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