OSDL opens online patent commons library

Open Source Development Labs Inc. (OSDL) is to launch its online patent commons reference library Tuesday.

The group hopes it will give users more confidence about using open-source software by allaying some concerns about the possibility of patent litigation. The library which will consist of five interlinked databases forms the basis of the Patents Commons Project, the Linux development consortium first announced back in August.

The library is free and contains information about patents and technology pledges. It details patent commitments from companies and individuals who wish to retain ownership of their patents, but pledge either not to assert particular patents or not to assert patents against software implementations based on specific technical standards.

“There was no vendor-neutral place where you could access this information,” Diane Peters, general counsel for the OSDL, said in a phone interview Monday. “Our basic objective was to have the information readily accessible.”

OSDL announced its intention to form the Patent Commons Project in August at the LinuxWorld show in San Francisco, according to Peters. “After seeing the increased momentum around IBM’s, Sun’s and CA’s patent announcements, we’ve been working very hard over the last 90 days to deliver the library,” she said. “It’s come together quite beautifully.”

The five interlinked databases provide different ways to search the content, according to Peters. Users can search via the names of the contributors who’ve given patent pledges and covenants, which so far include CA Inc., IBM Corp, Intel Corp., Novell Inc., Red Hat Inc. and Sun Microsystems. Formerly known as Computer Associates International Inc., CA pledged to change its name to CA Inc. on Sunday.

New to the list of the predictable open-source advocates is Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson, Peters said, with the Swedish telecommunications company contributing a patent to the library. A user can click on the contributor’s name and see what they’ve contributed and access a link to patent abstracts as well as the company’s web site.

A second database provides searching for commitment types as indicated by different symbols, whether they’re open-source software patents or open standards, according to Peters. Then, there’s a database for searching on the patents themselves and a fourth database for searching on standards and technologies such as the Linux kernel, OpenDocument and a number of Web services, she added. The final database, which may not be ready as of Tuesday, enables users to search on other legal solutions such as open-source licenses and indemnification programs, Peters said.

In terms of quantifying what’s in the library already, looking at patents identified by a patent number, IBM is far and away the largest contributor with the 500 patents it released to the open-source community in January, Peters said. The database also contains more than 12 technical standards supported by patent pledges and covenants.

One of the next stages of the Patents Common Project will be encouraging contributors to use standard formats to submit their patent pledges, according to Peters. “We wanted to go live sooner rather than later,” she said. “Ahead of the large number [of contributors], so we can quickly and efficiently pick up the pledges.”

Peters contrasted the Patent Commons Project with the recently announced Open Invention Network (OIN). “OIN is actively collecting patents,” she said purely in relation to Linux and cross licensing them with other players. “Our approach is to encourage people to stand up and support open source” software in general.

“The OSDL has put together a decent website, but I don’t know any programmer in the world who would first look up such a database of patent pledges before he decides how to solve a programming problem,” Florian Mueller, founder of the NoSoftwarePatents.com campaign, wrote in an e-mail comment Tuesday on the OSDL’s library.

He claimed that users’ risk of patent infringement isn’t mitigated by the library because the five linked databases don’t contain a “noteworthy number” of patents. “Those who want to use patents against open source, be it for strategic or purely financial motivations, will never pledge their IP [intellectual property] — it’s as simple as that,” Mueller wrote in the e-mail.

Mueller added that Red Hat was the only company among those listed by OSDL as supporting the library that has helped in the fight against software patents in the European Union.

“Instead of supporting placebo projects like this that don’t even make open-source development a tenth of a percent safer, why don’t those companies get real and lobby for legislation that does away with software patents?,” he wrote in the e-mail.

The library can be accessed from Tuesday at this Web site .

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