IBM opens 500 patents to open source developers

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

The patents will be available for use to any individual or company working on or using software that meets the Open Source Initiative's (OSI's) current and future 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, it said.

The OSI is a nonprofit corporation that offers a definition for which software can be considered as open source. The definition describes software whose source code is freely redistributed and modified by programmers, and requires that those modifications are also freely distributed. Common examples include Linux and Apache. The OSI's full definition of open source it on its Web site at http://www.opensource.org/docs/

IBM will not assert the 500 named patents against software meeting the OSI's definition of open source -- although it reserves the right to withdraw the pledge and assert the patents 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 number 5,185,861, registered in 1993, which covers technology that helps microprocessors use their memory caches efficiently; and U.S. patent number 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 of the 500 patents concerned can be found on IBM's web site at http://www.ibm.com/ibm/licensing/patents/pledgedpatents.pdf

IBM registered 3,248 patents with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in 2004, it said. This was the highest number registered with the USPTO by any company last year, and the 12th consecutive year IBM ranked number one in terms of number of patents filed, according to IBM.

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