Saving Linux from the lawyers

Summary:Q&A: The Open Source Development Labs has launched an initiative to try and head off future patent claims against the community developed operating system

Concern has grown over the past year that Linux could be under legal threat connected with claims that it infringes certain software patents. Although no court cases have been brought, the issue is serious enough for several companies to have pledged not to use their patent portfolios against the open source operating system.

To coordinate this process, the OSDL has launched a Web site to help developers check which patents have been pledged. Patent Commons contains over 500 patents so far — but is that enough to have a significant effect on the problem?

With some activists claiming that the whole concept of patent pledges is misguided, ZDNet UK spoke with OSDL chief executive Stuart Cohen to find out the wider aims of the project.

Q: Why have you launched Patent Commons today?
A: Over the past year, several companies have made patent pledges, showing their commitment to the open source community in different ways. In August we announced we would create Patent Commons, and this is the public launch naming our partners.

What does Patent Commons offer?
It gives IT professionals and vendors a single place to go to see which patents have been pledged; it's a leaping-off point from where they can drive added value.

But presumably developers still can't be sure that they won't infringe patents that haven't been pledged?
Yes, there are so many patents out there, so people may still infringe. This is the first step forward.

Which companies are supporting the Patent Commons?
We're being supported by Intel, IBM, Sun, Computer Associates, Nokia, Ericsson and Red Hat — they've all pledged their support publicly.

And is more support still needed?
We hope that these companies will make more patents available over time and that more companies will join.

But why aren't there more already?
It's a question of education and awareness.

Are there any particular companies you'd like to see join?
We would like to see Microsoft make some of its patents available. Microsoft is still evaluating where open source and open standards fit into its strategy and they've...

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Topics: Developer

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