FOSS United's Policy Roadmap (November 2023 to October 2024)

FOSS United’s Public Policy goals are to:

  • Build a powerful voice for FOSS United in policy discussions that impact the Free and Open Source Software community in India
  • Build coalitions with industry, academia and policy makers in key areas like Open Tech, Open Standards, FOSS & Software Patents, to take the FOSS movement forward
  • Mentor a new generation of FOSS Policy advocates

As a new organization with limited resources, our approach to achieving our public policy goals is to partner with like minded organizations and individuals. This is also in keeping with the collaborative ethos of the FOSS community.

A quick recap of some of our policy initiatives till date is given below.

  • On software patents, we met with member Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council, Shri Sanjeev Sanyal and the Director General of Patents, Shri Unnat Pandit and shared with them the FOSS community’s views on software patents.
  • We launched the End Software Patents ( website with support from academia, think tanks and industry.
  • Additional Secretary in the Ministry of IT, Shri Abhishek Singh spoke about Government of India’s FOSS initiatives at IndiaFOSS 2022.
  • We met Tamil Nadu Member of Parliament, Dr. D Ravikumar, to initiate an engagement with TN Government.
  • Reached out to NPCI to correct the usage of the term “open source.”
  • We worked with the Takshashila Foundation to craft an OpenTech strategy.
  • We have reached out to the Telengana Government to explore collaborations around FOSS.
  • We have reached out to the Karnataka government through the Karnataka Digital Economy Mission (KDEM) to increase FOSS skills in Karnataka.

Roadmap for the next 12 months (November 2023 to October 2024)

We will work on growing the FOSS community in India through outreach to the central and state governments, and collaborate wherever we have alignment of interests around growing the FOSS ecosystem. Given our limited bandwidth, we will have scope for working with one or two government agencies that recognize the value of FOSS, and take a collaborative approach to working with us. Our conversations with Telangana and Karnataka indicate that working on FOSS skill development is an area of common interest that we can work on.

While we continue working on growing the community, there is also much work to be done to defend the FOSS community. The FOSS community has been staunchly against software patents but the pro-patents lobby, consisting mostly of MNCs and their lawyers, has been diligently at work pushing the narrative that patents are good for innovation, and will help startups. An example of this thinking is the 161st Parliamentary committee on IPR and the draft National Deep Tech Policy. We are working on challenging such assumptions through our responses to such policies, by engaging directly with policy makers, and by educating opinion leaders on the implications of software patents.

We have had 40+ conversations with startups, businesses, directors of leading academic institutions, think tanks and others, and will continue this outreach. The supportive quotes that we have received from thought leaders are thanks to our proactive outreach on this subject and we will continue this effort. However, this is an uphill task due to the reasons listed below:

  1. Most of these policy documents follow the intellectually lazy assumption that software patents are a good proxy for innovation. There is very little first principles thinking that does a cost-benefit analysis of software patents for India, no understanding of the actual impact of software patents on startups and innovation in India, no understanding of the colorful colonial history of the patenting regime, and no situational awareness of the fact that the FOSS model of collaborative innovation is now the dominant innovation paradigm. Changing mindsets is one of the most difficult tasks in the world and we are doing that one person at a time.
  2. We are up against MNCs, Big Tech and their lawyers, who will earn billions of dollars in royalties and litigation fees if software patents are allowed. These companies also have highly paid, and well staffed policy teams advancing their positions. It is no coincidence that most of the consultations around the draft patent manual and Computer Related Inventions guidelines that we have attended in the past have been dominated by MNCs and their lawyers.
  3. Indian startups and industry have very little awareness of the negative impact of software patents. The End Software Patents website is an initiative to raise awareness but as can be seen from the quotes section, we have support from academia and think tanks but industry support is lagging behind.

History has taught us that if the pro-patents lobby becomes entrenched, it will be very difficult to dislodge. Recent developments also indicate that the FOSS community is coming up against increasing attacks from patent holders. If software patents are allowed in India, protecting the four freedoms of FOSS will become much more expensive and difficult for the FOSS community. Therefore, we expect to spend up to 80 percent of our time on defending the FOSS community against software patents.

How can you help?

If you have made it thus far, thanks for your interest in FOSS United’s Public Policy initiatives. Here are the ways in which you can help:

  1. If you know of academics and industry leaders who can support our End Software Patents campaign, please connect us to them. We can be reached at
  2. If you are an engineer, or a professional with knowledge of software patents, help us review and evaluate software patents.
  3. Help us by writing blog posts for the End Software Patents website.

What I am seeing is “build a voice, collaborate, mentor” but to what ends?

At this point we are just reacting to policy initiatives by the government in what seems like a very passive way of approaching things.

As I said before, we need to come up with our own vision of what good tech policy looks from a FOSS perspective, rather than just react to governments.

Also we have been very active on the anti-patent front (I keep hearing you say “clear and present danger”), but I am yet to see the priority in this. Have there been any patent trolls in India? Yes the US is messed up, but if we think Indian FOSS projects have to think global, then we can’t do away without addressing the elephant in the room, which is the US.

I don’t see any “vision” here. From what I understand, the FOSS community is pro-privacy, anti-surveillance and not sure what is the general feeling on “DPI”. Maybe this conversation needs to go deeper.

Rushabh, thanks for the questions. Keep them coming as they help us clarify our thinking. I agree with a few of your statements, and disagree with others. Before I do that, I want to lay out a realistic picture of where we are currently.

Our biggest strength is that we have many supporters in industry, academia and government. Our biggest weakness is that these supporters are scattered and not organized into a collective voice. Our biggest threat is that our opponents are better resourced and have been around in policy circles for a long time. Our biggest opportunity is the fact that FOSS has become a critical part of India’s IT infrastructure.

On the policy front, the “clear and present danger” is the fact that the demand for allowing software patents in India has been raised by the 161st Parliamentary Committee on IPR, the draft National Deep Tech Startup Policy (NDTSP) and many other forums. The global FOSS community has been staunchly opposed to software patents because they are against the four freedoms of FOSS. The pro-patent lobby seeks every opportunity to convince Indian policy makers to bring in software patents and I have seen their arguments over several years. Five years ago, they said India should enable software patents because it would help Indian startups in the embedded computing sector. That did not work. Three years ago, they said Indian needs software patents to encourage its software products industry. Again, we pushed back against it with help from our friends in academia. The recent argument, echoed by the 161st Report is that we need software patents to enable AI related innovations.

Changing people’s mindset is one of the hardest tasks in the world and we are up against the current orthodox belief that equates patents with innovation. Despite these headwinds, we are slowly making progress. The number of leading academics and think-tanks that are supporting our End Software Patents campaign is an example. In the next few months, we will have many more added to this list. Our submission on the NDTSP was well received by the folks who drafted it. Rahul Sai Poruri and I spoke to them and they found it eye opening. The pro-patent lobby consists of Big Tech and well funded MNCs with well staffed and highly paid policy professionals supported by large industry associations. Compared to them, we are woefully short-staffed and outnumbered by a ratio of 1:100. However, in our favor, we have the fact that some of the largest e-gov projects in India are built on FOSS, and the central government is keen on protecting our digital sovereignty. We have systematically reached out to senior policy makers and captains of industry to build support for our position on software patents. Once the patent lobby gets entrenched, it will be impossible to dislodge, and we can kiss our developer freedoms goodbye as we face a rash of patent lawsuits. We are doing the quiet, patient and unglamorous grunt work that is needed to avoid such a situation. Therefore, I don’t agree with you when you say that, “we are just reacting to policy initiatives by the government in what seems like a very passive way of approaching things.”

I agree with you when you say that, “we should create our own vision on what good tech policy looks from a FOSS perspective,” and welcome constructive, well articulated and pragmatic suggestions in this area. This also flows from our vision for FOSS United, which we have not articulated yet. To me, FOSS is a force for good, a digital commons that has benefited us all enormously. We have highlighted these positive aspects in our submissions to policy makers.

However, FOSS has become like the air we breathe. We take air for granted until the Average Air Quality Index (AQI) drops to perilous levels. A digital commons is something that constantly needs protecting and a good starting point is by helping people realize the value of these commons. We are talking to academics to do a study that highlights the value of FOSS for India. We are also talking to counterparts in Open Source Initiative, Open Forum Europe and the Linux Foundation to compare notes on the methodologies for the same. At some point we need to shift gears from playing a defensive game to playing an aggressive one. That requires time and money. My estimate is that such a study could cost Rs 20-50 lakhs and I am talking to my sources to raise money for the same. A study that I had commissioned IIM Bangalore to do in 2009 while I was at Red Hat found that India can save $1 billion annually by adopting FOSS. I am sure that the number would be much higher if we did such a study today.

At this point in time, our policy efforts are also extremely person dependent because I am a part time consultant with FOSS United. To de-risk this, I try to share as much as possible on the Policy track of the Forum. The FOSS Policy Volunteer program that we just started is another effort to build collective knowledge and mitigate dependence on me. One of the topics that we have discussed in the past is the need to build the next generation of leadership. I hope to see the next generation of FOSS Policy leaders emerge through this volunteer program. At a personal level, I have been involved with software patents and FOSS Policy since 2004 and feel the need to pass the baton on.

Finally, I have seen many organizations emerge in my career and all of them started with a focus on putting the fundamental building blocks in place. Most of them started with a clear understanding of what needs to be done, and not some grand “vision,” a term that I find overhyped and abused extensively. We also have to be extremely pragmatic and focussed about what we should and should not do. As a FOSS organization, I think we should focus on defending developer freedoms and growing the FOSS community in India, instilling the FOSS values of collaboration, community and the shared ownership of knowledge, and contributing back to the global commons of FOSS instead of just being a nation of downloaders. There are many, many organizations focused on privacy, anti-surveillance and other topics. Each of these are massive battles to be fought and while individuals in the FOSS community might be interested in these battles, these are (A) not battles that are core to developer freedoms (B) and not battles that we have the resources to fight. Given the resources we currently have at our disposal, we have to be extremely selective about the battles we pick. I hope that, in the next few years, we have a new generation of FOSS leaders who will carry the ideals of FOSS forward, and that we have build a robust, long lasting institution in FOSS United, that puts India on the global FOSS map.

Seperation of “core developer freedoms” and alienation of user freedoms for lack of resources is a resource allocation problem that is heavily loaded on one side and might not even yeild desired outcomes - even if there are tangible outputs.

What is the F in FOSS United stand for? - For whom?

Srikanth, can you elaborate? I am afraid I did not understand your point at all.

I think what @Srikanth is saying is that there is now a distinction being made between: “core developer freedoms” and “[non-core] user freedoms”. And that this distinction might mirror the similar philosophical distinction between “open source” and “free software”. Wherein the former is only about keeping the software unencumbered (from patent suits, and other legal issues) in building companies (and saving money while doing so) whereas the latter is also about freedoms for “the society as a whole because they promote social solidarity—that is, sharing and cooperation”.

I would not blame anyone for doing what they practically can.

But we do have to remain honest about our politics.

Interestingly, Venkatesh says “orthodox belief that equates patents with innovation”. ChatGPT describes Venkatesh’s beliefs about copyright thus: “align more with a belief in the value of copyright and intellectual property rights, which can be associated with a more traditional or proprietary stance in the context of creative works and content”.

In general, I believe there’s a pro-industry slant in this politics. Is this influencing the call on what is “practical” and what is not is a question that should be honestly introspected and answered by FOSS United.

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It indeed has to be “user freedoms”, where developers are implicitly a subset of “users”. Not just developers, all users–individuals, institutions etc, implicitly so. “Developer freedoms” is a narrow lens @Venkatesh_Hariharan. The phrasing may be ambiguous.

At this point we are just reacting to policy initiatives by the government in what seems like a very passive way of approaching things.

This is a legitimate way of policy engagement globally. Long term technical policy capacity and reacting to what’s happening in society are not mutually exclusive. The net neutrality campaign of 2016 is a great example of a reaction that grew into a movement.

Also we have been very active on the anti-patent front (I keep hearing you say “clear and present danger”), but I am yet to see the priority in this. Have there been any patent trolls in India?

This contradicts your previous statement :slight_smile: Are you suggesting that we wait for patent trolls to start showing up before deciding that software patents are harmful and react?


Assuming we all share the belief F stands for “Free as in free speech, not (just) free beer” - prioritizing “core developer freedoms” because limited resource availability at the cost of disengaging from “divisive topics” on liberty rights (privacy, anti surveillance among others) has significant costs to the vision of building a long lasting institution that puts India on the global FOSS map.

The approach of skipping the “battles” that are too big to fight and looking up for wins (and only focusing on winnable things), looks contradictory to furthering ideals as it seems that only “winning ideals” will survive. This sets a slippery slope of ideals for the next generation of FOSS policy advocates If resources are constraints - they must be listed and we must try to achieve the gap instead of parting ideals (for others). There can always be ‘resource-light’ ways to further ideals and some battles are worthier to be fought and lost than to be skipped.

Assuming I sufficiently expanded on my previous comment - Here is an additional thing that could adds-on increasing both user and developer rights.

I find “FOSS Usage in Government / Adopting FOSS in government” as a narrower win (yes, less taxpayer money spent on proprietary licenses, but can it be much more?) for FOSS when bulk of government systems are closed. To further FOSS ideals, all public facing digital systems for sovereign functions of state (Tax administration, currency, e-governance systems, “DPI” ) must be under FOSS license.

The letter to NPCI is a great start, can we also say write a letter to RBI, UIDAI, CBDT, GSTN (among others) making the same / similar request? At some level - this will be similar to Public Money, Public Code campaign in EU, but the realms need to be localized given how DPIs are financed using philanthro-capital or how data is fueling investments into artificially cross-subsidizing public expenditure into building the systems and so on. This could be one way to increase both user and developer rights.

Are these impractical - This greatly depends on the political belief systems / end-goal needs.

Some people (in positions of power) close the door for adversarial interactions and only are open for “constructive” / buzzword things like innovation, development etc as against expanding user rights that takes away power from them - and will have impact on our ability to collaborate with them.

Can we really further FOSS - if we avoid adversarial interactions / Would such collaborations (or lack of them) be detrimental to further FOSS? These are trade-offs that need to be made in “picking the battles” and framework that lets larger community deliberate and decide on these - can help ease the resource allocation problem - given that resources will always be limited and there will always be many battles to fight for ideals.

PS : Downloading is easiest way to access / cherish shared ownership of knowledge and we can avoid self-shaming ourselves on being a nation of downloaders.

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Exactly my thoughts. A focus around an aspirational goal like “public money, public code” should be the core thrust of a FOSS policy. Beyond writing letters, we could use a rights based framework that says that all code deployed in tax funded institutions should be public.

At some level, I am not a big fan of industrial policy. It will lead to more open washing, pushing of substandard code, but it would still be a better position to have. But keeping a standard that is very high, will lead to probably a lot more awareness in the government bureaucracy than trying to build relationships with bureaucrats who keep changing often.

Any policy thrust must be accompanied by some sort of public campaign. Say 5000 of us use our social handles to push for “Public money, public code” and maybe we can organise an in-person demonstration to that effect, it can create a lot more impact.

Agree. This is exactly why we need to have this discussion, if we all align with our limited pool of time / money, we can be a lot more impactful. I am a strong advocate of going bottomups up - getting the community sensitised rather than working with bureaucrats, academics and think-tanks. This how things should work in a democracy. Ability to access “powerful” people should not be the default way of influencing public policy. The “public” has to be sensitised as well.

Absolutely. It’d be amazing if we could do that! Where’s the human capacity though? Please feel free to volunteer! We need way more policy-aware voices from the tech community to take interest and participate. The early experiment of the tech-policy scholarship which is still running, its sole goal is to enable this. @rahulporuri got involved via that.

The pace at which tech laws, policies, and regulations are coming out in India, and the disproportionately tiny amount of participation (just about non-zero) from what is a massive tech community, is beyond scary. I’ve said the same thing in multiple places already: Technology+Policy course scholarship for FOSS devs

There’s this happening in EU, and it’s only a matter of time before stuff like this starts happening everywhere. If something like this comes through, the concept of freedoms in FOSS goes out of the window.

However, if applied as written, the bill could make authors of free and open source (FOSS) projects legally and financially responsible for how their projects are used within others’ commercial projects. This is a problem since Open Source software is, by definition, distributed “as is,” with no guarantees, thus relieving authors of any liability.

Stuff like this and numerous other things (not just in India, globally) strongly indicate that tech/FOSS isn’t going to be just about repositories, code, and sharing anymore. It’s going to be increasingly legislative (at the hands of bureaucrats and not technical people). The golden era of unhindered software freedoms and liberties, we have to wonder how long it’s going to last.

Techies need to be aware of policy and legislation and they need to actively participate and engage rather than sleep walk. There have to be strong, collective, informed, and technical voices from the community that engage with tech policy and law making.


Good to see a vibrant discussion here. I am working on the response to the Kerala IT Policy today. Will reply in detail to the points raised here by tomorrow.

Software patent related work needs a reasonable amount of work. Venky has pointed out that we have reasonable laws on paper (software patents “per se” clause being a hurdle still in some ways). Ensuring that the on-ground implementation doesn’t diverge from the law is what needs the elbow grease.

New govt tenders largely require usage of FOSS software, but don’t rule out reuse of proprietary components. Also:

  1. Any maintenance of FOSS dependencies is not expected to be up-streamed
  2. Any additional software developed on top of FOSS isn’t mandated to be open sourced. However, the govt seems to be asking for ownership rights in new projects to the extent possible.

To implement “Public Money, Public Code” in its entirety, the govt would need to shun proprietary software (of all types) completely…

Making a broad based campaign for “Public Money, Public Code” won’t be easy. The primary problem here is inspiring a lot of people to participate in something that doesn’t impact them directly. Hopefully this can be achieved to some extent in, say, Kerala?

+1. At a discussion in Takshashila, I asked a question about DPI and Open Source. Apparently, the word “DPI” (applied to things such as UPI, Adhaar etc) was chosen to make a distinction from “DPG”, which by definition would mean open source. That said, there seems to be a push to (a) promote open sourcing DPIs (b) trying to evolve DPIs as open standards.

FOSS projects won’t be responsible as they aren’t “products with digital elements” (as defined in the bill). Whoever selling them as products will be responsible. This is my best reading of the bill as of now.

The point is not our individual interpretation of a tiny snippet of a bill proposed in the EU. The point is that such bills are appearing in increasing frequency and that a large number of technical people should be taking interest, paying attention, and actually engaging.

The overall point is well taken. I wasn’t thinking about this prior to my recent submission to the broadcasting policy. Ours was among the few submissions made by individuals - rest were all by industry bodies and associations. The faculty also pointed out that this was low involvement . This is generally true for most TRAI consultations (perhaps others as well), with the net neutrality campaign being one of the exceptions.

Lack of involvement of tech people in policy is a broader issue as well that needs be to be addressed in various forums. @rahulporuri can we brainstorm about this in a meeting with GCPP alumni ?

Loved all the detailed comments. Let me try and respond to them here.

I agree that we should focus on “user freedoms” and not just “developer freedoms.” The “developer freedoms” issue has been on top of my mind due to all the missives we recently sent out around software patents and that crept into this document. Will amend that.

@asd Interesting usage of ChatGPT but I disagree with its analysis of my post. My viewpoints on software patents have been expressed numerous times. My old blog at has many examples of the same. On copyrights, the context of our earlier discussion was around AI models having unfettered access to our data and copyrights are one of the few means by which one can protect our data from such unfettered access. Having said that, I have done way more work around software patents than copyrights and have been reading up Stallman’s views on copyright, which offer a perspective different to the one I hold currently. I need to reflect more on those views.

I also don’t see what is “pro-industry” about my stance, but maybe that is my blind spot. Do expand on that comment. Happy to do a call too, if that works better for you.

Also, I thought that I had addressed the sharing and cooperation aspects when I wrote about the , “FOSS values of collaboration, community and the shared ownership of knowledge, and contributing back to the global commons of FOSS?”

@Srikanth The point on user freedoms is well accepted and no one is trying to take short-cuts here. Nor are we looking for “winnable battles” but looking at the essential battles that we need to fight as part of the FOSS community. In the past, these battles have ranged from the fight against Microsoft’s OOXML, the fight to get the open standards and open source policies approved by the Government of India, and the ongoing fight against software patents. In these battles we have gone up against industry leaders like Narayana Murthy who sided with proprietary software vendors, and against some of the most powerful industry associations in India. However, as a matter of policy, we used conflict as a last resort, when all other forms of persuasion failed.

A simple question here is – If we do not fight the software patents fight, who else will? If there are a few other organizations willing to take up this fight, we could look at other freeing up capacity to fight other battles.

I agree with you 100% when you say, “To further FOSS ideals, all public facing digital systems for sovereign functions of state (Tax administration, currency, e-governance systems, “DPI” ) must be under FOSS license.” If there is volunteer enthusiasm, we can reach out to RBI, UIDAI, CBDT, GSTN and others, and we can put together an outreach plan for the same.

On the “nation of downloaders” language, I agree it is harsh. I first heard this term 20 years ago from an eminent academic and the harsh truth is that even today we do not have too many global FOSS projects to our credit despite being the third largest community on GitHub. However, it may be better to change this language to read something on the lines of “building a culture of contributing back to the global FOSS commons.”

@rushabh I agree with the first part of your statement, “I am a strong advocate of going bottomups up - getting the community sensitised rather than working with bureaucrats, academics and think-tanks.” However, this need not be a binary, either/or situation. In fact a vibrant engagement with both the community as well as policy makers and influencers (bureaucrats, academics, politicians, think-tanks) can be mutually reinforcing and lead to better, FOSS friendly outcomes.

@knadh I agree with you on this 100% and will work on building a cadre of volunteers actively engaged in these issues.