Strategic Discourse Around Open Source Governance in Asia

Author:Shane Coughlan
Position:Communication and Business Development Professional; General Assembly Member, Free Software Foundation Europe and Board Member, OpenForum Europe
Pages:13-18
Strategic Discourse Around Open Source Governance in Asia 13
Strategic Discourse Around Open Source
Governance in Asia
Shane Coughlan,a
(a) Communication and Business
Development Professional; General
Assembly Member, Free Software
Foundation Europe and Board
Member, OpenForum Europe
DOI: 10.5033/ifosslr.v 7 i1.101
Abstract
Open Source governance in Asia is of importance for US and
European technology businesses. However, the collaborative limits
to formal contracts or international treaties require initiatives that
facilitate the sharing of best practices in a manner more conducive
to far reaching collaboration. With Asian companies increasingly
visible around development in certain platform technologies, not
least those related to mobile and cloud computing. the terrific
opportunity that lies ahead for the global technology industry is to
maximise collaboration. This article explains some initiatives that
seek to bridge as much as possible the knowledge present in
America, Europe and Asia so the most valuable ideas travel to all
interested parties.
Keywords
Law; information technology; Free and Open Source Software;
governance; compliance, Asia
Open Source governance in Asia - whether framed from the perspective of compliance,
supply chain management or IPR strategy - is a frequently cited topic of importance and
potential concern for US and European technology businesses. It encompasses a wide range
of interests whether framed from the perspective of suppliers or Eastern competition.
However, there has been a ce rtain disconnect in fac ilitating on-going dialogue between the
operating entities across the continents, and there is a limit to what formal contracts or
international treaties can accomplish.
The collaborative limits to formal contracts or international treaties are precisely the reason
that certain developments in the field of Open Source governance have proven to be so
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14 Strategic Discourse Around Open Source in Asia
popular and lasting in the Am ericas and in Europe. Two critical examples are the Linux
Foundation Member Counsel Meetings and the European Legal Network, both of which
facilitate the sharing of best practices in a manner more conducive to far reaching platform
engagement than might be facilitated during traditional market transactions.
Asian companies, while occasionally being part of the above two cited initiatives, have
historically been removed from the front lines of international information sharing. Quite a
few factors may be behind this, from generic “cultural differences” through to assertions that
Asian businesses have a fundamentally different approach to time management and
contribution. Discounting more eclectic opinions expressed about the matter, there is probably
a kernel of truth in the concept that Asian companies, and in particular Asian professionals,
face slightly different motivations, constraints and priorities than their American or European
counterparts.
In countries such as Japan and Korea many legal or engineering professionals are closely tied
to their companies. When careers advance through internal promotion, it tends to foster a
close identification with the culture of one company and this in turn understandably imparts a
close alignment with the expectations of that company. While platforms such as Linux may be
adopted for cost and convenience reasons, the “DNA” of such corporations, and therefore the
primary motivational forces behind employee advocacy and decisions, tends to be focused on
company R&D, products and ancillary services.
In countries such as China and much of the rest of the Asia-Pacific/South Asian region there is
a higher rate of turnover in staff. Margins are extremely thin, competitive pressures are brutal,
and companies appear to be in a race to the bottom in terms of pricing. While individual
professionals in such an environment may be more willing to discuss new a nd better ways of
doing things, if the underlying assumption is that time and resources exist to invest in a long-
term manner, the explicit business requirements of their individual companies will make “eco-
system contribution” or “good citizenship” approaches a luxury that is simply unavailable.
Of course American and European companies have their differences in terms of both national
concerns and larger trends on each continent. While capital and speculative investment may
arguably have a tendency to be more readily available and more sustained in the USA
compared to much of Europe, it could also be asserte d that German and French companies
may take a longer-view of engagement with platforms and partners compared to their
American counterparts. Each approach has its advantages and disadvantages, and over time
the better ideas tend to filter through businesses, sectors and geographies.
The question is therefore “why is it hard for ideas to filter back and forth between Western
companies and Eastern companies?” We are fac ing a situation where communication is not
necessarily as effective as it could be. This challenge is broader than Open Source or
governance per se, but given that Open Source depends on collaboration for optimal
efficiency, it defines the heart of the concern.
One answer to the question m ay be relatively simple. At meetings in Asia I am told that
managers, lawyers and engineers perceive a certain inherent exclusion from discourse in
fields such as Open Source. It is pointed out that assumptions regarding the use of English in
programming, in strategy discussions and around legal discourse can be problematic. The leap
for a German, Spanish or French speaker to discuss topics in English is far less than that
which is required for a Chinese, Korean or Japanese native. This linguistic barrier remains a
key item cited by Asia-Pacific company representatives for the hesitation or lack of
International Free and Open Source Software Law Review Vol. 7, Issue 1
Strategic Discourse Around Open Source Governance in Asia 15
engagement so often identified as an industry concern.
Building bridges between stakeholders has long been a speciality of community organisations
such as Linux Foundation, Open Invention Network, Free Software Foundation Europe and
the Software Freedom Law Center. The topic of Open Source governance in Asia and the
concept of finding wa ys to provide more effective dialogue and information sharing has
therefore hardly been unaddressed. There are activities under way that are helping to connect
parties from the East a nd West regardless of language, regardless of individual priority, and
with the overarching goal of encouraging a shared perception of engagement and
participation.
A key example in Asia-Pacific is an understated but important conference held in Japan each
year called the Open Compliance Summit. This event is hosted by Linux Foundation Japan
under the supervision of their director Noriaki Fukuyasu, and during its three years of
existence has developed an explicit policy of encouraging speakers from China, Korea and
Taiwan to attend along with experienced figures from major Japanese corporations. The result
is the first environment where all of these stakeholders can meet and informally discuss
governance issues, and it has proven to be a compelling venue to reiterate key developments
from Linux Foundation Member Counsel or European Legal Network activities. While the
language used is still primarily English, the environment is designed to support those who use
it as a second or third language.
The value of the Open Compliance Summit is that it is perhaps the first event in Asia that
fosters an environment where attendees are not expected to simply listen to speeches from
international figures but are instead asked “what do you think?” The responses in previous
years have revealed interest, comments and suggestions for topics ranging from Linux
Foundation’s SPDX initiative through to compliance process management inside large
companies. The event perhaps most closely aligned in terms of value and desired approach in
the Western hem isphere is the European Legal Ne twork Conference, and the Open
Compliance Summit provides an excellent cornerstone from which to launch meaningful
discourse around Open Source governance concerns in the APEC region.
One challenge for the Open Compliance Summit - beyond the complexity of using the
English language as the primary method of discourse - is that it only happens once a year. In a
fast moving field such as Open Source, and particularly given the recent climate both of new
market development and various IPR challenges, governance topics tend to unfold and benefit
from analysis on a more frequent basis. To address this issue, some key stakeholders from the
community side of Open Source legal strategy - namely Open Invention Network, Linux
Foundation and Free Software Foundation Europe - launched the Asian Legal Network in the
first quarter of 2014.
The Asian Legal Network, building on the template provided by the European Legal Network
in providing a forum for discourse via round-tables, mailing list and conference, is an
initiative to facilitate round-table meetings once per quarter in the Asia-Pacific region. The
meetings rotate from country to country, with the focus in the first year of operating being
China, Japan and Korea (the CJK nations), and expansion expected in the second year to
potentially include India along with increased support for country-specific language use
during presentations and round-table discussions.
As with the European Legal Network, the Asian Legal Network is not a formal legal entity
and it does not require any formal commitment either on behalf of the individuals
International Free and Open Source Software Law Review Vol. 7, Issue 1
16 Strategic Discourse Around Open Source in Asia
participating nor their companies beside one “gentleman’s rule”, namely adherence to
Chatham House Rule to facilitate open discourse around governance topics and the
maximisation of sharing around best practice. This is a rule or principle according to which
information disclosed during a mee ting may be reported by those present, but the source of
that information may not be explicitly or implicitly identified.1 During its first nine m onths of
operation, Asian Legal Network round-tables have addressed the challenge speculative patent
trolls can present to the Chinese market, the development of large initiatives and promises
around patents in the international market, and an exploration of current trends in the field of
copyright compliance.
Any discussion involving many stakeholders will tend to take a while. There are many
perspectives to take into account, there is a continually e volving market to consider, and the
development of consensus is a process rather than a top-down outcome. However, the Open
Compliance Summit and the Asian Legal Network round-tables have already proven that
collaborative dialogue around Open Source is both possible and desired in Asia, and they have
set in motion a process that has been observed to re sult in deep and fruitful relationships both
in the Americas and in Europe.
These events, primarily focused on legal strategy concerns, align neatly with older events
focused more on platform development such as LinuxCon Japan, Korea Linux Forum (both
Linux Foundation events) or COSCUP in Taiwan. While no single event covers all the topics
of interest to a commercial stakeholder in Open Source, attending a combination of these
events provides the opportunity to learn about Open Source technology, to le arn how people
are deploying such technology, and to understand how to balance risk and opportunity around
adopted platforms.
It is probably not premature to suggest that 2015 is the year when Asian companies will be
increasingly visible around development in certain platform technologies, not least those
related to mobile and cloud computing. Whether considering Tizen a nd WebOS in Korea,
Tencent or Alibaba’s cloud infrastructure in China, or enterprise products from Hitachi and
Fujitsu in Japan, there is a wealth of advanced technology with Asian companies positioned as
lead stakeholders. It is therefore also reasonable to propose that 2015 will also be the year
when governance from the perspective of community stakeholding takes deeper root in Asia.
The terrific opportunity that lies ahead for the global technology industry is to maximise
collaboration as this happens, and to bridge as much as possible the knowledge present in
America, Europe and Asia so the most valuable ideas travel to all interested parties.
For those readers based in Asia, it is now a good time to consider whether attending the
European Legal Network Conference in Spring 2016 or the Linux Foundation Member
Counsel events around LinuxCon North America in Fall 2016 can fit into your schedule. For
those readers based in the Americas or Europe, it is probably an excellent time to consider
whether participation in a round-table in India or CJK nations (every quarter 2016) or at the
Open Compliance Summit (Winter 2015/2016) aligns with your travel. As with the emergence
of the European Legal Network events from 2007 onward, the increased discourse provided
by new Asian events is playing an important role in connecting stakeholders, and there is
substantial strategic value due to the enhanced networking opportunities and dissemination of
best practice around governance. This applies equally to supply chain issues, c ode life cycle
management, compliance and community engagement concerns.
1 http://www.chathamhouse.org/about/chatham-house-rule
International Free and Open Source Software Law Review Vol. 7, Issue 1
Strategic Discourse Around Open Source Governance in Asia 17
You can learn more about the Open Compliance Summit at the Linux Foundation’s dedicated
website:
http://events. linuxfoundation. org/ events/ open- compliance- summit
You can learn more about the Asian Legal Network round-tables by contacting OIN:
http://www. openinventionnetwork. com/ contact- us/
This article cited several development-focused events worthy of note in Asia. These are:
Korean Linux Forum:
http://events. linuxfoundation. org/ events/ korea- linux- forum
LinuxCon Japan:
http://events. linuxfoundation. org/ events/ linuxcon- ja pan
COSCUP:
http://coscup. org/
About the author
Shane Coughlan is an expert in communication methods and business development. He is
well known for building bridges between commercial and non-commercial stakeholders in the
technology sector. His professional accomplishments include establishing a legal department
for the primary NGO promoting Free Software in Europe, building a professional network of
over 270 legal counsels and technical experts across 4 continents, and aligning corporate
and community interests to launch both the first law journal and first legal book dedicated to
Free/Open Source Software. He spearheaded the licensing outreach that elevated OIN into
the largest patent non-aggression community in history from Fall 2013.
Shane has extensive knowledge of Internet technologies, management best practice,
community building and Free/Open Source Software. His experience includes engagement
with the server, desktop, embedded and mobile telecommunication industries. He does
business in Europe, Asia and the Americas, and maintains a broad network of contacts.
International Free and Open Source Software Law Review Vol. 7, Issue 1
18 Strategic Discourse Around Open Source in Asia
International Free and Open Source Software Law Review Vol. 7, Issue 1
Licence and Attribution
This paper was published in the International Free and Open Source Software Law Review, Volume 7,
Issue 1 (2015). It originally appeared online at http://www.ifosslr.org.
This article should be cited as follows:
Shane Coughlan (2015) 'Strategic Discourse Around Open Source in Asia', International Free and Open
Source Software Law Review, 7(1), pp 13 – 18
DOI: 10.5033/ifosslr.v7i1.101
Copyright © 2015 Shane Coughlan.
This article is licensed under a Creative Commons International 4.0 licence, share, adapt, attribution, CC-
BY-4.0 available at
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
As a special exception, the author expressly permits faithful translations of the entire document into any
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shared alike. This paragraph is part of the paper, and must be included when copying or translating the
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