JBoss Group will indemnify customers who sign up for one of its higher-level support contracts against any lawsuits that may be filed against the company over patent or copyright infringements.
The move is part of a broader effort to make JBoss Group's open source application server software more attractive to corporations, the company said.
The indemnification applies to customers who buy a "production support" license, which was released about a month ago and includes benefits such as rapid response to support queries.
The move is a precautionary one, and the company doesn't expect to face any lawsuits, vice-president of strategy and corporate development for JBoss Group, Bob Bickel, said.
Indemnification has become a hot topic in the industry since The SCO Group threatened to sue companies using the Linux operating system. It has claimed that some of its proprietary Unix code was improperly added to the Linux kernel. As a result, some vendors that offer Linux products, such as HP, have offered customers indemnification to ease concerns about using their products.
JBoss Group doesn't sell Linux products, and said its move has nothing to do with SCO's actions. But one analyst said the issues weren't unrelated.
SCO's Linux claims hadraised concerns among corporations about who owns the source code for open source products, and the move to offer indemnification was designed to quell those fears, an analyst with Current Analysis, Shawn Willett, said.
"What they're trying to do is go through all the objections that big corporate IT departments might have against adopting JBoss," he said. And take steps to address them.
Another big concern among customers was support, which JBoss has tried to address through partnerships and additional services, Willett said.
There are restrictions to the JBoss indemnification program. Customers who modify its software won't be eligible, which is similar to a provision laid down by HP for its Linux customers.
In addition, JBoss would only indemnify customers to the value of their support contract, Bickel said.
By way of explanation, he laid out a worst case scenario: If a company sues JBoss customers for patent infringement, JBoss Group will take responsibility for the suits and fight them as a single, consolidated case. If it loses and the litigator goes after its customers again and demands a payment of, say, $US100,000, JBoss Group will compensate the customer for the value of its license. So if the customer has a $US40,000 license, JBoss Group would pick up that much of the penalty.
Bickel emphasised that the company had no reason to think it was going to be sued.
He said it chose to offer indemnification at this time because JBoss Group was reaching a size where it felt compelled to offer the same protections for customers that traditional vendors offered.
Willett said that was likely true, although observers pointed towards another possible motive. A group of developers left JBoss Group earlier this year and formed a separate company that is developing an alternative application server based in part on the open-source JBoss code. If JBoss
Group were planning to take any legal action against that group, it may be offering indemnification as a pre-emptive measure - as a way of protecting its customers in the event of a countersuit by the group of developers that left the company.
"I think they want to keep that option open in case that group becomes a factor, but right now I don't think it is a factor," Willett said.
This was because the group was small and didn't yet pose a threat to JBoss Group, he said.
JBoss Group's Bickel dismissed the idea.
He said the goal was merely to offer the same protections that other commercial software vendors do.
"That has nothing to do with this, it wasn't even in the thought process." he said. "We have no plans to sue anybody."