[License-discuss] Views on React licensing?

Kyle Mitchell kyle at kemitchell.com
Fri Dec 2 08:08:19 UTC 2016

Hear my two cents clink in the pan!

On 2016-12-01 23:12, Richard Fontana wrote:
>The 'Additional Grant' has attracted a fair amount of criticism (as
>did an earlier version which apparently resulted in some revisions by

I've published a manually optimized "diff" of the original and revised 
PATENTS texts here:


I'd hoped to refer to this less.

>What do members of the license-discuss community think about the
>licensing of React?

The well-tended garden of standardized licenses has borne strange fruit.  
Rather than express meaning and intent in the terms of licenses---and 
face a pitchfork-wielding mob of anti-proliferationists---the choice of 
licenses from the curated crop of blessed forms has been made to take on 
all manner of extra weight.  More than it can bear.

I have no inside information on Facebook or how React came to public 
light under the terms offered now or before.  But I can name a couple 
tendencies that I suspect shape corporate releases of the kind:

1.  Company counsel, especially the folks minding the patents, aren't 
    comfortable with the "academic" licenses.  Understandably so.  They 
    predate Patent Consciousness in the community.  And it's a might 
    inconsistent to turn from sweating every detail of a settlement or 
    pooling arrangement to settling for an "implied license" under 
    untested terms.

2.  From the engineering point of view---relevant also to poaching 
    engineers from others---"enterprisey" license forms like Apache and 
    Eclipse on exude a much harsher vibe than MIT- and BSD-style forms.  
    Crass and cliquish though it may be, the Cool Kids are licensing the 
    Cool Stuff under MIT or BSD, if not Unlicense, WTFPL, or Death to 
    Lawyers.  There is, as yet, no hip, pithy license that contends with 
    all the major strains of the intellectual property virus by name.  
    Writing one ain't easy.

>I see a few issues here:
>- does the breadth of the React patent termination criteria raise
>  OSD-conformance issues or otherwise indicate that React should not
>  be considered open source?

I rank the OSD, under OSI's watch, among the most glorious monuments of 
my profession's service to open source.   But I have to point out that 
what folks consider "open source" and OSI's application of the OSD are 
no longer one and the same.  The divergence isn't total, but the 
identity is no longer reliable.

The OSD attempts to embody an ethic of nondiscrimination---against 
"persons or groups", against "fields of endeavor".   But any good lawyer 
knows the difference between expressing intent explicitly and working it 
into a structure, in silence.  OSI can try to flesh out a rule for how 
much discrimination "open source" abides in practice, but that dictum 
would not predetermine perception in the wider coding or commercial 

SQLite is available under a public domain dedication.  For a fee, the 
company home of the maintainer will cut an explicit license.  I can't 
speak to the motivations for these practices, or to the intentionality 
of choices made en route.

The net effect is discriminatory.  Persons and groups involved in fields 
of endeavor necessitating rigorous and efficient rights clearance with 
adequate assurances of lawsuit-free operation need the paid licenses.  
The judgment-proof needn't give a damn.  Neither the public domain 
dedication nor the form paid license discriminate against 
judgment-worthy enterprises.  That's just the effect in practice.  The 
same, reliable principle undergirds many a GPL or AGPL dual-licensed 

For companies presently or potentially entangled in patent spitting 
matches with Facebook, Inc., BSD terms alone, pleasing though they may 
be in the "hackers'" site, don't pass review board muster.  Conversely, 
for the start-up aiming to be Zuckerberg acqui-swallowed over a weekend, 
React's a feather in cap.

None of this is to disparage what Facebook have done and made available.  
React could have wallowed on corporate SCM, ne'er to see the light of 
day.  They'd've still applied for the patents, which would've sat 
around, ready to torpedo corporate users of whatever other library 
carried the cachet cargo for functional reactive-ish programming in 
front-end JavaScript.  The public got better than that.  It took people 
to get that done within Facebook.  They've done a hell of a lot right 
since release, too.

>- is it good practice, and does it affect the open source status of
>  software, to supplement OSI-approved licenses with separate patent
>  license grants or nonasserts? (This has been done by some other
>  companies without significant controversy.)

No, it is not good practice.

At least under American law, all the facts, terms, and circumstances go 
into one big pot when it falls on a court to decide a dispute.  Most 
critically, does the explicit patent license of PATENTS curtail any 
license otherwise implied from BSD terms standing alone?  Better to have 
used an existing license with rigorous patent terms, and worked to 
establish it as "cool", or to write a new but self-contained license.  
There is clear need for terms that meets Facebook's requirements.

As it stands, PATENTS-LICENSE pollution threatens the key value 
proposition of standardization and anti-proliferation.  React PATENTS 
means, not for the first time, but for a very meaningful library of 
broad applicability, that BSD-3-Clause LICENSE doesn't necessarily mean 
the same thing wherever you find it.  Again, "facts and circumstances" 
ever muddy the waters, but React goes into its bottle unfiltered from 
the start.

>- if the React patent license should be seen as not legitimate from an
>  OSI/OSD perspective, what about the substantial number of
>  past-approved (if now mostly obsolete) licenses that incorporated
>  patent license grants with comparably broad termination criteria?

It will seem very lawyerly of me to ask what "legitimacy" means here.  
Perhaps also seditious, though I hope it's clear I mean well.

As for the "prior art", obsolescence bodes well for anti-proliferation.  
Especially if other corporate releases on genericized React PATENTS 
terms are not soon to follow.

>- should Facebook be encouraged to seek OSI approval for the React
>  license including the patent license grant?

React needn't seek OSI's blessing.  It has reached The Promised Land of 
use and contribution, and quick, without its grace.

Insofar as OSI approval begs SPDX approval, seeking OSI approval for 
PATENTS on top of BSD-2-Clause is trouble.  Is anyone else using 
PATENTS, adapted for a different corporate licensee?  Wouldn't 
standardization encourage as much?

That is crossing the SPDX-OSI streams a bit.  I'm now a repeat offender.

Kyle Mitchell, attorney // Oakland // (510) 712 - 0933

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