hat brand, and it's why Red Hat is the world's number one OSS company.

So you can imagine that making available the patent encumbered TDM as part of Drools does not fit with the above assurances and does not and will not happen.

For those vendors, OSS or not, make sure you are aware of this and have agreed licensing deals before walking into this IP trap and getting gauged later.

I hope that the TDM people might consider giving universal and perpetual access to their patent to allow wider adoption. I believe Red Hat has a patent pool they can donate too, if they need help in how to do this.

I would add that I have simplified things here. For instance various Open Source efforts are under way for defensive patents, to protect OSS, Also some OSS licenses, like Apache allow patents but give universal access, while retaining the rights to act defensively. We have patent applications in the Drools team For this reason. You can read more about the Red Hat patent promise here:

In the mean time we in the Drools team will continue to take our inspiration from the excellent and unencumbered research projects; Prologa and XTT2.

Disclaimer: This post is made in a personal capacity. Nothing written above should be construed as Red Hat's corporate position.



  1. Fantastic post. One little nit. The link:

    within your post is tied to the GIF article. You have to cut and paste it manually to read about TDM.

    Appreciate your thoughts!

  2. Mark.

    My Sentiments exactly.

    Actually I think it is might be creapier that you think. Does the patent mean that they have an IP claim on your executing IT systems?

    Support the relational model was patented and you had to pay $1 for every relation that you created on and ERD, $.01 for every row that was inserted in the table. This is exactly what patents do.

    Tom Debevoise

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. "Actually I think it is might be creapier that you think. "

    For a minute then I thought you said "cheaper" rather than "creapier" and sent a reply on that, which I have since deleted :)

    Either way those in the OMG group are now aware of this patent. Larry is trying to become part of that group, so I'm guessing it'll resolve itself there.

    Personally i'm not worried, as I'll make sure all our work can cite historically older pieces of work - as per XTT2 and Prologa.

  5. Mark you are correct. Please excuse my spelling.

    An OMG stardard for decision tables and other things would be great for the industry and all the things you and I have been working for.

    No matter what anyone says, patents create fear. Period.


  6. Mark how does that resolve with US patent 7904402 issued by Redhat and where Mark proctor is one of the inventors on the topic of "pluggable dialect for rule engines" issued is March 2011. Is that one now contributed to all developers?

  7. All software within the Drools codebase is under the Apache Software License. Thus this patent and others that are implmeneted in the Drools source code are made freely available to to all, under the terms of the ASL.