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A patent commons project for open source

Open Source Development Labs plans to collate information on patents that have been donated to the open-source community.

Tech Industry
Open Source Development Labs revealed plans on Tuesday for a project that will aggregate information on patents that have been pledged to the open-source community.

Stuart Cohen, OSDL's chief executive, said the project--which is still in the planning stages--will make it easier for the open-source community to find and use patents that have been donated. A number of companies, including Nokia, IBM and Sun Microsystems have recently made open-source patent pledges.

"The OSDL patent commons project is designed to increase the utility and value of the growing number of patent pledges and promises in the past year by providing a central repository where intellectual property can be held for the benefit of all of us," said Cohen in a statement. "Our goal is to make it easier for developers and industry to take advantage of the good works of vendors, individuals and organizations who may wish to pledge patents and intellectual property in support of the community."

The patent commons project will include a library and database containing information on legal offerings that cover open source, including patent pledges and indemnification programs. More details on the project will be made available in the coming months, according to the OSDL.

Columbia Law School professor Eben Moglen, general counsel for the Free Software Foundation and the founder of the Software Freedom Law Center, which offers free legal advice to those in the open-source movement, praised the initiative and called on the community to support the project.

"OSDL is the ideal steward for such an important legal initiative as the patent commons project. No matter what your stand on software patents, and I oppose them, I call on developers to contribute to the OSDL patent commons project because there is strength in numbers and when individual contributions are collected together it creates a protective haven where developers can innovate without fear," Moglen said in a statement.

But digital-media specialist Florian Mueller, a vocal opponent of software patents, said the initiative is unlikely to offer much protection to open-source developers, as the main way to protect yourself against patent infringement lawsuits is by countersuing. Companies that have pledged free use of their patents to the open-source community have not said whether open source developers can use their patents to launch legal counterattacks.

"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. The patent pledges that IBM and Sun made added absolutely nothing to the retaliatory potential of open source. Those were just PR plays," said Mueller in a statement.

Ingrid Marson of ZDNet UK reported from London.

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