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CA readies patent pledge

As it tries to cozy up to open-source developers, Computer Associates plans to follow IBM's and Sun's example of donating patents.

Computer Associates plans to submit a portion of its patent portfolio to open-source developers, following moves by other technology companies delving into open source.

The Islandia, N.Y., company also intends to use its patents to defend against legal action directed at open-source products, according to a company representative. The timing of the patent donation and the terms governing use are still being worked out, the representative said.

CA's decision to make its patents available to others comes on the heels of similar moves by IBM and Sun Microsystems. IBM in January made 500 patents accessible to open-source developers, while Sun released patents related to the open-source Solaris operating system.

Linux distributor Red Hat is opposed to software patents in general and allows unfettered use of its own portfolio of open-source software. Novell, which also sells support services for open-source applications, has vowed that it will use its own patents to deter and counter legal attacks against open-source software.

Like these other companies, Computer Associates has adopted the open-source development model, where the code for software products is made freely available to modify and, in some cases, redistribute. CA last year created an open-source project around its Ingres r3 database, a relational database used in large-scale business applications.

Computer Associates CEO John Swainson said earlier this week that the company will continue to explore ways to build adoption for its products through open-source projects.

"Open Source is a tool. As a commercial software company, I look at this as one of the tools that I have available to help establish a standard. So I can build products on it, above it, below it, beside it," he said. "But it's just a tool, and it's not always the right tool."

CA is also giving away software to help drive its adoption. Later this year, the company intends to release a database administration tool to ease management of several databases. The Unicenter-branded product will go into beta testing in the spring, said Tony Gaughan, the company's senior vice president of development. Customers will have to pay for a more functional version.

Although CA is not known for generating patents, the company has been around for 29 years and has a substantial number of them. IBM has been awarded the most patents for several years by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, while CA hasn't appeared on the list of the top 20 receivers for the past few years.

Separately, Computer Associates plans to announce that it will reorganize around separate business units in the coming month. The move is a follow-on to a restructuring of CA's product groups last month, a company representative said.

The organization and reporting of the product groups is designed to give each group more leeway in investment decisions, for both internal development as well as to pursue acquisitions.