The Open Source Development Labs has announced a new initiative that will bring together information for open source developers about patents that have been pledged by vendors to the open source community.
The OSDL patent commons project will provide a central location where software patents and information on patent pledges will be housed to make it easier for developers and the open source industry to identify pledged patents.
The project is also designed to give vendors and individual patent holders confidence that the right to enforce patents will be administered by an organization dedicated to accelerating the use of open source software, according to the not-for-profit OSDL.
2005 has seen a number of calls from vendors for the creation of a patent commons, notably from Linux distributor Red Hat Inc, as well as IBM Corp which in January pledged open access to 500 US patents and their global equivalents. IBM’s pledge related to any individual, community, or company working on or using software covered by an Open Source Initiative license, and while other vendors have also pledged their patents to the open source community, the fine print of those pledges also suggests the need for an independent patent library.
For example, in May, Nokia Corp committed not to assert any of its current patents against any existing Linux kernels, although it reserved the right to exclude future patents from the commitment.
Meanwhile, in January, Sun Microsystems Inc donated 1,672 patents related to operating systems to its Community Development and Distribution License community, but not other free or open source software.
Novell Inc, by contrast, vowed in October 2004 to use its patent portfolio to protect itself against claims made against the Linux kernel or open source programs included in Novell’s offerings.
Systems management firm Computer Associates International Inc has also confirmed that it intends to pledge a number of its patents to the open source community to remove any perceived threat against the Linux operating system, but is yet to detail the commitment.
Plans for the OSDL patent commons are still in the planning stages, but the organization said it plans to set up a library and database to aggregate details of patent pledges as well as indemnification programs offered by vendors, as well as a collection of software patents and patent licenses held for the benefit of the open source community.
European anti-patent campaigner Florian Mueller was cautious about the announcement, however, noting that it does not ensure that patents can be used defensively to protect open source developments. It will only be a true protective shield if they gather patents that they can use to countersue the enemies of open source. The software patent game is like the Cold War: The only thing that protects you is the concept of mutually assured destruction, he warned.