A constant focus of our executive team is on building leaders. I would venture to say that we discuss this topic more frequently than any other and it’s something all of us embrace. For me, Ralph Nader said it best: “I start from the premise that the function of leadership is to produce more leaders than followers.” This has been a frequent mental refrain for me since my Achilles tendon ruptured a few weeks ago. I’d like to have a more dramatic story about how it happened, but the true reason is a combination of genetics and a life-long aversion to any form of stretching. These things always happen at the most inopportune times and this was no different. In the week ahead, we had our Annual Stockholder meeting, a full day executive planning session and I was to host a multi-day department “All Hands” training meeting.
I should have been incredibly stressed as I limped over to my administrator’s office to reschedule meetings before departing to the hospital. Instead, I was fairly relaxed. I knew that we have built a solid team of leaders who would very ably handle things in my absence. And, that’s what happened. One of our corporate attorneys quickly made the changes necessary so that our CFO could run the stockholder meeting (thanks again, Mike). And others prepared for the department meeting and made decisions on other items on which I was focused at the time.
A few days after surgery, I was able to get back into the office on crutches and attend part of our department meeting. I hobbled (I would kill for a Segway right now) between buildings and attended many of the training sessions held by each legal team. (As an aside, I realized that we packed a bit too much into the schedule when I noticed that one of the groups had replaced water and soft drinks with Red Bull in its session.)
In one of the meetings, the members of our Employment Law group shared fascinating insights on a recent litigation; in another, I watched lawyers from our patent team as they engaged with outside counsel about ways in which to increase the quality (already high) of our patent filings. I also attended trainings on antitrust law and open source licensing and met with many people in the department from around the world. I was in constant awe of the level of talent surrounding me in every room. To be candid, at times I was intimidated by the passion, creativity and technical knowledge of our legal team. I just had to keep reminding myself that as Mr. Nader said – my job is to build leaders.
Earlier this year, I read a post to one of Jonathan’s blogs in which the author complained vigorously about the complexity of Sun’s Contributor Agreement. I responded not with an email or a blog, but rather by pounding my head repeatedly and forcefully against my desk.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with this area, contributor agreements are used by most open source companies and communities to set forth the terms under which contributions can be made to an open source project. Sun’s Contributor Agreement, for example, is the contractual vehicle for contributions to Sun open source projects like OpenSolaris, OpenJDK and Glassfish.
Now the reason I was banging my head was because if there is one agreement that should be a model of simplicity and clarity, it should be our Contributor Agreement. After all, we are asking developers around the world (most without formal legal training) to contribute their time, energy and intellect to open source projects like those mentioned above. The least we can do in exchange is to provide contracts that clearly describe the terms of our relationship. In the hope of forestalling a nasty headache, I took a look at our Contributor Agreement and immediately I agreed with the author of the post. The agreement was wordy and needlessly complicated. So, I asked one of our team to revise it.
Now, a few months later, we’ve released the redrafted Sun Contributor Agreement. The process took longer than I had hoped, but much of the time was spent soliciting feedback from the open source community about our proposed changes. And, in the end, the revised agreement is substantially improved from its predecessor. If you’re interested, you can find it here.
My only regret is that the person who originally posted the comment to Jonathan’s blog did so anonymously. I would have liked to have sent him or her a note expressing what I’ll now say here: “Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We’ll do better in the future.”
I have a fascinating job. Given the international scope of our company and the innovation we generate, there’s no shortage of unique issues I encounter every day. But, I think Marty Roberts just may have me beat in this area. He’s the new GC at Linden Lab the company behind Second Life. For those who are unfamiliar with Second Life, here’s a video that explains it.
Many “real world” companies have been using Second Life to open virtual store fronts, for marketing outreach or as an additional form of online education. Sun is one of these. After all, a virtual world is another form of network-enabled community. Helping to build these communities is at the core of what we do.
So far, we’ve had a positive experience with Second Life and have continued to use it as a forum for major announcements. And, last week, I was discussing with someone on my team how we might use Second Life for employee training. While these activities were once novel, they are becoming more accepted as traditional business models transition to the Internet. But, for attorneys, the virtual world remains unexplored. Here are just a few recent examples of what Mr. Robbins has had to deal with in his new job.
A case was recently filed against Second Life in a “real” courtroom in Pennsylvania. The dispute involves ownership of virtual property. While the ultimate issue may turn out to be a routine contract matter, it will still be interesting to watch.
Another litigation has been brought between two members of Second Life. In this case the claim is for copyright infringement in connection with virtual toys for adult entertainment.
And most recently, it appears that IBM employees in Italy held a strike against their employer in Second Life. Trying to determine what, if any, labor laws apply in connection with a virtual protest by employees will doubtlessly keep some attorney very busy.
Marty, I’m sure you have many more fascinating stories. I’d love to hear them. If you ever have time for a beer (a real one), I’m buying.