Many fully fledges distros have drawn praise for bringing something new to the linux arena, while relying on the solid foundation of a mother distro, Mint, for example, is based on Ubuntu which is based on Debian. Sabayon is based on Gentoo; PCLinuxOS on Mandrivia so on and so forth.
There has been much comment in the community about these new distros taking the mother distros work, adding to it and pushing out releases without passing those additions back to the mother distro. In many ways this is still happening, new distros come out each and every day which is a serious misallocation of reasources, I mean seriously how many different variants do you need? Devleopers will add a few packages change the wallpaper and claim it’s a new distro, which its not, sorry, Yes im talking to you Ubuntu scientology edition et al.
What I see is a worrying trend, that rather than becoming package maintainers for upstream packages developers often create small personal repos, helped in part by PPAs / overlay overuse, which means that effort gets divided and there are often duplicate packages, an older version in the main tree with its own maintainer and the newer version with more features and bug fixes in some obscure repository somewhere with a different maintainer.
There were claims earlier in its history that Ubuntu was doing similar, adding custom patches and only maintaining a small subset of the overall tree, while not offering those changes upstream. Nowadays the communication is better and the Debian developers seem relatively positive about Ubuntu.
Obviously we will never see the kinds of contributions that Redhat or Novell bring to linux and opensource from Ubuntu / Canocal as they have said they are not interested in doing it publically, but do the hundreds of small fixes as in their “papecuts” marketing gimmick make their way upstream?
A similar thing with Sabayon was claimed in the early days there seemed to be a bit of hostility from certain members of the Gentoo community about what Sabayon was doing. This situation has improved dramatically in recent months, communication with upstream has improved, both reporting bugs and providing patches, Gentoo devs are often seen hanging around on sabayon channels and vice versa. Lxnay, the lead developer for Sabayon is now an official Gentoo developer. Joost the Entropy maintainer is working closely with both the KDE and Gnome herds to iron out issues with the latest release of both desktop environments.
The Sabayon team always desired to be working closer to upstream with the belief that together we are stronger, and that by having a more desktop and user focused Gentoo it would improve the Gentoo experience for a lot of users, and I think that extends to all of open source in general, if we all worked together in a harmonious way we could do anything, but its open source, so it will never happen, the status quo of its greatest strength and greatest weakness.