Cisco's iPhone violates GPL, expert says

An open-source enthusiast is charging Cisco with failing to properly share code in its Linux-based iPhone

Even while Cisco Systems is suing Apple for violating its iPhone trademark, an open-source enthusiast is accusing Cisco itself of infringing copyright in the same product.

Cisco has not published the source code for some components of the WIP300 iPhone in accordance with its open-source licensing agreement, said Armijn Hemel, a consultant with Loohuis Consulting and half of the team running the GPL Violations Project, an organization that identifies and publicizes misuse of GPL (GNU General Public License) licenses and takes some violators to court.

The WIP300 iPhone is based on Linux and Cisco has agreed to comply with the terms of the open-source GPL license in order to use the software. The GPL license requires the company to publish the code that it develops for the phone.

Industry expects say that open-source software users, including companies and individuals, commonly fail to share their developments. Sometimes that's because they may misunderstand how open-source software works but it may also be because publishing the code can be a cumbersome and expensive process.

Hemel downloaded the firmware for the WIP300 phone and reverse-engineered it, first checking with a lawyer that such a process is legal, he said. He then discovered that Cisco has neglected to share the code for a couple of programs in the phone, including the Memory Technology Device which is used to program the Flash memory, he said.

Hemel also found similar omissions in other Cisco products and contacted the company to arrange a meeting. "I just bombarded the Linksys contact in the Netherlands. I think they got fed up and arranged the call," he said. Linksys is a unit of Cisco.

The Cisco representatives he finally talked to in a conference call on Oct. 30 were very open to his report, he said. The company subsequently fixed omissions on a few products that Hemel identified, including the EFG250 storage device as well as an Internet camera and router, he said.

But Cisco has yet to publish the relevant code from the WIP300 iPhone, Hemel said. He decided to talk about his findings now because "the timing is just perfect," he said. "For someone talking about Apple using Cisco's property, actually they're infringing on copyright themselves. So it's just a double standard."

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