Respecting the IP
What is IBM Malaysia MD’s view of all the recent escalating debacle around unfair licensing especially when IBM more often than not is painted with the same brush as large licence-toting software vendors like SAP, Microsoft and more?
Chong Chye Neo said, “As tech advances, more and more of it is no longer encased in pieces of hardware. Instead, a lot of it is IP or intellectual property.
“Many spend billions and years to develop intellectual property or IP, so if clients do not pay licensing, how do we keep innovating? There has to be education around this.”
Chong shared that there used to be BSA (Business Software Alliance) to monitor on the right usage of software. “But office raids are gone, and now we have a consultative approach to say, ‘Let’s have a third-party view of where you are (in terms of software usage)’.”
Governance also comes into play. If over the years the business has grown, and now the business is running an organisation with thousands of employees, software vendors have to be kept informed of this.
Chong promotes the proactive approach and said, “We are proactive in informing clients that we will audit, and we do our part informing them about a tool they can download… there should be a ‘mechanism’ to come tell us what they are using.”
That said, she is aware that some dissatisfaction can stem from the way that vendors are going back to clients, to ask for licensing fees.
“It is our good governance that I have to go to you and say, ‘I think things have changed in your organisation.’ If you are proactive, you shouldn’t be surprised,” Chong pointed out, adding that clients are licensed to use, not own the software.
If disputes were to arise because of the way that licensing contracts are worded, she responded, “More often than not when dealing with MNCs like IBM, we can’t sign off on vague things!”
She does admit however that what’s vague is technology and recalls an oft-used verbal phrase between clients and vendors, “Upgrade now and I will waive certain things for you!”
This is why a well-defined license is a crucial requirement.
But software is so dynamic and keeps changing, so how does one keep up? “It goes back to governance; every time change happens (on vendor or client side), inform.”
Chong also opined that the mode of technology usage and business technology interfaces have changed so much to the point, that the industry actually needs more good lawyers now.
A very good case in point is the collection of data. If a robot comes to me during a conference, to register me in, could it mean more and more of our personal preferences are being captured? Chong asked this theoretical question.
“What happens to my data?” she also asked.
Robots that go around registering participants during events, are already a reality. And besides the information that we explicitly give it, might it not also be recording other attributes about participants? Ie. age, gender, height, hair, clothes, colour of clothes, accessories etc. A robot is already equipped enough to do this.
Chong gave another example of technology moving too fast for law and regulations to keep up with, “The entire legal aspect of when a driverless car knocks someone down, even has to be relooked – is it the driverless technology, the car manufacturer, the person in the car, or something else that is to blame?”
The same holds true for fair compensation for usage of IP; technology has gone way ahead of the terms required to define it, giving rise to the many legal disputes and battles we see today in the area of software licensing compliance.