IBM pledges access to its IP for standards

IBM pledges access to its IP for standards

IBM making it easier for developers to implement its patented intellectual property

IBM is making it easier to utilize its patented intellectual property to implement nearly 200 standards in SOA, Web services, security and other spaces.

Under a pledge issued by the company Wednesday, IBM is granting universal and perpetual access to intellectual property that might be necessary to implement standards designed to make software interoperable. IBM will not assert any patent rights to its technologies featured in these standards. The company believes its move in this space is the largest of its kind.

"These are what I could call the core infrastructure standards that people now use around such things as SOA," said Bob Sutor, IBM vice president of open source and standards. Web 2.0 applications also could be developed, for example. The company seeks to spur development of software that leverages these standards.

Among the technologies included on IBM's list, accessible here, are various standards pertaining to SOAP, SAML, XML Schema, and Service Component Architecture. WS-* specifications are featured as well. IBM was not the sole developer of many of these standards, which are often under the jurisdiction of organizations like the World Wide Web Consortium and OASIS. But the company did contribute to their development.

IBM's technology previously could be applied on a royalty-free basis when used in conjunction with the standards. But developers and customers had to go through a royalty-free licensing process, which involved filling out forms.

"What we decided to do was make it simpler for people to implement all of them," Sutor said.

IBM has provided a non-assertion statement that says people are free to use any of its patents needed to implement the standards, provided they do not sue IBM or anyone else over use of their own patents involved in implementing the standards.

With the new setup, an open-source developer, for example, does not have to spend time getting licenses from IBM. Sutor acknowledged, though, that some implementers have simply chosen not to get the licenses anyway.

IBM has about 40,000 patents. Any of these that apply can be used when deploying the standards.

With IBM's effort, users have one less thing to be concerned about, said analyst Michael Goulde, of Forrester Research.

"Nobody's going to change what they're doing. I think they're just going to be able to do it with one less concern over their head," Goulde said.

Hopefully, other vendors, such as Sun Microsystems and Microsoft, will be inspired to do what IBM has done, said Goulde.

But IBM drew criticism from Sun's Simon Phipps, chief open source officer at the company, in a response posted on Bob Sutor's own blog.

"Nice move, Bob, congratulations," Phipps said. "One question, though. Why did you frame this in terms of 'necessary claims?' That leaves a developer wondering if they have done the right things in their code to avoid a patent claim against them."

"It leaves them (potentially) to research IBM's patent portfolio in order to get security that the approach they have taken is unavoidably necessary. And it leaves them fearful (reasonably or not) of action against them if they decide to partner with a company or project of which IBM does not approve (the same way the police can always find a law you broke if they want to nail you)," Phipps said.

Sun has had equivalent patent pledges but did not limit usage to "essential claims," Phipps said.

Microsoft did not provide a response in time for publication of this article.

In 2005, IBM opened up access to 500 patents to open-source developers. Patent access also was opened up to health care and education professionals that year.

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