In a move to create a war chest of patents for the open source software community, the Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) is creating a central repository of patents to benefit the Linux universe.
The OSDL, a consortium of firms and developers promoting Linux, announced the patent commons project late Tuesday. While there was no mention of software colossus Microsoft in the OSDL announcement, the open-source software community has been bracing for conflict with Microsoft, which has amassed thousands of patents and patent applications in recent months.
The announcement reverberated immediately in Europe, where bitter campaigns over patents have been going on for months. Citing the OSDL patent commons project, Florian Mueller, founder of Europe's NoSoftwarePatents.com campaign, said: "It will only be a true protective shield if they gather patents that they can use to countersue the enemies of open source. The software patent game is like the Cold War: The only thing that protects you is the concept of mutually assured destruction."
In announcing the patents commons project, OSDL noted that members pledging their intellectual property for the benefit of the open-source community include IBM, Nokia, Novell, Red Hat, and Sun Microsystems.
"By contributing patents to the OSDL patent commons project, patent holders can be assured that the right to enforce the patents is administered by an organization dedicated to accelerating the development and use of open-source software," the OSDL announcement stated. "Developers can be assured that those patents will not be enforced against them on open-source software."
According to the OSDL, the patent commons project will house a library and a database for patent pledge aggregation. Software patent licenses and software patents issued and pending will also be collected in the commons project. Additional legal solutions like indemnification programs will be included, too.
Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux, is associated with OSDL. He said in a statement: Software patents are a huge potential threat to the ability of people to work together on open source."
Mueller said he is somewhat skeptical of the value of the OSDL commons project for European software interests because some of OSDL's most prominent members such as IBM and Sun Microsystems support the patenting of software, which NoSoftwarePatents.com opposes. He said the 500 patents that IBM had pledged to support the open-source movement were mostly irrelevant to the software patent conflicts in Europe. IBM, he noted, continues to support software patents. Mueller is the leader of a group of companies and organizations in Europe that wants to outlaw software patents entirely.