WPS and SAS Lawsuit – the First Findings From the High Court of London

Now that we’ve heard the courts response to SAS Institute’s charges against World Programming Limited (WPL) of improperly creating an interpreter of the language of SAS, I hope a lot of companies and language developers sit back and understand what has just happened and what was just won. It has some real world ramifications and long term issues that will impact these organizations and developers who use either of these products. Finally… there’s competition in the market for companies and other organizations that use the language of SAS.

Why did SAS decide to pursue a legal challenge to World Programming? I firmly believe it’s because they were feeling the shock of lost sales and renewals to WPL. The legal challenge was, in part, an attempt to slow down WPS sales by introducing fear and uncertainty in the market place. This worked to a degree as some companies decided to wait until the court decision was announced before deciding to go forward with a WPS purchase. To reinforce that belief, it’s also my understanding that SAS attempted to push back the trial date time-and-time again to the end of the year. That was to no avail. I also doubt the reason for delaying the case was because the legal staff at the Institute and their hired London Attorney’s were unprepared to push forward with the suit. Seriously, how can you file a suit and not have the evidence ready and at hand?

One other point I want to mention. It looks to me like SAS was caught off guard by the World Programming Press Release and SAS was frantic to issue a release of their own in an attempt to save face. When they did issue a release, they didn’t state anything in Section 332 of the Courts Findings that the court found in favor of World Programming. It’s my opinion that this was not an oversight but was disingenuous and purposefully misleading. Again, the reason could very well be to try to keep the customer community in a state of confusion.

Interestingly, in the mind of many companies and individuals, the idea that SAS decided to sue WPL was an indication that the WPS software has gotten pretty darn good. The fear that WPS was becoming more feature rich and running on all the popular platforms (Mac, Linux, SUN, SPARC, z/Linux, AIX, Windows, and z/OS) had to be a great cause of concern at the Institute. Actually, some of the calls I received from companies interested in WPS learned about the product because SAS Institute issued a press release which was published in numerous trade papers back in November of 2009.

Another question many people have asked is “Why did SAS sue WPL in the UK?” I imagine it’s because WPL has no corporate presence in the United States. Hence, they were probably forced to go to court in London. Also, I’ve heard that SAS realizes as much as 40% of its revenues from the EU. WPL being across the pond has much more branding and name awareness in the EU than in the US so that may have been another reason to go to court in the UK.

So what about the decision? First, the court’s decision is that… it is legal to create a language interpreter based on published documentation and that the WPS software is legitimate (See Section 332. Part iv).

On the assumption that Pumfrey J’s interpretation of Article 1(2) of the Software Directive was correct, WPL has not infringed SAS Institute’s copyrights in the SAS Components by producing WPS (see paragraphs 245-250 above).

Reading through the courts decision, I don’t see that there is an injunction and WPS is free to continue in selling their interpreter. The court only agreed with the SAS claim that there was copyright infringement in a single WPS manual. I noticed that manual has been taken down and I assume is being rewritten.

I’m sure there are many legal specifics around the charges, it was an interesting claim that they laid forth. I like the way a friend of mine argued how difficult it is for SAS to try to argue the charges. He stated, “Just imagine if you read a book about butterflies, and because you read that book, the author claims that you cannot write a book about butterflies.”

Companies

What is the impact? It means that there’s literally thousands of companies who have not been able to justify the cost of products put forth by SAS who will now be able to leverage the language. As a reseller, the calls I receive usually start with a description of why they are looking to move away from SAS products or have been provided a quote that was too expensive for them. These are first time licensees as well as big name Fortune 100 companies. The list of organizations that license WPS truly runs the gamut of organizations who are frustrated with the pricing and the sales practices of the Institute.

Developers

For the SAS language developer working in a corporate setting, this decision possibly means more job security for many of you. Since the cost of WPS is so reasonable compared to SAS, many smaller companies can afford to bring on the language. It also means that due to the economy, companies who are being forced to aggressively control costs have a choice now to move their processing to a WPS based solution as a way of controlling licensing cost and not terminating developers.

The good news is that you can continue to leverage your training and skill sets using WPS as it relates to your SAS experience. It also means more applications on a variety of systems can be written using WPS because the cost is typically one-fifth to one-fourth the cost of SAS on a server.

Also, it’s worth noting that WPS runs natively on Mac OS X and z/Linux. Neither of these OS platforms are currently supported by SAS. I believe SAS stopped developing for Mac back with v6.2.

Consultants

For consultants, it means a new market area to apply your trade and practice. At one time I was a SAS Quality Partner and it became obvious to me (as well as to many other QP’s) that our customers were not looking to embrace SAS products any longer but instead, were looking at ways to lower cost by either dropping certain products or moving the processing to smaller and more affordable platforms. WPS will now provide consultants with a vehicle to move their consulting in directions where their training and expertise can still be used without loss or change of rates.

Also, acquiring SAS Software as a consultant is a pricey proposition. The Institute offers numerous types of consulting relationships and the cost of such associations starts at $3,000 or so. A WPS license currently costs a consultant less than one-third that much.

Going Forward

Going forward, I see nothing but great possibilities for WPL and the WPS product. I’ve kicked around scenario’s with other consultants regarding how SAS may change their approach now that WPS is a viable, legitimate and legal market choice. Will SAS lower their prices to match WPS? We all highly doubt it. Since SAS is so focused on Vertical Market Applications, will they lose interest in the foundation products and leave that market to WPS? The only way I can see that happening is if enough customers abandon SAS on those product lines. Will World Programming start to innovate by creating their own PROCS or product lines? I can’t imagine that’s not in the cards but we’ll have to see how these hands get played out.

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