Many companies could successfully partake in open source projects without adversely affecting their business, according to open source activist Bruce Perens.
Perens told delegates at the Open Source Summit in London, hosted by law firm Olswang, that companies need to hold on to their business differentiators in order to remain competitive.
But he insisted that they can effectively share software development with the rest of the world without affecting their company in a negative way.
Perens describes business differentiators as profit centres or customer facing services or features that set one company over its competitors, such as Amazon's product recommendation system or Google's Page Ranking feature.
But Perens reckons that only about five per cent of software in large organisations qualifies as business differentiating.
"Take as much as possible of your software development budget from the non-differentiating software development, and put it in software that makes your company look different, and you will directly help your bottom line," he said.
"We have found the belief that you are the only person who needs this is very overstated, and that whatever you think you need, there are other people who need it too."
Perens believes that the majority of programmers work for companies that do not sell the software they develop, meaning that their work is not a profit centre for the company.
Sharing this "low-hanging fruit" pays off because the more people who partake in this model, the more that everyone stands to gain.
This opens up the possibility for commercial collaboration when goals are shared, as companies can pursue open source partnerships to mitigate the risk and cost of non-differentiators.
The collaborative nature of successful open source projects means that they are developed by large numbers of diverse developers from around the world, each with their own ideas and suggestions.
Development can spin off in unexpected and interesting directions, according to Perens, which often yield useful results.
The comments provoked controversy among some delegates, particularly Jim Markwith, an attorney for intellectual property and licensing at Microsoft.
Markwith highlighted problems in regard to Microsoft's acquisitions of companies that use open source software.
Microsoft often finds non-compliance with licensing terms, and what Markwith described as "license laundering" where developers strip out open source code from the internet but do not attach the appropriate license or header details.
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