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Red Hat Expands Legal Firepower

It's a sign of the times when a Linux vendor issues an announcement about the hiring of legal talent.

Red Hat (NYSE:RHT) today announced that it had hired Rob Tiller as vice president and assistant general counsel, and Richard Fontana, as open source licensing and patent counsel.

The hires could be a sign that the Linux vendor is gearing up for intellectual-property challenges ahead.

Tiller was formerly a partner at Helms, Mulliss and Wicker, where he focused on intellectual property and technology litigation. In his new role at Red Hat, Tiller will handle open source licensing, patent, copyright and trademark law issues.

Meanwhile, Fontana is well known in the open source community for his involvement with the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC). At SFLC Fontana represented the Free Software Foundation (FSF) in the process leading up to the new version of GNU General Public License 3 (GPLv3), released last year.

Fontana will be working at Red Hat as an open source community liaison on licensing matters as well as patent-related issues.

In response to a question about why Red Hat is hiring the two legal experts now, Tiller noted that it's about responsibility.

"We at Red Hat, along with the open source community, are leading a fundamental change in the way that people innovate," Tiller commented in an e-mail to InternetNews.com.

"We are also helping to pave the way for open standards and changes in the IP regime needed for the future. We feel a responsibility to lead these efforts and to encourage projects that support, for example, open, multivendor standards, such as ODF."

With Fontana's extensive experience with GPLv3, his hiring might signal a desire by Red Hat to adopt GPLv3 broadly.

That's not necessarily the case, however.

"Red Hat's decision to hire Mr. Fontana reflects his broad range of experience in issues surrounding open source licensing and related intellectual-property matters," Tiller commented.

Red Hat faces a number of current legal challenges. Microsoft continues to wave its patent stick as it argues that open source somehow Red Hat has an "obligation to pay up".

Microsoft isn't the only patent threat facing Red Hat either. Patent-holding firm IP Innovation has also alleged that Red Hat somehow infringed on intellectual property.