It's the second time for Cisco.
Back in 2003 the chip supplier for its Linksys routers, Broadcom, admitted to using GPL code in its firmware. Cisco eventually released an open source version of its 802.11 router and it was enhanced by amateurs into a "super-router."
This time it's even more embarrassing. The product in question is the WIP-300 SIP phone, alias the Cisco "iPhone" (right). Cisco is suing Apple over the trademark, and the story about its own IP violations was released specifically because of the lawsuit, to embarrass the company.
So what's the deal here? I have a theory.
This is a tale of two companies.
Linksys, which Cisco acquired in 2003, is a consumer-products outfit that sells gear for open standards, like 802.11. It's plugged-in to Chinese sources who like open source code. It gives them control of their designs, with no legal worries.
Cisco, the parent company, has become wedded to phone companies like AT&T, and cellular companies (like AT&T) who prefer a proprietary approach. Security is their main concern, but so is control over Internet bits and what those bits do. Open source, which can be seen, is considered anathema.
The easy answer here would be for Cisco to spin-off Linksys. But that would mean sacrificing growth and wedding the company further to phone companies. Look at what they did for Lucent, Nortel and Siemens back in the day. Wall Street wouldn't buy that story.
Cisco is caught between the rock of its biggest customers and the hard place of a market that demands open source. So its Linksys programmers use just a little, treating it like the powerful economic drug it is. Then they wait to get busted.
Cisco now faces hard choices. It either tells its best customers that open source is real, and risk their seeking other suppliers, or it passes on the future of the Internet industry. Or it waits for the next GPL "scandal" to erupt, with an army of coders on its tail.
I know what I'd do. What would you do? And what do you think Cisco CEO John Chambers will do?