ron minnich wrote:
First we need to figure out whether we are willing/able to move forward with a product that includes GPL licensed code at all.
this part I do not understand. There are so many embedded systems out there with GPL code in firmware, what is the unique property of your product that makes it impractical?
The issue for us is that most of our customers are not end users. Well, actually, we have many, many more end use customers than reseller customers, but end use customers represent a small fraction of our product sales. The bulk of our products sales are to OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) or VAR (Value Added Reseller - that is, consultant) customers who resell a system of their own that contains our product as a component.
GPL creates no particular problem for us when we sell to a university - one of our main sources of end-use customers - that will use our device to perform specific experiments in their own lab. We would need no more than a piece of paper in the box plus a medium to carry the source code that corresponds to the firmware (or a website, for that matter). Since our end user in this case would build their setup and run it themselves and never distribute it, there would be next to no issue once we met our obligations under GPL. Though, even here I have a bit of a concern because I read GPLv3 to obligate us to provide our customer a way to replace the firmware, not just provide the source for it, and currently we do not have an external means to allow this on any of our products. Still, this is more of a technical issue than a legal or marketing one. We would most likely not lose a single end use customer sale because our product included a GPL license for a portion of the system.
The real problem comes with our potential OEM and VAR customers - the most valuable customers for our potential product from a turnover perspective. If we attempt to sell them a GPL licensed product, we oblige them to conform with GPL licensing to be able to sell their systems to their customers. I am about certain that, unless we make it trivially easy to conform, this will put off a good fraction of our prospective customers. Even if we make it trivially easy to conform, unless it is almost automatic, I am concerned that it may still put off too many potential OEM/VAR customers. And, our customers would not be behaving in an nonsensical way. Many of them employ no firmware engineers who they could use to determine whether they were actually in compliance with GPL, even if they did not mind the added licensing on their product.
So, the root issue here is that - because of the nature of our customers - we are not just putting ourselves under GPL. We are putting our prospective customers under GPL too, and that will - I guarantee it - put off some fraction of our potential best customers. What I do not know is what fraction that would be and whether we want to find out.