As we previously reported, HP was under fire by the open source community for refusing to release the source code for the Android kernel that they accidentally released for the HP TouchPad.
The Android kernel was based on Qualcomm’s reference Android source code, and was used by HP internally to accelerate the release of the TouchPad. It was never intended for public use, but rather, to ensure that the TouchPad’s hardware would be ready for release to consumers alongside webOS 3. As webOS 3 was lagging behind the hardware in development, Android was also used in the manufacturing lines to test TouchPads before ultimately being flashed with webOS.
This debacle for HP became a debacle when a handful of TouchPads were sold to consumers with the Android debug build installed. These units apparently did not get overwritten with webOS after the hardware was assembled and tested. Based on the “release” of Android by HP for the Touchpad, the open source community followed the terms of the GNU Public License (GPL) that drives the Linux kernel, and asked HP to release the source code.
HP eventually responded that they would not release the source code, under the basis that it was not an authorized action to release the Android build of Touchpad firmware. This opened a somewhat-new question for GPL, which is if a company is liable for source code mistakes that the company did not intend to release or publish.
While not at issue in this situation, the problem is more complex when involving the latest GPL license, GPLv3, which can demand the entire source code release for a published work, if any part of the code is licensed under GPLv3. Taken to an extreme, the accidental inclusion of GPLv3 could arguably force the release of entire source codes for products like Mac OS X and TiVo’s operating system, both of which employ only GPLv2 code as a result. HP’s argument would likely be conveyed by other companies in such a situation, but it underscores a lack of definition in GPL itself.
Today’s development of the release of the Android source code for the HP TouchPad comes as hackers have already created working Android builds for the TouchPad.
It appears though that HP may have faced legal pressure, the developer that convinced HP appears to have enlisted IP attorneys in the plight to get HP to release the code:
HP supports the community and was kind enough to provide us with the Android kernel source and some other GPL components that they modified for the few Touchpads that were accidentally released running Android.
Many thanks go to attorney Benjamin E. Maskell from Roetzel & Andress for helping with this.
Also I’d like to thank phil86 for providing his Android-running touchpad to me and to Snow02 to help with covering some shipping costs.
Prior evidence from the leaked TouchPad units point to the Android debug firmware being based on Qualcomm internal builds of Android. It is possible, though we cannot confirm, that HP was prompted to work out a resolution with Qualcomm in order to release the source code.
One issue remains, and that is the Wi-Fi driver for the TouchPad. HP’s quiet release of the source code lacks the source code for the driver, which the developer, Green, insists is linked against the Linux kernel, subjecting it to GPL disclosure. HP has reportedly responded to the developer that they are evaluating its status for release.
If it is correct that HP had to work with Qualcomm to release the source code for the Android build, it is likely possible HP will have to work with the developer of the Android/Linux driver for the Wi-Fi chipset as well.
HP has stated they hope to launch Open webOS, a fully open-source version of webOS, late this year.