IBM grants broad patent rights; maybe Microsoft should follow suit?

IBM is granting broad rights to its patents to facilitate interoperability. Maybe Microsoft could learn something from this approach?

IBM continues to make waves, this time announcing:

IBM is granting universal and perpetual access to intellectual property that might be necessary to implement standards designed to make software interoperable. IBM will not assert any patent rights to its technologies featured in these standards. The company believes its move in this space is the largest of its kind....

Among the technologies included on IBM's list, accessible here, are various standards pertaining to SOAP, SAML, XML Schema and Service Component Architecture. WS-* specifications are featured as well.

Bob Sutor writes on his blog:

This is part of our continuing evolution and program to help spur open innovation and collaboration, as well as moving to true interoperability via the widespread use of open standards. Previous examples include our Linux kernel pledge in 2004, the "500 Patent Pledge for Open Source" and the Healthcare/Education standards pledge in 2005, and the co-founding of the Open Invention Network.

Personally, I believe such positive, constructive actions regarding intellectual property are the preferred routes to accelerate the shift to better products and services for customers via open architectures.

I agree with Glyn Moody that this really should just be a start to a much bigger move, but I'll take what I can get for now. And this is a great start.

It's also proof that there are constructive ways for the big vendors to work with the industry in an open fashion. Microsoft has argued that it can't do interoperability without patent covenants and such. Bob Muglia of Microsoft says you "haven't actually solved the customer's interoperability problem unless [you] have also solved the licensing issue." Clearly, this is rubbish. Even if we say it's true, there's nothing to stop Microsoft from following IBM's lead by resolving that licensing issue by granting broad grants to its patent portfolio in the interest of driving greater interoperability.

Does this sound like I'm suggesting Microsoft give up the farm? Not at all. Markets get bigger when interoperability is maximized. Microsoft might make $1 billion in licensing fees, but it stands to make multiples of that if its technology is even more widely deployed, which is what interoperability promises.

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