A verbal assurance by IBM Corp not to cash-in on patents that it owns inside the Linux kernel has been dismissed as inadequate by one leading Linux guru.
Author, commentator and campaigner Bruce Perens said yesterday a written commitment from IBM would provide greater security, because a growing movement towards legalized patent protection in software in different countries meant IBM could renege on its verbal commitment in order to monetize its patent portfolio.
IBM has a vast portfolio of software patents and has been identified, along with other Linux-friendly and not-so friendly organizations including Microsoft Corp, as owning a number of patents in the Linux kernel.
An Open Source Risk Management (OSRM) study claims a third of the 287 patents in the kernel are owned by Linux-friendly companies while 10% are owned by Microsoft.
One of the things that’s concerned us greatly has been our friends – what are our patent friends going to do when the patent storm begins, Perens said, noting IBM is too large an organization to have a single view on one issue like this.
Perens, an OSRM board member, believes companies using or providing Linux software and services will fall victim to patent actions once legislation, such as Europe’s software patent directive, finally come into force.
He believes patent holders, notably Microsoft, are only holding off action to avoid creating adverse publicity and waiting until a more comprehensive global network of patent regulation exists.
I want to know Linux and open source developers are safe from IBM’s patents. I would like a signed document to that effect, because managements change and the goals of corporations change, Perens said.
Perens was responding to IBM senior vice president of technology and manufacturing Nick Donofrio’s earlier LinuxWorld keynote speech, where he said IBM would not assert patents covering technologies inside the Linux kernel unless we are forced to defend ourselves.
Donofrio called on others to make a similar pledge adding the IT community must establish procedures to avoid patent claims and resolve them quickly when they arise.