The French government has published templates to be used by procurement officers when requesting free software-based ICT solutions. The templates include intellectual property clauses, and clarify the specifics of the free software environment.
The templates Modèles de clauses pour les marchés de développement et de maintenance de logiciels libres (Model clauses for development and maintenance of free software) were made public at the 16th Rencontres Mondiales du Logiciel Libre conference. The RMLL took place in Beauvais (France) in July.
One key point is that when issuing a call for tender, public administrations should emphasise that the software will be made available as free software. The second important point is that companies submitting bids should allow the code to be published using a licence that is compatible with either France’s Cecill or the European Union’s EUPL free software licence.
A group of legal specialists and computer scientists working for the French ministry of Finance and Public Accounts began drafting free software procurement clauses 18 months ago. “We wanted to write model contracts that we could give to public administrations”, intellectual property expert Anne-Clair Viala said in a presentation at the RMLL. “We came up with model clauses to be used for development of free software solutions, and others to enable proper maintenance of solutions based on such software.”
Complex of elements
According to Viala, the trickiest part of the procurement clauses deals with the mixing of free software components. “In case software components can not be taken apart, developers have to report all the elements, specifying the licence for each of them.” She warned that this can quickly become quite complex: “What about copying 2 or 3 lines of code from some website, that you later find out are owned by a proprietary vendor?”
The clauses also prompt developers to organise contributing code to the free software project. It is important that new features developed for public administrations are accepted by the community, explains IT architect Thierry Aimé, who heads the free software project at the ministry of Finance. “We want to avoid a fork, because then we lose the benefits of working with the free software community. The best thing to do is to contact the community and try to include new functionality in the roadmap.”
“Of course it is up to the community to decide whether or not to accept our patch”, he added. “So far, 80 per cent of our contributions are accepted by the community.”
Ministry of Finance’s Management of intellectual property rights web page (in French)
Free software procurement template clauses (in French, ODT)
Presentation by Anne-Clair Viala and Thierry Aimé (in French, PDF)
16th Rencontres Mondiales du Logiciel Libre conference website