Five IT companies—including giants IBM, Nokia and Samsung—and the OSGi Alliance announced July 26 that they will pledge royalty-free access to patents they own in an effort to speed the adoption of OSGi standards and Java-based networking software worldwide.
The two other companies that pledged free patent access are Java middleware vendor Gatespace Telematics of Göteborg, Sweden, and ProSyst Software of Cologne, Germany, a provider of embedded Java and OSGi-compliant software.
Sun Microsystems, in Santa Clara, Calif., owner of the Java franchise and organizer of the Java Community Process, did not participate in the July 26 announcement, although it has been an OSGi member from the beginning.
Specifically, the six organizations intend to spur innovation among software developers by pledging free access to any of their patents necessary for the implementation of OSGi Service Platform Release 4.
The action formally extends free access to these patents to the general public to encourage use of the Service Platform. Previously, such access was granted only to full OSGi members.
The Service Platform provides a component-based environment for developers and standardized ways to build Java-based software. Adding an OSGi Service Platform to a networked device (embedded or in servers) enables users to manage the life cycle of the software components in the device from anywhere in the network “on the fly”—without disrupting the operation of a device.
The Goal: Standards Implementation
Whats really the goal is standards implementation, according to Stan Moyer of Telcordia Technologies, in Piscataway, N.J., and president of the OSGi Alliance, an open standards organization that helps foster development of new services and applications for networked devices.
“If we all can agree on best-practice methods of building this complicated software, we will save time and effort at every step in the process,” Moyer said. “Working together, well help everyone build on the OSGi Service Platform in ways that best benefit the public. The results will be open and enhanced interoperability and compatibility that empowers organizations to compete on the superiority and ingenuity of their offerings.”
Each company that made the pledge brings a lot to the table, said Bob Sutor, IBMs vice president of standards and open source.
“Nokia and Samsung are really interested in applying these standards in their devices, and they bring that great expertise,” Sutor said. “IBM certainly has a lot to offer, of course—we gave about 500 patents to the open-source community in 2005. Gatespace and ProSyst have a lot of great patents.”
Gatespace provides and uses the OSGi platform as the key component in solutions for telematics, mobile, residential and industrial markets. ProSyst makes OSGi-based software for client- and server-side usage; many of its ready-to-use and custom services and applications are deployed by Fortune 100 companies, including Siemens, Telefónica and Hewlett-Packard.
Telematics—software used in motor vehicles for geopositioning and security purposes—is a burgeoning market, Sutor said.
“The cycle for that kind of software is really long,” Sutor said. “It might be two or three years before it actually gets into a car. A lot can happen during that time [in new innovations]. So it makes sense that the software created for it is built in standard modules that can be replaced or upgraded easily, so it all doesnt have to be completely ripped out if something more advanced comes along.”
Sutor said one example of an OSGi-enabled project internal to IBM involves a homemade instant messaging client called Sametime 7.5.
“Some developers at IBM decided they could design a better IM client, so they came up with Sametime, which is really state of the art,” Sutor said. “It is very secure and has some really cool features you wont find in standard IM clients.”
Free patent pledges are easier for larger vendors to make than smaller companies, and IBMs leadership in patents (it has been at the head of the IT patent approval parade for over a decade) gives the company a lot of leeway for such efforts, said analyst Charles King of Pund-IT, in Hayward, Calif.
“But the OSGi announcement isnt an IBM-only show; Nokia, Samsung, Gatespace and ProSyst all have some interesting IP to share,” King said.
“What I really think is going on here is an effort to broaden access to the aims and benefits of OSGi by publicly opening access to IP that was previously available only to group members. One result: Smaller companies that work in areas related to OSGi Service Platform 4 should benefit by being able to access free IP from the big guys. Another result: the broader adoption of OSGi standards for Java development.”
How this new incentive will be viewed and used really depends on the individual vendor and developer, King said.
“Many vendors use IP as a carrot to encourage developers efforts, while others use it as a revenue generator,” he said. “What makes this announcement interesting is the concept of vendors using IP as a lever to tip developers toward cost-effective OSGi methodologies.”
Founded in March 1999, the OSGi Alliance (formerly known as the Open Services Gateway initiative) in San Ramon, Calif., the organization serves as a clearinghouse for a collaborative ecosystem of service providers, developers, manufacturers and consumers. It has 34 member companies and about 300 user groups scattered around the world, an alliance spokesman said.
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