Hi @averillmb , great to see you here.
Regarding ‘technology transfer’: this is certainly a different perspective in the open source world!
In open source, ideas are not generally ‘stolen’, they are simply used by everyone who has an interest in using it. Different companies may have different opinions on how to implement that idea, or different uses for it in their particular market, but nobody has a monopoly on it.
Now, you might still want to prevent your employees from running off to other companies for other reasons - you would certainly want to hang on to somebody who knows everything there is to know about your company, its clients, and its products. Not because they’ll give that information to your competitors, but simply because that knowledge and experience makes them a valuable part of your organisation.
Stopping them from discussing their ideas with other specialists, regardless of their company, seems like a pretty good way to make the employee unhappy and to slow development of new and interesting ideas.
This has actually been a problem in the tech world in recent years: because Amazon was so secretive, few experienced people wanted to work for them.
Often when I am advocating for companies to adopt an open source approach, people assume that I am suggesting that they open source the products that they have spent decades developing and investing millions of dollars in. Ok, that would be nice, but that’s not what I’m suggesting.
Instead, it makes a lot more sense for companies to look at the problems they need to overcome to reach their objectives, or to think about tools and resources which would be useful in their industry overall, and start something new, with collaboration in mind. Then they can release their ideas and early prototypes, and invite collaboration from others, gradually building technology together with others.
The auto industry actually does this occasionally. They all need a digital entertainment system for their cars, but it’s not exactly an area where they try to differentiate greatly. Most car manufacturers have other specialities. So a group of manufacturers got together in a consortium to develop Automotive Linux - building on what was already available, and adapting it to the needs of the industry. With everyone contributing, Mazda can’t ‘steal’ the technology from Toyota - Toyota didn’t develop it alone, so it isn’t theirs to be stolen, and it is available to everybody!
Even Renault (who is not part of the consortium) is able to use Automotive Linux… which might seem unfair at first glance.
But there are two aspects which makes it fair.
relationship to the community.
One is that these companies have decided to form a consortium - they have regular meetings and communication that brings them together and encourages them to discuss things freely amongst themselves. Renault doesn’t contribute to or benefit from that conversation. Maybe they can benefit in the short term by using the software and not contributing, but in the long term they are damaging their reputation and their relationship with their employees.
I don’t think that the formal consortium is actually necessary, there is enough of a social and legal structure in an open source project that the consortium is redundant and inefficient, but it’s a useful first stage - I think of it as ‘training wheels’ for corporations to develop on open source in ways in which they’re familiar.
The Linux Kernel is licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL), which is a copyright license type known as ‘copyleft’.
A Copyleft license grows the commons. It says that "you can use this software for whatever purpose you like, but if you publish a modified version of the software, you must also release it under this same copyleft license, publishing the source code and allowing others to use it for any purpose (as long as it’s under the same license).
Remember that each automotive manufacturer developing Automotive Linux is likely using slightly different flavours of the same software - they are adapting it to their unique purposes, and fixing any problems along the way. The good thing is, that when Toyota finds a bug, they can fix it, and the license requires that they share their improvement with the public, under the GPL. At the same time, Mazda is fixing any bugs they find, and releasing the fixes under the GPL.
Basically anybody who wants to adapt the core software to their needs is going to have to make some useful changes to it. And those changes have to be shared with everybody else, whether you’Re part of a consortium or not.
So, if Renault chooses to take Automotive Linux modules that Mazda, Toyota etc have developed (I don’t know why I have picked Renault as the bad guy in this example - sorry Renault!) they are legally required to release any improvements for Mazda, Toyota and the general public to use. So with copyleft licenses, it’s actually very difficult to just take and not contribute. In this case, Renault would be contributing to the wider pool of software, but they are disadvantaged by not being part of the community around the software, and not having a good relationship with the other companies.