OSDL's chief executive Stuart Cohen today unveiled its patent commons project. It all seemed very harmless, but between the lines insiders read an extremely serious warning for Microsoft. The Open Source Development Lab (OSDL) is the non-profit that has made it its life goal to support Linux.
The patent commons for now only aims to build a library of patents that have been pledged for open source. IBM last January took the lead and published a list of 500 patents that it said it wouldn't use against open source. Sun Microsystems and Nokia followed suit.
(Funny by the way that the GPL-loving HP hasn't yet given as much as a wink).
Each provider however pledged the patents under different terms. IBM reserves the right to take the patents back if it feels a need to do so. Sun's patents only protect those who adhere to its CDDL licence and Nokia doesn’t go beyond the Linux kernel.
The OSDL library has to make it easy for developers to see if they are covered by a patent.
But industry insiders warn that you should ready between the lines. OSDL isn't just building a library, but is also lining up resources. It first needs the patent holders to submit all the information in its database. Once it gains the insight into all these patents, the library also acts as a bargaining chip: as soon as a patent holder threatens a developer, the latter can access the library and look for any patents that the claimant is infringing upon.
Follows a cross licensing deal and the threat is gone.
Take it yet one step further and you can see OSDL or some other organisation proactively going out and enforce these open source patents as a determent: "Back off or we'll come after you."
You don't have to look very far to think who this plan could be targeting: only one company recently has become very active in building a patent portfolio while hiring an army of patent lawyers: Microsoft.
It's just a bit too early to go out and say that now, but OSDL today started building a nuclear shield that is intended as a response to the threat from Microsoft's. The cold war has entered a new stage.
Stuart Cohen puts his cards on the table
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