Sun's lawyers embarked on an extensive research project to identify all the relevant patents, allowing Sun to engage in a precarious dance across the patent minefield as it developed its reference DRM code, avoiding red-flag patents and homing in on expired ones. In addition, as a preemptory measure against patent claims, Sun drafted a document carefully outlining its assertion that the technologies in use in its software were unencumbered.
The process wasn't easy and it wasn't cheap. "We've made a substantial investment over an extended period of time," says Sun Labs' Tom Jacobs, whose title -- perhaps tellingly -- is "director of voodoo sciences."
And so, while Sun's efforts are certainly laudable, they also point out a distressing problem. Given the hoops the company had to jump through to make this happen, there is no way that 10 college students -- or even 10 smaller companies -- could have brought an open source DRM project this far. Paradoxically, the only way for a free project of this nature to exist was for it to be created under the auspices of a large commercial software vendor.
They say open source doesn't innovate, but now you know part of the reason why. Patent reform for the software industry is long overdue.