IBM opens 500 patents to open-source developers

The move is designed to spur innovation, the company says

IBM is providing open-source software developers with access to 500 of its software patents, the company said today.

The patents will be available to any individual or company working on or using software that meets the Open Source Initiative's definitions of what constitutes open-source software, a company spokeswoman said. The pledge is the largest of its kind ever made, according to IBM, and is designed to spur further innovation.

The OSI is a nonprofit corporation that defines software as open-source when the source code is freely redistributed and modified by programmers. The OSI also requires that those modifications be freely distributed. Common examples include Linux and Apache. The OSI's full definition of open-source is available online.

IBM won't assert the 500 named patents against software meeting the OSI's open-source definition -- although it reserves the right to do so against any party filing a lawsuit asserting patents or other intellectual property rights against open-source software, according to its Web site.

The 500 patents include U.S. Patent No. 5,185,861, registered in 1993, which covers technology that helps microprocessors use their memory caches efficiently, and U.S. patent No. 5,617,568, registered in 1997, for allowing non-Windows-based systems to act as file servers for Windows-based clients, according to IBM Asia Pacific spokeswoman June Namioka.

Other examples include patents related to handwriting recognition, she said.

A list (download PDF) of the 500 patents concerned can be found on IBM's Web site.

IBM said it registered 3,248 patents with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 2004. According to IBM, that was the highest number of patents registered with the Patent and Trademark Office by any company last year, and 2004 was the 12th consecutive year in which IBM ranked No. 1 in terms of number of patents filed.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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