Technology companies widely use open source software (“OSS”), which carries with it many potential benefits. It can reduce the time and cost of development, and, to the extent that the code has been vetted by numerous other developers, may contain fewer bugs. OSS can also reduce dependency upon third party vendors and associated pricing risks.
In the healthcare space in particular, OSS has been cited as one potential way to reduce the cost of developing and delivering digital care solutions, which in turn may mean improved access to or quality of treatment for underserved populations. And indeed, OSS is frequently used in healthcare IT. In fact, the EHR system for veterans, VistA, is available as open source code and now deployed by a range of healthcare organizations.
Of course, as with any third party technology, when incorporating OSS into a technology, it is important to carefully consider the soundness and security of the OSS code, as well as the legal terms on which the code is made available. Below we highlight some key considerations for digital health ventures that either currently do or wish to use OSS for their technology: (1) security, (2) how license terms may impact the ability to commercialize the technology, and (3) how the use of OSS may impact corporate transactions, such as mergers and acquisitions.