What OSDL Isnt Doing—and What It Could Do

Opinion: It turns out that Open Source Development Labs isn't sitting on big news after all about patents and Linux. But it could make some news by supporting the opening up of patents for open source.

Well, the big OSDL and IBM deal later this week looks like its going to be a dud.

The rumor mill had it that IBM and OSDL (Open Source Development Labs), an organization dedicated to accelerating the growth and adoption of Linux, were preparing to rewrite the Linux kernel to counter potential intellectual property and patent assaults from Microsoft.


It turns out that whats really going down in Beaverton, Ore., on Jan. 25 is an open-source job development initiative, a la an incubator, by the city of Beaverton, with some state involvement.

Now, make no mistake, any news about new jobs—and in particular jobs that promote the use of open source—is good news. But its not Big News.

Its a pity, though, that the rumors werent true to some degree. Linux is going to need more protection from IP (intellectual property) and patent threats.

No, not from SCO. As Ive said several times before, while SCO thinks it has a case against Linux, I dont—and most of the experts dont think it has a case either.

But patents are another matter.

Back in August, OSRM (Open Source Risk Management), a provider of open-source consulting and risk mitigation insurance, announced that it had found that there were 283 issued, but not yet court-validated, software patents that could conceivably be used in patent claims against Linux.

Now, as Dan Ravicher, the author of that study and an attorney and executive director of PUBPAT (the Public Patent Foundation), has pointed out, "Open source faces no more, if not less, legal risk than proprietary software."

What are those patents? We dont know. OSRM wont publicly say what the specific software patents are that might affect Linux because this "would put the whole developer community at risk," Ravicher said, calling it the "catch 22 of patent law."

"Patent law is meant to popularize technology, but at the same time, if you look at software patents as a developer, you put yourself at more legal risk," he said.

Next Page: The risk of triple damages.