IBM Pledges Free Access to Patents Involved in Implementing 150+ Software Standards

From the press release:

IBM (NYSE: IBM) today announced that it is granting universal and perpetual access to certain intellectual property that might be necessary to implement more than 150 standards designed to make software interoperable.

One likely result of the pledge to commercial and open source communities is that it will be easier for more computing devices and software to be compatible with one another. The move, which IBM believes is the largest of its kind, is also designed to spur industry innovation, while discouraging litigation.

The software specifications and protocols involved in the pledge underpin industry standards, such as those reflected in Web Services: programming, transactions and data exchanged on the Internet and Web. These are typically under, or moving toward, stewardship by standards groups such as the World Wide Web Consortium and OASIS.

“IBM is sending a message that innovation and industry growth happens in an open, collaborative atmosphere,” said Bob Sutor, IBM’s Vice President of Open Source and Standards. “Users will adopt new technologies if they know that they can find those technologies in a variety of interchangeable, compatible products from competing vendors. We think customers will like this added assurance for the open standards upon which they have come to depend.”

IBM’s commitment not only applies to the distributors, developers or manufacturers that are implementing the specifications involved, but also extends to their users or customers. It is valid as long as adopters are not suing any party — not just IBM — over necessary patented technology needed to implement the standards.

Matthew Aslett puts it well:

I’ve just taken a first look at IBM’s promise not to assert its patents involved in implementing 150 software standards and it appears to be a work of art in its simplicity.

Here’s how the pledge works:

Just get on with developing interoperability based on these standards – don’t even bother coming to us to get a license, you don’t need one.

But if you assert patent claims against IBM, or any one else for that matter, relating to these standards, you better make sure you’ve got the lawyers ready.

Compare the elegant simplicity of this approach with trying to pick and choose which partners to collaborate with based on complex and divisive patent covenants.

Of course, IBM didn’t do this out of pure altruism. Surely they think they can compete more effectively on a level playing field. Opening up in this way will help bring parity to that field. The 3rd party inclusion is also a great way to battle things like the recent Microsoft patent FUD. It’s a reminder of mutually assured destruction. Hopefully others such as Sun and HP, who could benefit in similar ways as IBM, will join the fray. Despite the business implications of a decision like this, it’s impressive how a company as big as IBM (and with the history of IBM) is able to see the big picture like this. They saw the light far earlier than many. You can find additional coverage by Bob Sutor here. A big thanks is due IBM for this one.


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