Felix Stalder on Tue, 11 Jan 2005 11:47:58 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> I.B.M. to Give Free Access to 500 Patents

[As the article points out at the end, 500 patents is a relatively small 
number for IBM (which holds more than 10.000 software patents). 
Nevertheless, it represents a significant policy change in how to manage 
patents by the world's leading holder of patents. Is is also very 
different from Microsoft's current approach of seeking cross-licensing 
deals among holders of large patent portfolios.

IBM Press Release: http://www.ibm.com/news/us/en/2005/01/patents.html
Linux World Story: http://www.linuxworld.com/story/47749_p.htm


NYT January 11, 2005
I.B.M. to Give Free Access to 500 Patents

I.B.M. plans to announce today that it is making 500 of its software patents
freely available to anyone working on open-source projects, like the popular
Linux operating system, on which programmers collaborate and share code.

The new model for I.B.M., analysts say, represents a shift away from the
traditional corporate approach to protecting ownership of ideas through
patents, copyrights, trademark and trade-secret laws. The conventional
practice is to amass as many patents as possible and then charge anyone who
wants access to them. I.B.M. has long been the champion of that formula. The
company, analysts estimate, collected $1 billion or more last year from
licensing its inventions.

The move comes after a lengthy internal review by I.B.M., the world's largest
patent holder, of its strategy toward intellectual property. I.B.M.
executives said the patent donation today would be the first of several such

John Kelly, the senior vice president for technology and intellectual
property, called the patent contribution "the beginning of a new era in how
I.B.M. will manage intellectual property."

I.B.M. may be redefining its intellectual property strategy, but it apparently
has no intention of slowing the pace of its patent activity. I.B.M. was
granted 3,248 patents in 2004, far more than any other company, according to
the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The patent office is
announcing today its yearly ranking of the top 10 private-sector patent

I.B.M. collected 1,300 more patents last year than the second-ranked company,
Matsushita Electric Industrial of Japan. The other American companies among
the top 10 patent recipients were Hewlett-Packard, Micron Technology and

I.B.M. executives say the company's new approach to intellectual property
represents more than a rethinking of where the company's self-interest lies.
In recent speeches, for example, Samuel J. Palmisano, I.B.M.'s chief
executive, has emphasized the need for more open technology standards and
collaboration as a way to stimulate economic growth and job creation.

On this issue, I.B.M. appears to be siding with a growing number of academics
and industry analysts who regard open-source software projects as early
evidence of the wide collaboration and innovation made possible by the
Internet, providing opportunities for economies, companies and individuals
who can exploit the new model.

"This is exciting," said Lawrence Lessig, a professor at Stanford Law School
and founder of the school's Center for Internet and Society. "It is I.B.M.
making good on its commitment to encourage a different kind of software
development and recognizing the burden that patents can impose."

I.B.M. has already made substantial contributions to open-source software
projects in the last few years. The company has been the leading corporate
supporter of Linux. It donated computer code worth more than $40 million to
an open-source group, Eclipse, which offers software tools for building
programs. Last year, I.B.M. gave to an open-source group a database program
called Cloudscape, which cost the company $85 million to develop.

Those past contributions, however, have gone mainly to projects that serve to
make Linux - fast becoming a viable alternative to the operating systems
Windows from Microsoft and Solaris from Sun Microsystems - more attractive to
corporate customers. In that respect, supporting Linux helps to undermine
I.B.M.'s rivals and can be seen as a smart tactic for I.B.M. The company's
commercial software strategy is focused largely on its WebSphere software,
which runs on top of operating systems.

Today's move by I.B.M. is not aimed at a specific project, but opens access to
14 categories of technology, including those that manage electronic commerce,
storage, image processing, data handling and Internet communications.

"This is much broader than the contributions we've made in the past," said Jim
Stallings, vice president for standards and intellectual property at I.B.M.
"These patents are for technologies that are deeply embedded in many industry
uses, and they will be available to anyone working on open-source projects
including small companies and individual entrepreneurs."

I.B.M. executives said they hoped the company's initial contribution of 500
patents would be the beginning of a "patent commons," which other companies
would join. I.B.M. has not yet approached other companies, Mr. Stallings

I.B.M. will continue to hold the 500 patents. But it has pledged to seek no
royalties from and to place no restrictions on companies, groups or
individuals who use them in open-source projects, as defined by the Open
Source Initiative, a nonprofit education and advocacy group. The group's
definition involves a series of policies allowing for free redistribution,
publication of the underlying source code and no restrictions on who uses the
software or how it is used.

Just how far I.B.M. intends to go in granting open access to its patents is
uncertain. The 500 patents are a small slice of its corporate patent trove of
more than 40,000 worldwide and 25,000 in the United States. In recent years,
software patents have accounted for about half of the patents granted to


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