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IBM promises no patent assault on Linux

Unless forced to defend itself

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IBM has promised it will not use its stockpile of patents against Linux unless it is "forced to defend itself". The company made its announcement at LinuxWorld, where it laid down the gauntlet to other software companies, challenging them to follow its lead.

In a speech at the conference, Nick Donofrio, senior vice president for technology and manufacturing said: "IBM has no intention of asserting its patent portfolio against the Linux kernel, unless of course we are forced to defend ourselves," ZDNet reports.

According to Open Source Risk Management (OSRM), IBM holds 60 patents on which the Linux kernel potentially infringes. Given that any one patent suit will cost millions to defend, IBM could wreak havoc on Linux, and on the open source community in general if it chose to pursue the patents.

The news will no doubt also be welcome in Munich" where city authorities have postponed their plans to migrate to Linux over concerns about the new European directive covering software patents.

IBM's record on filing patents is impressive: it files more patents every year than any other tech company, a cultural tradition that owes a lot to patent lawyer Marshall Phelps. Phelps is now working with Microsoft, which OSRM estimates holds 27 patents covering ideas and techniques used in the Linux code. The Redmond-based software giant has not indicated whether or not it will be taking any such action.

For its part, Open Source Development Labs (OSDL), the Linux consortium that now employs Linux inventor Linus Torvalds, said that if it was challenged, it would issue workarounds for code in Linux that infringes on "the legitimate legal rights of others", a promise it has extended to patented material.

IBM's promise is a good one, as far as it goes. The company has only promised not to go after Linux, not the open source movement in general, and has said nothing about changing the way it approaches its patent collection. ®

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