Interesting news indeed this morning, with a consortium of IBM, Sony, Philips, Novell and Red Hat announcing the formation of a company the Open Invention Network, a company for sharing Linux-related patents, for free.

This is the latest in a series of announcements that have gradually reduced the risk posed by software patents for open source development: in summary,

  1. In October 2004, Novell publicly committed to use its patent portfolio to protect its open source software offerings. In a policy statement, Novell said it would utilize its patent portfolio to defend against potential intellectual property attacks by others on its open source products.
  2. In January 2005, IBM announced that it would allow open access to innovations covered by 500 IBM software patents to individuals and groups working on open source software (significant because around the same time, the USPTO announced that IBM earned more U.S. patents than any other company for the twelfth consecutive year – 3248 in 2004 alone)
  3. In October 2005, IBM made another announcement – that it would pledge royalty-free access to their patent portfolio for the development and implementation of selected open healthcare and education software standards built around web services, electronic forms and open document formats

Do I detect a trend? Way to go, IBM.