IBM frees 500 software patents

IBM have announced that they plan to release 500 software patents to the Open Source community.

What this apparently means (to quote the BBC News website) is:

IBM will continue to hold the 500 patents but it has pledged to seek no royalties from the patents.

The company said it would not place any restrictions on companies, groups or individuals who use them in open-source projects.

I'm not entirely sure whether or not software patents are a good thing. Certainly the views on this are pretty strong and polarised in the software industry, but I can see both sides of the argument (especially as I have a few software patents pending ;)).

I wonder what the response of Sun (particularly) and other companies will be? I also wonder whether these released patents are actually of any use to the Open Source community anyway ?

Comments:

I'd say that the problems with software patents are really a side-effect of more general problems of (current) patent systems. There's many abuses of the patent system with or without software patents. So I guess I see it both ways as well.

Some people seem to view software patents are inherantly bad, no matter what, which I don't get unless they're against patents in general. After all, software innovation is just as real as hardware innovation. A lot of hardware these days is developed like software as well - ie with a computer. Some companies offer ways to "compile" C code (within limits) to fixed microprocessor logic - effectively a physical implementation of software. Should the chip be patentable but not the original code? Would be rather daft.

So, how to fix the patent system? I have a couple of ideas, but basically: patents should have a subscription cost that increases with time, and no fixed limit for patent length. In other words, encourage companies to expire patents they don't really need. In addition, need different levels of patents - minimum would be a "public good" (free for all), medium would be "defensive only" (can't use to sue companies, only in defence/retaliation), and finally "business critical", which can use like today. The difference is that "business critical" patents would cost more (to get, and as subscription), and be checked more deeply, and so on down. A patent level could be reduced (eg business critical to defensive only) with a corresponding reduction in subscription costs, but the level cannot be raised. Finally, the patent office should be fined for any patent that is later overturned - to encourage them to balance speed with accuracy. I don't think juries should be used to decide patent lawsuits either.

Posted by Chris Rijk on January 11, 2005 at 04:19 AM GMT #

The debate over patents doesn't really matter compared to the PR value IBM got over at Slashdot. It blew me away to see people so easily won over. It is as if IBM can do no wrong over there.

Posted by Anonymous on January 11, 2005 at 07:46 AM GMT #

Yes, Mr or Ms Anonymous, you're quite correct about the PR value of this. It didn't occur to me that the normally very cynical bunch over at slashdot would actually approve of IBM's move.

Regardless of slashdot, though, it occurs to me that whether or not the patents have any use to the Open Source community is also irrelevant. IBM have scored a general PR victory by making this move.

Posted by Trevor Watson on January 11, 2005 at 09:12 AM GMT #

Personally I don't think patents are right, at least with the current system. What would have happened if John Ford couldn't have constructed his car beacuse the "methods to build engines" are patented?
What about Apple? Right now it's not possible to write a new operative system from scratch without falling under some patent (Things like "VFS" are patented IIRC). Companies like Apple wouldn't be possible right now. Patents are killing the "american dream"

Posted by Diego on January 11, 2005 at 09:33 AM GMT #

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