IBM's patent pledge appears significant in a string of similar declarations made by other commercial software vendors in support of the open source community. By all accounts, the move to release 500 patents is surely a step in the right direction. Gartner(free research)says that through its pledge, "IBM encourages the rest of the software industry, and many mainstream users of IT, to treat open-source technologies and companies with respect," adding that it expects the company to follow this announcement with other significant steps in open source. AMR Research emphasizes what it means to the competition: "IBM's promise makes it harder for Microsoft and Sun to monetize Web services." Make it harder to monetize Web services? This statement prompted me to take a look and see what the patents actually covered. After reading through the list I realized I got a good lesson on how screwy the patent system really is, as Tim Bray, a blogger and employee at Sun Microsystems, points out:
So, this announcement means that IBM is unlocking 2.17% of their active portfolio, representing a few million bucks in legal expenses. At one level this is good; I mean, you have to be worried about the legal overhang from US5694597: Method and system for optimizing access to a datastore, or US5255387: Method and apparatus for concurrency control of shared data updates and queries, or US6202098: Method and system for object oriented notification (to pick three completely at random from the page I happened to have open).
But one is left with some questions: How were these selected? Among the remaining 22,500 patents, are there some that IBM plans to begin litigating? Or probably won't litigate, but might? Or is this a general statement that IBM will not bring its patent portfolio to bear against Open Source software in general? Inquiring minds want to know.
These are points well raised. Any thoughts? Leave them in our TalkBack...