The Open Source Development Labs announced Tuesday the launch of an online patent commons reference library, the Patent Commons Project.
The new site hosts searchable databases containing more than 500 patents pledged to date and more than a dozen technical standards supported by patent pledges and covenants. The library is freely available. Anyone can use it to view information about open-source-friendly patents and technology pledges.
The Patent Commons Web site will catalog existing patent commitments from companies and individuals who wish to retain ownership of their patents, and will provide information about different types of pledges and covenants and how they work.
“The OSDL Patent Commons Project is an important first step in helping customers, vendors and the development community understand the different commitments that have been made and how they work to reduce the chances of patent litigation,” said Stuart Cohen, the OSDLs CEO, in a statement.
The Patent Commons Project has the support of many industry leaders, including CA, IBM, Intel Corp., Novell Inc., Red Hat Inc. and Sun Microsystems Inc. The OSDL also welcomes other IT vendors, corporations, organizations, government agencies and individuals to join in its efforts.
“OSDL provides a natural point of entry to the commons. We are confident that the project will serve the needs of developers and customers by providing fair, objective and easily accessible information about the burgeoning commons,” said Jim Stallings, IBMs intellectual property and standards vice president.
An IBM representative added that IBM sees the commons as being complementary to the newly founded Open Invention Network. The OINs purpose is to acquire Linux-related patents and share them royalty-free to any organization that agrees not to assert its patents against Linux or its applications.
Diane Peters, the OSDLs general counsel, explained that the Patents Common is meant to be friendly and informative to the entire open-source community.
“The site explains the basics of patent pledges and commitments in a simple way for non-lawyers,” she said. At the same time, “it also includes links to the actual legal documents and outbound links to the patents at the U.S. PTO [Patent and Trademark Office],” said Peters in an eWEEK.com interview.
The Patent Commons Project also explains the differences between the two main types of open-source patent commitments that have come out so far.
On the one hand, Peters explained, “there are commitments like the IBM 500 patents. Here, the patents use is very broad. The only requirement is that … they be used in open-source programs.”
On the other hand, theres Suns OpenSolaris patent pledges. Here, the patents use is restricted to a particular open-source implementation or standard.
Looking ahead, Peters added, the OSDL and its partners will try to create model commitments based on these two approaches. With these models, companies and universities will be able to easily create their own patent commitments.
The idea behind these models is to work toward creating a standard for open-source commitments.
“This way, people will be prevented from making one-off commitments. If everyone made their own commitment, the way open-source licenses proliferated, it could make it impossible for people to use them. Were trying to avoid the trap that the OSI [Open Source Initiative] fell into,” said Peters.
The point of the Patent Commons is to make it possible for people “to be able to make their purchase decisions based on technical merits, security, quality of service and value, not concerns over intellectual property ownership,” said David Patrick, Novells vice president for Linux and open-source platforms and services. “The OSDL Patent Commons Project will provide greater confidence to developers and customers that the open-source solutions they are deploying are safe from patent challenges.”
This, however, is only the beginning.
In the coming months, the site will expand to include other legal solutions that benefit the open-source community, including open-source licenses, indemnification programs, and information for organizations and individuals who wish to contribute to the commons.
In addition, Peters said that other companies and universities will soon start donating more patents to the open-source cause. “Well see more big players in the next six to eight months as they see how other companies are doing it and how they want to support open-source.”
Simon Phipps, Suns chief open-source officer, hopes that the new Commons Project will help at least Band-Aid the continuing problems with software.
“Sun is well aware of the many obstacles these communities face due to the uncertainties that surround todays software patents, which neither patent pools nor targeted pledges really solve. This project offers a concrete and important step in the right direction, as it will help all open-source communities,” said Phipps.
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