IBM to ‘open source’ 500 patents

11 January 2005 Computing powerhouse IBM, the world’s largest patent holder, is set to hand over 500 of its software patents to open source developers.

After years of amassing a treasure trove of patents relating to its technology developments — IBM currently holds in excess of 40,000 patents worldwide, and racked up an impressive 3,248 from the US Patent and Trademark Office in 2004 — it has decided to open up 500 of its software patents to the open source community.

IBM said it hopes to establish a new model for generating the most value from its investment in research and development, and hopes other technology companies will follow suit.

“True innovation leadership is about more than just the numbers of patents granted. It’s about innovating to benefit customers, partners and society,” said Dr. John Kelly, IBM senior vice president, Technology and Intellectual Property. “Our pledge today is the beginning of a new era in how IBM will manage intellectual property to benefit our partners and clients.”

IBM has previously released limited parts of its software, such as Cloudscape database to the open source community. It is estimate it invested $85 million in developing Cloudscape.

But critics have argued that IBM has taken a tactical approach in deciding which elements of its portfolio to release to the open source community, only handing over those which have either run their course as sources of revenue, or provide IBM with some other material advantage.

Last year, analysts estimate that IBM generated around $1 billion from licensing its technology.

The move pits IBM against industry heavyweight Microsoft, which has consistently backed the concept of software patent and copyright protection. Microsoft’s chairman Bill Gates recently compared those opposed to patents as ‘modern day communists’.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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