From flying saucers to open sourcers

As Lloyd's gears up to indemnify against potential open source intellectual-property infringement, it's time to consider how big the risk really is

Sir Cosmo Ffyffe stared out of the boardroom window, and sighed.

"In thirty years at the helm of Eusuchia Insurance, I've never known a time like it."

"Sir?" Emily looked up from her shorthand pad. Sir Cosmo was a stickler for tradition. He'd caught her with a pocket calculator once, and it'd had been quill pens for a month.

"Look out there, in the sky. What do you see?"

"Nothing, sir."

"Nothing. And neither does anyone else. UFO sightings are down across the board. The X Files have finished, Star Trek's finished and Dr Who has become an absurdist rom-com set in Cardiff. You know what that means?"

Oh, Lord, he was off on one. "No, sir?"

"Our alien abduction policy is no longer boldy going. Even David Icke has cancelled. We need to find a new source of paranoid pseudoscience, and we need to find it fast. But where?"

Emily frowned. "How about SCO, sir?"

"SCO? Is that like UFO? Incomprehensible aliens threatening Earth from an unknowably strange desert planet?"

"Utah, sir, but otherwise correct. The SCOvians said that everyone had stolen their secret code and hidden it in half the world's computers, and that if everyone didn't cough up they'd be hit with deadly legal rays."

"Sounds nasty." Sir Cosmo stroked his beard. "We don't want to be on the end of a lot of lawyers' bills, Emily."

"No, sir, that's the strange bit. SCO went to court, but all the secret code seems to have vanished. All a bit of a farce, really. But everyone's talking about it."

"Nobody would believe such a farrago!"

"You'd think not. But you know how out of touch some upper management are about technicalities." Sir Cosmo gave Emily a hard look, but said nothing. "One sniff of a legal problem and they'll be covering their, er, options with an open chequebook."

"And there's no danger that these lawyers will actually attack?"

"If they do, sir," she said smoothly, "they'll be going after the people who originally wrote the software. Not anyone who might be tempted to take out an alien abduction — sorry, sir, IP infringement — policy."

"But if we start insuring against this, everyone will realise there's no danger."

"It's good enough for Lloyd's, sir. We could do the same. That's if they haven't patented the idea."

The office filled with a strange, unearthly sound. Sir Cosmo was laughing.

"Patent a business idea? Why, Emily, you'll be telling me you believe in flying saucers next!"

In the skies above Eusuchia Insurance, a tiny glowing object hovered for a second then sped off, sparkling with new urgency, across the Atlantic towards Redmond.