Open-source advocate suggests an incentive program for developers

An open-source software advocate has proposed an incentive program to move proprietary software to an open-source business model.

The plan would encourage developers to release their source code after it earns a certain amount of money, said Tony Stanco, associate director of the Cybersecurity Policy and Research Institute at George Washington University in Washington.

The Open-Source Threshold Escrow Program, or O-STEP, would give agencies access to competitively priced e-government applications without proprietary lock-ins, Stanco said this month at an e-government conference in Washington.

Many software developers sell proprietary software because they have no financial incentive to release the source code, Stanco said. O-STEP would be a mechanism through which software producers could exchange their intellectual property rights for a financial reward.

Under O-STEP, vendors would put their source code in escrow for open-source licensing only after purchases had reached the vendors' own sales thresholds.

While the source code was in escrow, the developer would have the freedom to add more features to the protected product, Stanco said. For example, a software company that set its escrow threshold at $100 million of revenue could spend that money developing new, proprietary features for its software.

Once the escrow ended, other developers could use the source code to compete in the software marketplace, Stanco said.

Government agencies and private-sector users would have an incentive to buy the escrowed O-STEP software, Stanco said, because each purchase would bring their applications closer to open-source status.

Stanco said he has talked to several agencies about the concept but has not yet approached software vendors about participation in O-STEP.

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