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OSDL Announces Patent Commons Project
Tuesday, August 09 2005 @ 10:12 PM EDT

OSDL has announced a patent commons project. This is a huge step legally. Eben Moglen is encouraging everyone to support the project:
"OSDL is the ideal steward for such an important legal initiative as the patent commons project," said Eben Moglen, chair of the Software Freedom Law Center. "No matter what your stand on software patents, and I oppose them, I call on developers to contribute to the OSDL patent commons project because there is strength in numbers and when individual contributions are collected together it creates a protective haven where developers can innovate without fear."

More details on Business Week, where Stuart Cohen, CEO of OSDL, explains the purpose:


More than 3,000 patents have been pledged to date. We expect many more to follow.

The idea is that a pool of software licenses and software patents (issued and pending) are held in something like a virtual trust for the benefit of both developers and users of open-source software. In general, the vendors who make this pledge are promising not to litigate against people and companies whom they might otherwise sue. These pledges help reassure companies who run open-source software in their business.

We like this idea so much that we're about to take it one step further. We're establishing an OSDL patent commons project that aims to centralize the good works of these vendors, as well as future individuals and organizations who may wish to pledge patents.


By establishing and maintaining a central repository with a library and database, we want to remove the logistical and administrative challenges both for those who pledge patents and those who use open-source software. We would hope that a one-stop commons -- overseen by a nonprofit, vendor-neutral, and trusted friend -- helps everyone.

The "Invitation to Bill" header is a call to Microsoft to donate. He also writes about license proliferation, so take a look. On that subject, you'll enjoy the article about HP's Martin Fink's funny but important speech at LinuxWorld in which he called on IBM and Sun to drop their vanity licenses, the IBM Public License and the CDDL respectively, and use the GPL instead. He's right, Sun's churlish response to Fink notwithstanding. Diane Peters, General Counsel for OSDL, wrote an article last month for Computerworld about the two issues she sees as the future legal battleground to pay attention to now, and if you read what she has to say, you'll understand even more clearly why this project is important, now that the SCO storm is subsiding:
So the question naturally arises, What should we focus on next? The answer: software licenses and software patents. These are two of the most important legal issues the industry will address in the coming years. How these issues are resolved will have a defining impact on the success of Linux and open-source software. These are the issues to which the entire IT community should devote its attention, energy and resources. . . .

Already, the foundation has been built for a patent commons, the purpose of which is to reduce the likelihood that software patents will be asserted against open-source software and threaten innovation. A similar foundation is being built for improving accessibility to source code for purposes of locating prior art. The success of these efforts will depend on contributions, large and small, from everyone dedicated to the longevity of open-source software. It relies in part on executives staying involved and supporting these important projects.

So, this is the first prong of a two-part effort, with a prior art database to follow. One of the difficulties with software patents is that software was deemed patentable by a court decision, with no prior art database in place, no trained examiners, and only the most vague of guidance on how it all should work. If you'd like to learn more about all that, I can't recommend highly enough the video of Red Hat's Deputy General Counsel Mark Webbink's speech at June's Red Hat Summit in New Orleans. He too mentions that one way to fix the software patent mess in the US is to have a reliable database of searchable prior art. You can find it and all the other speeches here. Ogg is on the way for Webbink's speech. I enjoyed listening to them all, including John Buckman's. He's the founder and CEO of Magnatunes, and he explains Creative Commons licenses very well indeed.

I debated saying this next bit, because I'll get email about it, I'm sure, about how I should always stay "professional" and all, but I was struck by Michael Tiemann's stage presence. I'd only seen one picture of him before, but in action, it's an entirely different effect. Take a look at his style, the tie, the jacket, the everything. The guy is a total hunk. And a geek. Yoo hoo, SCO employees, time for a reality check. Geek is in, fellas. No more offensive name-calling, please. Deal?

Here's the OSDL press release:


OSDL Announces Patent Commons Project
Tuesday August 9, 5:30 pm ET
Leading Linux Advocacy Consortium Will Collect Software Patents and Patent Pledges by Vendors, Industry and Developers

SAN FRANCISCO, LINUXWORLD, Aug. 9 /PRNewswire/ -- The Open Source Development Labs (OSDL), a global consortium dedicated to accelerating the adoption of Linux, today announced a new initiative called the OSDL patent commons project designed to provide a central location where software patents and patent pledges will be housed for the benefit of the open source development community and industry.

"The OSDL patent commons project is designed to increase the utility and value of the growing number of patent pledges and promises in the past year by providing a central repository where intellectual property can be held for the benefit of all of us," said Stuart Cohen, CEO of OSDL. "Our goal is to make it easier for developers and industry to take advantage of the good works of vendors, individuals and organizations who may wish to pledge patents and intellectual property in support of the community."

For many, the administrative and logistical challenges posed by granting individual licenses to the growing open source community can be a barrier to the formal licensing of patents. In addition, as more vendors such as IBM, Nokia, Novell, Red Hat and Sun Microsystems pledge their intellectual property to the benefit of the open source community, to date there has not been a single, reliable place where developers and industry are able to advantage of these offerings.

By contributing patents to the OSDL patent commons project, patent holders can be assured that the right to enforce the patents is administered by an organization dedicating to accelerating the development and use of open source software. Developers can be assured that those patents will not be enforced against them on open source software.

"Software patents are a huge potential threat to the ability of people to work together on open source," said Linus Torvalds. "Making it easier for companies and communities that have patents to make those patents available in a common pool for people to use is one way to try to help developers deal with the threat."

While still in the planning stages, the OSDL patent commons project will initially involve the following:

  • A library and database that aggregates patent pledges made by companies. The library will also aggregate other legal solutions, such as indemnification programs offered by vendors of open source software.
  • A collection of software patent licenses and software patents (issued and pending) held for the benefit of the open source community.

More details on the OSDL patent commons project will be announced in the coming months.

"OSDL is the ideal steward for such an important legal initiative as the patent commons project," said Eben Moglen, chair of the Software Freedom Law Center. "No matter what your stand on software patents, and I oppose them, I call on developers to contribute to the OSDL patent commons project because there is strength in numbers and when individual contributions are collected together it creates a protective haven where developers can innovate without fear."

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 .

NOTE: 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 respective holders.

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