The Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) has unveiled a Patent Commons Project that will help developers to avoid infringing patents.
The not-for-profit organisation, which aims to further the adoption of Linux, employs several open source developers including Linux creator Linus Torvalds.
OSDL chief executive Stuart Cohen said at the LinuxWorld tradeshow in San Francisco that the project will build a library of patents that have been pledged to support open source.
It will also allow individual patent holders to indicate that they allow the use of their patents in open source products.
"It is one-stop shopping for the developer community and a good way for the patent holder to get their patents out so that people can innovate," Cohen told vnunet.com in an interview at the tradeshow.
Patents are considered a major threat to open source projects. If a project infringes on a patent, the owner could take legal action against the developers and users of the application.
Nokia's pledge only applies to the Linux kernel, and Sun promises to safeguard only projects that adhere to the Common Development and Distribution Licence.
The library that OSDL intends to build will give developers and users a single place to look up what patents could apply to a project, and whether their work is covered by the patent pledge.
The organisation will not let patent holders transfer ownership of the patent to the organisation, but Cohen said that this could change in the future.
OSDL will also not use the portfolio to defend open source projects, using them as a protective umbrella to deter parties from taking legal action against open source. Sun has vowed to use its portfolio as a defensive weapon if needed.
The project aims to attract owners of patents that are several years old and
have served their purpose. But Cohen explained that a patent applies for 20
years. "[The owners] want to signal that they don't want to stifle anybody's
innovation," he said.
The foundation is talking with several vendors including Novell, Red Hat, IBM and Sun about adding information on the patents they pledge to the database.
Novell chief executive Jack Messman told vnunet.com that he supported the project. "We are looking at how we can work with this," he said, adding that he expected to make a concrete announcement before the end of the year.
The new OSDL project is a way for the open source community to mix patents with open source, according to Eben Moglen, president of the Software Freedom Law Centre, an organisation providing legal services to protect free and open source software.
"The 21st century is proving that sharing is the best for IT, but patent law inhibits sharing," he said. "This is an attempt to retrofit patent law to allow sharing."
Moglen explained that such patching is the only option the software industry has until it can force true patent reform.
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