A dispute between a proprietary software company and the Java Model Railroad Interface (JMRI) open source project has ended with a settlement, the JRMI project announced on February 17. The dispute yielded a ruling in the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (Jacobsen v. Katzer) that warmly endorsed the open source approach to software development. We blogged about that ruling when it was issued in August 2008, referring to it as “a highly significant opinion that will greatly bolster the efforts of the open source community to control the use of open source software according to the terms set out in open source licenses.”
The matter was remanded by the Federal Circuit to the District Court, and, as we blogged in December, several additional pre-trial rulings again favored the JMRI project, including a ruling on the eligibility of software code that is distributed for free for copyright infringement damages. The settlement was reached with a trial date on the not-too-distant horizon.
With the settlement, the Federal Circuit and District Court rulings will not be subject to direct appeal. Given the rarity of litigation over open source software, it seems unlikely that the reasoning of these two rulings will be questioned judicially in any other open source litigation for some time.
The explanation of the settlement on the JMRI site indicates that the proprietary software company has agreed, among other things, not to misuse the JMRI software at issue, or to register any domain names incorporating certain terms attributable to the JMRI project, and will make a payment of $100,000. Future disputes will be settled by mediation or arbitration.