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Patent repository to aid open source development

A project was launched this week to collate details of all software patents pledged or donated to the open source community. The patent commons project has been set up by Open Source Development Labs (OSDL), a non-profit organisation.11 Aug 2005

Stuart Cohen, CEO of OSDL, said: "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."

In the past year a number of big industry players such as IBM, Novell and Sun Microsystems have pledged some of their intellectual property for the benefit of the open source community, joining the growing number of individual patent licences granted to the community.

"Our goal is to make it easier for developers and industry to take advantage of the good works of vendors, individuals and organisations who may wish to pledge patents and intellectual property in support of the community," added Cohen.

OSDL is a global consortium dedicated to accelerating the adoption of Linux. Its idea for a central location to accommodate patents and pledges is in response to problems faced by developers in keeping track of what rights have been granted, and for what particular software.

By contributing patents to the OSDL patent commons project, OSDL says that patent holders can be assured that the right to enforce the patents is administered by an organisation dedicated 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, the creator of Linux. "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:

  • 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; and
  • 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.

Anti-patent campaigner Florian Mueller cautiously welcomed the announcement.

"It will only be a true protective shield if they gather patents that they can use to countersue the enemies of open source,” he said. “The software patent game is like the Cold War: The only thing that protects you is the concept of mutually assured destruction. The patent pledges that IBM and Sun made added absolutely nothing to the retaliatory potential of open source. Those were just PR plays, but what the OSDL has announced could be much more meaningful."

Next version of GPL

Elsewhere, Eben Moglen has revealed that the first draft of the next version of the GPL (General Public License) is likely to be released early next year.

The GPL is a licence commonly used for many free software projects, including the Linux operating system kernel. The GPL licenses software free of cost but requires any re-distributor to provide the full source code and a copy of the full licence text.

Speaking to CNET News, Moglen said, “I think GPL 3 is a process which begins with discussions of a first tentative draft in the first weeks of 2006."

"I hope it will end with a license that maybe not everybody likes but that everybody is prepared to accept about a year later," he explained.

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