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November 14, 2005

OSDL launches Open Source Patent Commons library

The Open Source Development Labs is to officially launch its Patent Commons Project web site, providing a single source of information on patents pledged to the open source community.

By CBR Staff Writer

Plans for the Patent Commons were revealed in August as the non-profit Linux and open source advocacy group vowed to make it easier for developers and the open source industry to identify patents that have been pledged to the open source community.

The new site, www.patentcommons.org, is a searchable database of more than 500 patents that have been pledged to date from vendors including IBM, Intel, Red Hat, Sun Microsystems, Computer Associates, and Novell.

While the patents have already been pledged to the open source community with various restrictions over the course of 2005, the new site brings information on them together in one place to save developers the trouble of performing their own patent pledge research.

It became obvious that if this was going to be a real launching point for innovation, it had to be simple and easy to use, OSDL’s CEO, Stuart Cohen, told ComputerWire. We do think there’s going to be more and more of that behavior.

2005 has seen a number of calls from vendors for the creation of a patent commons, notably from Linux distributor Red Hat, as well as IBM, 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 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.

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Meanwhile, in January, Sun Microsystems 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, 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.

Cohen said the patentcommons.org site would not offer specific advice about the various patent pledges, but provide a single resource for information. We are not providing legal advice, he said. We’re not translating what the pledges mean. We’re not going to put our opinion on it.

The organization is also not putting forward an opinion on the larger debates surrounding software patents in the US and Europe. If making these patents available in a single library accelerates the use of open source software and spurs innovation… separate and distinct from that is the whole patent reform issue, said Cohen.

While the OSDL is not going to get involved directly in the growing debate over software patents, it will be working with Open Invention Network, a new business formed last week with funding from IBM, Red Hat, Novell, Sony, and Royal Philips Electronics, to acquire patents and offer them royalty-free to Linux supporters.

While we may own a small number of patents, our commons is primarily an area where patents will be pledged, said Cohen There’ll be a very close working relationship [with Open Invention Network]. It’s very compatible with what we are doing.

One difference, Cohen noted, is that while the Open Invention Network is focused specifically on Linux, Patent Commons is a broader effort that would cover all open source-related pledges and complement vendor-led projects such as Red Hat’s Fedora Foundation.

Patentcommons.org already has the support of Red Hat, along with IBM, Novell, Sun, Intel, and CA, and has issued an open invite to other IT vendors, organizations and individuals. We hope that there are tens and hundreds more companies that will pledge patents to open source in the future, said Cohen.

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