Automattic Will Continue to Use React.js in Calypso Despite Patent Clause

Calypso is an application developed by Automattic that is built entirely with JavaScript using the Node and React libraries. React, etc., a site that covers news related to the React library, recently published an article highlighting how a license to use it in projects can be revoked.

React contains a patent clause that allows Facebook to revoke the license if certain conditions are met. The clause has raised concerns that Automattic could have its license revoked for Calypso if it competes directly with Facebook.

Not long after the public release of Calypso, Paul D. Fernhout created an issue on the project’s GitHub page. Among a number of other reasons, Fernhout suggested that React be replaced with Mithril, an alternative JavaScript library that doesn’t contain a clause.

Paul Sieminski, General Legal Counsel for Automattic, responded to the ticket explaining why the company will continue to use React in its products.

“Automattic looked at the legal issues with Facebook’s patent license on React,” Sieminski said. “The termination provisions of the patent license aren’t ideal, but are not a blocker to using React as part of Calypso.”

“The termination provisions don’t apply to the right to use the code – just the license included in the ‘PATENTS’ file. This license gives React users permission to use Facebook’s patents on React. Facebook’s intentions in including this additional license are admirable. As they say here – ‘[t]his grant was designed to ensure that developers can use our projects with confidence.’”

According to Sieminski, “The companies with the greatest concern are those that have large patent portfolios and engage in offensive patent litigation, especially against Facebook.”

“Automattic isn’t in that boat, and has no plans to be, so we’re comfortable using React under its current license,” he said.

Considering how complex patent laws are, developers using React are encouraged to seek legal advice from a reputable lawyer to determine if your use case violates Facebook’s patent clause.

Has the clause kept you from using React in your projects? Let us know in the comments.


19 responses to “Automattic Will Continue to Use React.js in Calypso Despite Patent Clause”

  1. Thanks for sharing this important story, Jeff.

    After Matt’s blowup with Chris Pearson and with WordCamp barring anyone who ever offer non-GPL code, I find using patent-encumbered code within the WordPress project quite hypocritical. There seem to be more and more of these weasel instances as Automattic grows.

    At what point will we no longer be a community project with shared and consistent values? Wordcamp Europe was fabulous and there are many committed free software advocates in the community. Really re-energizing. On the other hand, the bison also seemed too numerous to kill until 1870. Fifteen years later all the bison were gone.

    • I too have the feeling this could be the biggest mistake and undermine the GPL driven community. Form my point of view Calypso should not become the community project which it is supposed to be.

      • And yet we get things like this (from the recent post on recommended PHP versions):

        Mullenweg has made it clear that he will not use WordPress’ marketshare to force webhosting companies to upgrade to PHP 7 but rely on established relationships instead.

        It can’t be both ways. Either Matt and Automattic can make decisions and proclamations like this… or they can’t. Obviously there’s no legal weight to this – the project *could* tell Matt to piss off – but the practical reality is that what Matt and Automattic do and say has real weight on the project as a whole.

      • John, when we talked about exactly this issue at WordCamp Europe, you pointed out that at this point in time whoever puts the most developers (directly or indirect payment) on WordPress core has control over the WordPress project.
        In addition to the Automattic paid core contributors employees, Automattic has many nominally independent but indirectly employed by or Audrey Capital company contributors). There’s also the mysterious Apollo team [] which as far as I can see was specifically formed to maintain control over the open source version.
        When MM/Automattic insist on something like Calypso or Shiny Updates (or in this case inserts dubious Facebook encumbered code), for the moment Automattic have the controlling voice. As you pointed out in your Wordcamp Europe talk, WordPress desperately needs independent leadership. Someone carrying the weight of a billion dollar market cap company on his/her shoulder will have a great deal of difficulty exercising independent judgement.
        “I thought it was the right thing to do so I shaved $200 million off the value of your investment today.” Difficult to say to either shareholding employees and to financial investors.
        Perhaps WordPress needs a more formal governing structure with affiliations (including yours to Human Made and my own to FV) made very clear, including indirect ownership or subsidy (if a company is primarily subsidised by another commercial entity, it’s hardly independent).

  2. I have been very exited about react. I started to build a BuddyPress extension in react. But after I found out the license issue I stop.

    I think it is inappropriate to use react now with the license issue. WordPress is 100% GPL and if we all start using react for me it feels like a huge danger.

    Calypso is where we all read the code at the moment and its the influencer number one in the wp js movement.

    • You’re joking right? Read the article again:

      The termination provisions don’t apply to the right to use the code – just the license included in the ‘PATENTS’ file. This license gives React users permission to use Facebook’s patents on React. Facebook’s intentions in including this additional license are admirable.

      Microsoft, Google, Twitter, Airbnb are all using React in production and actively contributing to core, what’s the issue with you using it in your project? As in: what actual statement in the `PATENTS` file makes you worried it could later cause your business harm?

        • That is outdated information, see Paul Irish on twitter (who works at Google):

          With regards to Microsoft:

        • The license issue is much more serious than Steven L. gives credit. Paul Siemenski notes:

          The companies with the greatest concern are those that have large patent portfolios and engage in offensive patent litigation, especially against Facebook.”…“Automattic isn’t in that boat, and has no plans to be, so we’re comfortable using React under its current license.

          There are three issues with the insouciance above.

          the license conditions might change for a future iteration of React.js. See Google’s Chromium for how to boil an open source frog.
          Automattic may be acquired by a company who is not on friendly terms with Facebook.
          Facebook may go malignant at some point and want to undermine and Automattic as a competitor.

          Surprisingly (as he was quite dickish at the beginning), Mark Zuckerberg has shown himself to be a responsible steward of Facebook. Even with all his billions, Zuck is not immortal. It’s unclear who will take over Facebook later and what the relationship with Automattic and WordPress will be. Remember Microsoft’s primary market for software (when the got started) was Word on the Mac (back in the early nineties). Then Bill Gates decided he wanted to Apple’s lunch and jumped into the GEM interface OS business. In case you weren’t there, MS almost put Apple out of business but took pity at the last minute (mainly due to the risk of additional anti-trust suits with NO competitor left standing in the OS wars).

          In any case, the REACT license is not open source in the sense of GPL. It’s an encumbered license and probably shouldn’t be at the core of new WordPress functionality when there are real open source alternatives.

      • Thanks Stephen, please everyone listen to the 3 min. I have set a start time so it begins right at the interesting point.

        I feel open source is about freedom. Does this feel free for you? Does it still feels like open source for you?

        BuddyPress is a social network component. I would feel bad to create a plugin for others and release it as open source with such a Patent Clause.

        I have no idea how seriously it is in the end. But I’m not a lawyer and I think we should not use techniques with the danger of needing one.

        One question I have. Would a plugin using react be allowed to get hosted in the official repository?

        • I think everybody here is misunderstanding the patent clause, here’s what it says in layman’s terms:

          – Facebook might have extra patents around React
          – Facebook extends patent grants to the user, thereby covering them in case of patent litigation regarding those patents
          – If you sue Facebook for patent infringement, the grants to their patents becomes void, so you’re still allowed to use React, Facebook just no longer has your back in case someone sues you over patent infringement when using React.

          That’s it. W3C Web Standards an Apache v2 license have the same clause.

  3. Aside from Automattic’s Calypso,’s new plugin directory is now using React, the upcoming Human Made “Week of REST” will be including React as part of the weeks learning.

    As the community starts to “learn JavaScript deeply” seeking advice on license and patent matters such as this is important, it’s important to remove any ambiguity so the community knows clearly where it stands.

    Thanks for covering this issue Jeff, greatly appreciated.

  4. Firstly, I suck at JavaScript, so take this for what it’s worth …

    I’m surprised React.js is so popular. It is a very large library, which seems to be mostly used for doing fairly simple tasks. For most instances, I’d have thought a much lighter library would have been preferred.

    For my own purposes, I’ve found a very small custom script was more than ample (I admittedly haven’t attempted anything as large as Calypso before though).

    • Haha so do I, that’s why this is important to me, if I’m to invest a considerable amount of time in learning JavaScript deeply to then find out after the fact I was doing it wrong because of some patent clause in the React licensing I’d not be impressed.

      Anyway, the real purpose of this reply was to mention is that I watched a good talk the other day on comparing JavaScript frameworks that I was quite impressed with, so here it is:

    • People just suck at understanding scale considerations. All FB tools are aimed first at FB, and might be useful for other “big corp” but their usefulness might be limited if you don’t have 100k servers, huge CDN ot every user visits your site once a day. Some google library are similars, but google went with compiling JS library into final JS code as is required per each product.

      But using react,hhvm etc, can serve as a marketing name drop when speaking with people that are technical enough to be mislead into thinking there is any relevance to what they want to do. Otherwise, I am with you, I can’t even imagine a situation in which I will allocate the time to read the spec of it, total waste of time for most of my projects.

  5. Reading the patent clause, the license will only terminate if you choose to initiate a patent lawsuit against Facebook or a subsidiary.
    If Facebook initiates it, the license will not be revoked.

    Reading further on a GNU mailinglist, it seems RMS even considers this to be legitimate and approves of the strategy. It cannot be reagrded as non-free for this reason.

    • The guy that said that is both not RMS and not a lawyer. It actually have zero relevance what RMS thinks, GPLv3 has anti patent cluase, and if this license violates it or not can be decided only if it is a clear cut thing, which from the fact that there is a discussion it is not, or by a judge. RMS can not go back in time and change the wording of GPLv3 even if he likes the react license


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