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OSDL Launches Online Patent Commons Reference Library
Tuesday, November 15 2005 @ 04:51 AM EST

Do you have trouble figuring out all the new patent pledges and patent strategies? You are not alone. Implementing a patent commons to protect Free and Open Source software and standards is progressing, but how are we supposed to know the terms and conditions, when they are not all identical? Some commitments identify specific patents, for example; others don't. Some cover Open Source software; others cover specific standards or technology. With each new commitment, it becomes more complex.

OSDL is addressing the difficulty of keeping track of it all, announcing today an online patent commons reference library, the foundation of its Patent Commons Project. How does it work?

The Patent Commons Project describes itself like this on the homepage:

The Patent Commons Project is dedicated to documenting the boundaries of The Commons -- a preserve where developers and users of software can innovate, collaborate, and access patent resources in an environment of enhanced safety, protected by pledges of support made by holders of software patents.

Our Library is a central, neutral forum where patent pledges and other commitments can be readily accessed and easily understood.

Visit our Library, learn about the resources offered by The Commons, and contribute to the growth and acceptance of open source software and technologies.

For example, you can find a list of which companies have made commitments, or search by name. Want to know what they've committed to? Here you go.

What's a commitment in this context? "Commitments are covenants not to enforce patents against third parties engaging in activities that might otherwise give rise to a claim of infringement."

Or maybe you need to search for a particular type of patent. If you are wondering what patents are available for compression, encryption or access control, for example, or database processing programming, you go here. Or view the entire list.

A Guide to the Commons tells us what you can find:

Contributors
Contains information about the people and companies that have made Commitments about software patents they hold. This database may be searched by Contributor name.

Commitments
This database is comprised of promises, pledges, covenants and other legal undertakings made by Contributors. Commitments may be searched by title, content, type, or Contributor. Learn more about Commitments.

Patents
A collection of patent abstracts and links to the patents identified in some of the Commitments. The Patents database may searched by patent title, abstract, type of patent, patent number, or assignee.

Standards & Technology
Summaries and links to the Standards & Technology in support of which some Commitments are made. This database may be searched by content, developing organization, type of Standard & Technology, or Contributor.

Other Legal Solutions
Information about indemnification programs, litigation support funds, open source software licenses and other legal solutions that reduce the threat and potential impact of patent litigation. This database can be searched by Contributor or solution type.

If you wonder what commitments protect, here's the answer they give:

How Commitments Protect

Commitments provide legal protection for activities that might otherwise be considered infringement. By making a Commitment, a Contributor gives permission for others to engage in activities it could otherwise prevent, or for which the Contributor could collect damages or royalties. Courts have concluded it is unfair and inequitable for Contributors to encourage others to rely on their promise they will not enforce their patents and then sue them for infringement for doing so.

Obviously this is a work that will continue to grow as contributions continue to be made, and now there is a way to keep track of it all. Note that it isn't only corporations that can donate:

Companies, universities, nonprofits, and individuals can all contribute to The Commons through Commitments covering software patents.

The page explaining how to contribute elaborates:

The Commons continues to grow. We are always looking for opportunities to collaborate with individuals, companies, open source projects and institutions, including universities, to secure additional Commitments.

Support The Commons by making a Commitment not to enforce your software patents against open source software or standards, and by reserving the right to assert them against those who make intellectual property claims against open source software, developers and users. Your Commitment and the patents, if any, you enumerate will be added to this database and made freely available to the public.

If you'd like to contribute, contact information is here. Here's the press release.

***********************

OSDL Launches Online Patent Commons Reference Library

OSDL hosts online patent commons library supported by industry leaders including CA, IBM, Intel, Novell, Red Hat, and Sun Microsystems to help protect open source software innovation

BEAVERTON, Ore., – November 15, 2005 – The Open Source Development Labs (OSDL), a global consortium dedicated to accelerating the adoption of Linux®, today announced the launch of its online patent commons reference library, the foundation of its Patent Commons Project. The Project’s goal is to provide greater confidence for developers and customers of all open source software.

The site, www.patentcommons.org, 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 to developers, users and vendors, where they can quickly view information about patents and technology pledges benefiting open source software and standards.

“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, CEO of OSDL. “The Project is focused on documenting the growing number of pledges and other legal solutions directed at the software patent issue, so that developers can innovate and collaborate as free as possible from litigation.”

The Patent Commons website will catalogue 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. 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.

The OSDL Patent Commons Project has already rallied the support of many industry leaders, including CA, IBM, Intel Novell, Red Hat, and Sun Microsystems. The Lab welcomes other IT vendors, corporations, organizations, government agencies and individuals to participate.

“CA is committed to fostering innovation in the Open Source community so that users can reap all the potential personal, social and business benefits that technology can offer,” said Sam Greenblatt, senior vice president of technology at CA. “ We are supporting and participating in the Patents Common because we believe it will enable developers to fully and appropriately leverage each other’s innovations, while respecting parties’ intellectual property rights.”

“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, vice president, Intellectual Property & Standards, IBM.

"As a founding member of OSDL, Intel is committed to helping customers make informed decisions around their choices in computing platforms," said Richard Wirt, Vice President, Senior Fellow, and General Manager, Software and Solutions Group of Intel. "OSDL is in a unique position to provide a trusted clearinghouse where enterprise customers and developers can find vendor-neutral information about open source software and intellectual property that can help them ensure that their decisions are based on the most complete and up-to-date information."

"Customers want freedom of choice in making decisions about technology solutions," said David Patrick, vice president and general manager for Linux, Open Sources Platforms and Services at Novell. "They should be able to make their purchase decisions based on technical merits, security, quality of service and value, not concerns over intellectual property ownership. 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."

"We are happy to see OSDL's Patent Commons online reference library go live," said Mark Webbink, Sr. Vice President, Red Hat. "As the first open source vendor to make its patents available to the open source community, Red Hat views steps such as the one OSDL has taken with the Commons and Red Hat's creation of the Fedora Foundation as providing developers, vendors and end users with the ability to be confident and bold in their development efforts."

"Sun applauds the work of the OSDL Patent Commons project and its library of patent pledges and non-assertion covenants," said Simon Phipps, Chief Open Source Officer, Sun Microsystems, Inc. "As the largest commercial code contributor to the various open source communities, Sun is well aware of the many obstacles these communities face due to the uncertainties that surround today's 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."

About the OSDL Patent Commons Project

With increasing frequency, institutions, companies, and inventors wish to signal formally to the open source software industry and community that software patents they hold are not a threat to the development, distribution or use of open source software or open standards. Patent pledges and covenants – legally enforceable promises not to enforce patents under certain terms and conditions – eliminate the need for individual agreements and simplify the process by which access to patented technology can be granted. The Patent Commons Project catalogues the patent pledges and covenants in a central location and facilitates their use by the development community and others, reduces the number of issued software patents that are a threat to open source and open standards, and documents the boundaries of the “common area.”

About Open Source Development Labs (OSDL)

OSDL - home to Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux - is dedicated to accelerating the growth and adoption of Linux in the enterprise. Founded in 2000 and supported by a global consortium of major Linux customers and IT industry leaders, OSDL is a nonprofit organization that provides state-of-the-art computing and test facilities available to developers around the world. With offices in China, Europe, Japan and the United States, OSDL sponsors legal and development projects to advance open source software as well as initiatives for Linux in telecommunications, in the data center and on enterprise desktops. Visit OSDL on the Web at http://www.osdl.org/.

OSDL is a trademark of Open Source Development Labs, Inc. Linux is a trademark of Linus Torvalds. Third party marks and brands are the property of their reholders.


  


OSDL Launches Online Patent Commons Reference Library | 128 comments | Create New Account
Comments belong to whoever posts them. Please notify us of inappropriate comments.
Corrections here
Authored by: T O'B on Tuesday, November 15 2005 @ 04:57 AM EST
Please.

---
Tom O'B

[ Reply to This | # ]

Off Topic thread
Authored by: T O'B on Tuesday, November 15 2005 @ 05:05 AM EST
Post in HTML mode for links, we appreciate a few lines describing where the link
leads to.

uuummmmm.... yes, I did copy and paste from Mathfox, your point? Always copy
from the best...oh...that's the TSG way?

---
Tom O'B

[ Reply to This | # ]

Yes, but...
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, November 15 2005 @ 06:48 AM EST
How about having a database to register, in patent-office-like fashion, new
technologies that you do NOT want (on principle and cost) to take out an actual
patent on.

[ Reply to This | # ]

We need a technology patent description language (TPDL)
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, November 15 2005 @ 07:25 AM EST
Although I personally don't believe software patents are valid, it seems to me
that the biggest problem with the existing system is that there are so many ways
of describing the same idea in a combination of legal and technical
expressions.

I wonder if it would be possible to invent a language/pseudocode that must be
used to describe technical patents? Thus if two different ideas reduce down to
the same set of expressions within this language then we can say for sure that
the claims are identical....

[ Reply to This | # ]

Commitments
Authored by: Morosoph on Tuesday, November 15 2005 @ 08:13 AM EST
Since not enforcing your "IPR" can be harmful to those rights, a
commitment must be good in that it can show intent to enforce one's rights,
without having to enforce them against those that you don't wish to enforce them
against.

IANAL, so I might be wrong, of course, but this would appear to be an
implication of not having specific rights because of prior commitments.

[ Reply to This | # ]

  • Commitments - Authored by: PJ on Tuesday, November 15 2005 @ 01:50 PM EST
    • Commitments - Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, November 15 2005 @ 08:16 PM EST
      • Commitments - Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, November 16 2005 @ 03:19 AM EST
    • Thanks, PJ! - Authored by: Morosoph on Thursday, November 17 2005 @ 08:34 AM EST
Dross for OSS
Authored by: jseigh on Tuesday, November 15 2005 @ 08:35 AM EST
I took a quick look at the patents in the subject area I'm most familiar with, multiprocessing, and it doesn't look like there's any useful stuff there. Most of it's hardware patents which aren't very useful if you're writing software. None of the software patents looked interesting or useful. And a really quick look at one of other areas, OO programming, looked equally trivial.

What are OSS programmers supposed to do with this stuff? This looks like one of those PR stunts where corporations donate surplus property to charity, property that is either junk, obsolete, or incompatible with any use the charitable organization can put it to. The corporations get a tax write off and good publicity, and the charitable organizations get stuff with the landfill bill.

If patents are supposed to be the bleeding edge of innovation, we're not seeing that with the patents contributed here. The only exception I'm aware of wasn't even through this program. That was the RCU patents contributed to the Linux kernel under GPL which I suppose means you can use it in other OSS as long as part of the orginal source is copied (kind of like zoning laws where you can't build a new house but can "renovate" the old one by replacing everything but a corner post).

IANAL but I am an inventor and a programmer and can authoritatively state it doesn't look like there's much substance here.

Joe Seigh

[ Reply to This | # ]

Why don't we patent the business strategy of patent trolling?
Authored by: old joe on Tuesday, November 15 2005 @ 09:00 AM EST
Why don't we patent the business strategy of patent trolling?

If we own the patent then we can stop anyone else doing it! Brilliant eh?

And hardly less dumb than some of the other patents issued lately.

Other patents we should apply for:
* A patent on patenting legal strategies - then no one can patent a legal
strategy but us!.
* A patent on releasing standards under open source licenses which are almost
but not quite compatible with GPL.

I'll bet the denizens of Groklaw can come up with some even more devious patent
hacks. Can't you?

old joe

[ Reply to This | # ]

Adding Implicit Patents and Claims to OSDL's Library
Authored by: rdc3 on Tuesday, November 15 2005 @ 11:55 AM EST

If OSDL wants to take on the role of patent librarian for open source generally (not just Linux) that could be a useful contribution. But to make the library catalog really useful, I think that they should also include the patents and claims that are implicitly made available through various open source licenses, such as Mozilla Public License, IBM Public License and so on. Documenting these implicitly licensed patent claims and the software to which they apply would be a daunting task, but would make for an actually useful library.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Link
Authored by: Tufty on Tuesday, November 15 2005 @ 01:58 PM EST
A link to this on the links page would be a good idea.


---
There has to be a rabbit down this rabbit hole somewhere!
Now I want its hide.

[ Reply to This | # ]

  • Link - Authored by: PJ on Tuesday, November 15 2005 @ 02:13 PM EST
Big Question
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, November 15 2005 @ 08:03 PM EST

Will they accept ideas that are potentially patentable so a larger stockpile of defencive patents can be produced?

I'm still undecided whether software should be completely separated from patents. At this time, I'm nowhere near wise enough to be able to make that kind of decision.

However, I'm a not-bad strategist and recognize the fact that whether I believe in software patents or not, those that are potential "enemies" (MS) do and have no qualms about using them as weapons. With that in mind, we should be able to defend ourselves.

Best case scenario I can see: Open Source truly innovates and quickly surpasses the MS' of the world. Patents become a non-threat as the MS' of the world want to be able to make use of the new innovation. At that point, it wouldn't really matter if software patents existed or not.

RAS

[ Reply to This | # ]

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