January 11, 2005  ·  Lessig

IBM has announced the pledge of 500 patents to a “patent commons” for “open source” software development. That means people developing software licensed under a license certified by the Open Source Initiative can be assured that IBM will not assert these 500 patents against them — at least so long as they don’t sue IBM or another open source developer for patent related issues. (Steve Lohr’s got a piece in the Times.)

This is important news. It further demonstrates IBM’s commitment to making free software and open source software development flourish. And it could well inspire others to follow. Ideally there should be a trust that these patents could be contributed into. We’ll have to get the commonists to get to work building such a thing.

  • http://www.boobam.org William Loughborough

    For a long time IBM led the pack in hiring PWD (people with disabilities), and they took a very pro-active role in the WAI (Web Accessibility Initiative) as well as other collaborative aspects of W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) standardizationalisms.

    Because this has been ongoing and not too “look, ma, I’m helping the poor unfortunates”, I’ve gone beyond cutting them slack and praised their exemplification. I sure hope their heavy media emphasis on supporing Linux and now “open source” in general has a positive (from my POV) effect on putting reins on the headlong rush towards “copyrighting the alphabet” – I don’t know whether they ever tried to trade mark Watson’s slogan “THINK” or tried to chill the satirical “Thimk” version seen on desks in the ’50s.

    So, “thumbs up”� on this as being a “good thing”� (those �s are satire, folks!).


  • http://precision-blogging.blogspot.com Precision Blogger

    According to Bill Gates, IBM is a Communist!
    - The Precision Blogger

  • http://fluff.info/blog Mr BK of Baltimore, MD

    I sincerely don’t understand this: IBM has been pro-open source for years now, meaning that there hasn’t been a chance in heck that they would sue an open source developer. So when it formalizes this, but for only a tiny fraction of its patent portfolio, what does this mean? Why not a blanket `We won’t sue open source developers for any patents’, or the more useful `We will use these 500 patents to actively defend OSS against infringement suits from other patent holders’? _That_ would be news.

  • http://www.cyberlaw.se/kalle Karl Jonsson

    Not everybody’s impressed: http://www.nosoftwarepatents.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=288

    Recently IBM made an unsubstantial non-aggression promise with respect to Linux, and now they show off again. It’s just diversionary tactics. Let’s put this into perspective: We’re talking about roughly 1% of IBM’s worldwide patent portfolio. They file that number of patents in about a month’s time.

    In Europe, IBM is a driving force behind the extension of the scope of patentability with respect to software. If IBM wants to assume the role of a post-Christmas benefactor, they’d better stop their aggressive patent lobbying in the EU and their shameless squeezing of small and medium-sized companies with that IBM “patent tax”. Let’s take it from there. We can still talk about some kind of patent pittance after that.

  • Jeff Keltner

    I think IBM’s decision to open 500 of their patents to the open source community is great. Certainly, it is not everything that certain folks in the open source community may want. But neither is this what other players in this arena would like to see IBM doing (think Microsoft, RIAA, MPAA). Rome wasn’t built in a day, and we shouldn’t expect a large company like IBM to give up the rights to its 40,000 patents (don’t forget these aren’t all software patents), especially when it still has to compete in an industry where its competitors are not doing so. Criticizing IBM for taking a step in the right direction, however small that step may be, is not productive.

  • http://j0d4n.typepad.com jonDavid schlough

    I’m interested in how people access the patent commons, what kind of interface and explanations will this thing have? How can developers get access to the technology?

    This seems to be huge, but Karl Jonasson makes a really good point, that this about how many patents IBM secures in a months time – as the nyt article said, IBM still leads the traditional corporate tech intellectual property protection pack, by applying for tons of patents and collecting billions a year in royalties. One very important question is: which patents are these and how useful will they prove to be? The article mentioned ecommerce and internet comminication, but that’s pretty vauge.

  • Bob
  • Matt

    A little slack here, people, huh? Is anyone else doing this? IBM unilaterally starts this and most of the responses are “why not everything?” I don’t recall hearing that the other top 10 companies threw 500 patents into the ring for open source. Consider the effort involved getting IBM’s legal department to consider the impact for 500 patents. Give them time…

    Reading the press release would do a world of good. Third paragraph:

    ‘IBM intends for this pledge to form the basis of an industry-wide “patent commons” in which patents are used to establish a platform for further innovations in areas of broad interest to information technology developers and users.’

    Farther down:

    ‘At LinuxWorld in August, IBM pledged not to assert any of its patents against the Linux kernel. Today’s pledge covers thousands of open source projects and programs.’

    From all this, one might expect IBM to continue. Did you want them to wait until legal had signed off on the entire 25,000 patents before making any available?


    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003412677769 Maxwel

      As much as I think I’m against paentnitg genes, DNA, humans, etc. in the first place, I think that mostly what’s going on is marketing. For better or for worse, in newsworthy issues like this, that will involve spinning the issues in the public sphere so that it piques the attention of more people. Bio patents are a pretty touchy issue, and this is another perspective. I’m not surprised, or offended by this.

  • Rob

    Commonists, I love it! :)

  • http://democracyweek.org Karen

    Darn, I was hoping to see “OS/2″ on that list!

  • http://bigpatterns.blogspot.com/ J.B. Nicholson-Owens

    Please do keep in mind what you’re giving up in order to not have this patent pledge revoked for you. The ramifications of the revocation clause of the pledge is something are underreported: (punctuation in context)

    “[The pledge] is irrevocable except that IBM reserves the right to terminate this patent pledge and commitment only with regard to any party who files a lawsuit asserting patents or other intellectual property rights against Open Source Software”

    It looks to me as if you are being asked to give up your right to file a lawsuit to defend your so-called “intellectual property” rights against “open source software” in order to continue your access to these 500 IBM patents.

    The term “intellectual property” is quite broad. It encompasses many areas of law that work quite differently. Copyright is typically one such area. So, if someone is building on your blog (a copyrighted work) in a way that they’re not licensed to do, you have to choose between defending your rights under law and opening yourself up to being sued for patent infringement regarding any of these 500 patents (not to mention your continued vulnerability under IBM’s other tens of thousands of patents which are not part of this pledge).

    In order to assess the value of this pledge, shouldn’t we encourage others to figure out how much that is worth to them? How likely were you to be sued for patent infringement by IBM before this pledge came along? What have you gained by not asserting your so-called “intellectual property” rights against “Open Source Software”?

    As for any other top-10 patent holder doing something similar to this: I doubt it. I would guess that other patent holders with many patents (multinational corporations all), would argue that IBM can uniquely afford to do this because they hold more patents than any other organization, therefore if this affects them adversely at all, any lost or forgone revenue (including the 10X benefit IBM gets from cross-licensing) is likely to be small. But there is a patent grant for GPL-covered software from an individual who holds some patents. You don’t have to give up any rights to take advantage of it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003413264786 Enrique

    OK so my brother in law is a paentt officer in DC for the government and always is in the know because he works in the wireless technology department. I tried to get some information out of him (this is exactly his department) and he refused to answer anything about Sony rats. I was trying to get good intel for you! I think it’d be very interesting if Sony put out a rival, I’m all for competition and think that if there could be something out there that rivals the upcoming iPad, that would be awesome.

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