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Thursday, 13 January 2005

OPEN SESAME ... BIG BLUE GETS FRIENDLY


The IPKat's friend Jordgubbar has sent him some thoughts on a recent announcement by IBM, the nature of which is self-explanatory:

"BBC News reported on Monday that IBM intends to license 500 of its US software patents on a royalty-free basis so that they can be used by the open source development community. IBM has described the step as a "new era" in the management of its patent portfolio and has indicated that further patents would be made more freely available in future. The patents include software for a range of functions, including text recognition and database management (a full list is available here).

Announcing the pledge, Dr John E. Kelly of IBM said that "True innovation leadership is about more than just the numbers of patents granted". The pledge applies to any individual, community, or company working on or using software that meets the Open Source Initiative definition of open source software. According to US Patent and Trademark Office, IBM was granted more US patents than any other company for the twelfth consecutive year. IBM remains the only company to receive more than 2,000 patents in one year. Indeed, the New York Times reports that IBM was granted 3,248 US patents in 2004. With reportedly more than 40,000 patents in its portfolio, IBM has not stated any intention to step down its filing activities, and since it intends to maintain the 500 "released" patents, the move is unlikely to make a dent (however small) in its portfolio maintenance costs. The position would obviously be different if IBM announced an intention to publish previously unpublished software inventions.

IBM's new logo?

Cautiously welcoming the move, it seems that the open source community is not altogether appeased by IBM's gesture (e.g. see here). Since IBM has not given up the notion of proprietary rights in software (a premise of open source) and the move is unlikely to make any significant cost impact, what is therefore meant by the "new era" in portfolio management remains unclear."

The IPKat wonders how many of his readers agree. Please post a comment and let him know.

35 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Giving up the notion of proprietary rights in software" is a "premise for Open Source"?

I don't agree with that.

The GPL and all other Open Source licenses are firmly based on the "notion of proprietary" copyright protection.

Maybe the author wanted to say "giving up on the notion of patents". That would actually make sense.

As for the IBM move, 500 out of 40.000 is 12.5 percent, leaving the potential threat of most other IBM software patents unchanged. However, it is a step in the right direction, even if it is maybe a small one.

Karl-Friedrich Lenz

Anonymous said...

Before reading the above comment, I was also going to disagree that Open Source is predicated on giving up proprietory rights. The movement in fact is based on the idea that, in return for a royalty-free licence in respect of other people's rights, you also grant a royalty-free licence of your rights to others.
The value or otherwise of IBM's action surely depends critically on the subject-matter of the 500 patents concerned. I have seen no analysis of this.
Darren Smyth

Anonymous said...

Another problem is that this move from IBM does not change anything for closed source SMEs. They don't have means to acquire a significant portfolio of software patents for bartering either. Add in the fact that IBM keeps lobbying feverishly to get the software patents directive through in Europe, and it's not surprising the FFII and nosoftwarepatents.com aren't particularly impressed by IBM's move.

Anonymous said...

IBM is still promoting the use of weapons in their own country, and they try to push the same policy in Europe. Do you trust IBM? Will you trust IBM in 10 years? in 20 years? Should I rely on their patents for my OSS product? My answer is: of course not.

Anonymous said...

Since you asked, here's an entry on my own blog on the matter. It digresses halfway through, because blogs have to do that.

In case you don't want to click through: this is purely PR, and changes nothing for the OSS community or IBM.

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