Under Emerging Patent Strategy, IBM To Open Source Research From University Collaborations - InformationWeek

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12/14/2006
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Under Emerging Patent Strategy, IBM To Open Source Research From University Collaborations

IBM and academic researchers will develop analytical techniques and tools to ensure better software quality, methodologies for more effective security and privacy programs, mathematical optimization software for use in various industries, and clinical decision support systems for the health-care field.

IBM has a developing strategy that calls for a more open stance on intellectual property that it believes will benefit the computing industry at large while more aggressively defending key commercial patents. The company's latest move Thursday is an example of the former, as IBM unveiled a program through which a greater amount of the fruits of research conducted in collaboration with major universities will be placed into the public domain.

Under what IBM is calling the Open Collaborative Research Program, results from some work undertaken jointly by IBM scientists, university professors, and students will be released as open-source software code. Subsequent intellectual property based on the research will also be open sourced or made available for a royalty free.

Universities participating in the program include Carnegie Mellon, Columbia, Rutgers, and UC Berkeley.

Under four projects that will kick off the program, IBM and academic researchers will develop analytical techniques and tools to ensure better software quality, methodologies for more effective security and privacy programs, mathematical optimization software for use in various industries, and clinical decision support systems for the health-care field. "These are long term, difficult projects that require a great deal of collaboration," says a spokesman for IBM.

The Open Collaborative Research Program is the latest in a series of moves by IBM, the nation's largest patent holder, to make parts of its technology trove available for wider use. Last year, the company released 500 patents to the open-source community, including one governing methods related to handwriting recognition.

IBM CEO Sam Palmisano has said he believes that many of today's key business and technological challenges, such as reforming the health-care system and studying global warming, are beyond the scope of a single enterprise and that companies need to be more willing to share intellectual property if progress is to be made. "This is about enlarging the pie and fostering innovation on top of what is available to all," Palmisano wrote in a magazine article last year.

At the same time, IBM appears to be more jealously guarding patents it considers to be critical to its commercial success. In October, the company sued Amazon.com, alleging that the online retailer had purloined patents that spell out the technology behind several commonly used features on e-commerce sites such as a user recommendation system. Last month, IBM sued Platform Solutions, a maker of mainframe clones that run Intel chips on IBM's z/OS operating system.

Palmisano insists there's an underlying logic to what, on the surface, appears to be schizophrenic behavior by IBM when it comes to intellectual property. "Some observers have been perplexed, and some partisans infuriated, by what looks to them like a contradictory position. But it's contradictory only if you miss the underlying patterns shaping innovation," Palmisano wrote.

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