On Sunday, I posted what I thought was a fairly innocuous post about my decision to move away from React. Wow, I had no idea I was an influential writer. The storm (at least relative to my normal state of being) was impressive. I did want to clarify some things and answer some of the questions I got posed. Unfortunately, Twitter isn’t a good medium to have that sort of discourse.
Firstly, I have nothing but respect for React as a technology. More than that, the React team has changed the conversation when it comes to dynamic web properties that can scale. That is a testament not only to the React team for the awesome technical work, but also to Facebook for funding it and allowing it to be published on GitHub. Dan Abramov (@dan_abramov) is just one of the team members who is active in the community. If I just cared about technology, this wouldn’t even be a discussion.
My problem is only with the license. There are two parts. Firstly, I feel the patent clause is overly broad. Secondly, I feel the patent clause should be where everyone looks at the license – in the license file.
I have been asked more than once if I consulted a lawyer to get a legal opinion.
No I didn’t. More than that, if I have to get a legal opinion as an individual developer on every license for every piece of open source technology I use, my coffers will drain pretty quickly. Lawyers are expensive. I look for nice normal standard licenses – licenses like the MIT license. I understand those licenses and they have a lot of legal opinion (even if they don’t have a lot of legal tests in the courts). If I need legal advice on whether I can use a license or not, I’m not going to use the software.
I have owned a small business. Businesses can and should protect themselves from patent trolls and bad licenses. If you are a business owner, you should get your own legal opinion on whether the PATENT clause is good for your business or a problem for your business.
Facebook is not (currently) evil, and I don’t expect them to become evil overnight. I have not heard of Facebook going on the offensive with their patent portfolio and only they can comment on why they felt the need to add the patent clause (although I can guess it has more to do with patent trolls). However, the fact remains that companies are different from individuals. Company policy changes and there are any number of examples of patent litigation in the technology sector.
Personally, I think Facebook screwed up here. More than that, I think the entire legal licensing community has screwed up. They have screwed up by not providing appropriate licenses that are readable by non-legals, protect the companies that support open source, yet give other companies the freedom to use the technology.
It also goes further than that. The US patent system is broken and severely needs an overhaul to ensure continuing investment in software technologies that benefit all. Our software development community is vibrant and full of people who genuinely want to help. We should be working towards protecting that community.
You should come to your own conclusion. If you need a legal opinion on whether it is safe for your company to be using React, go seek one and let us know what you find out.