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Perens: Torvalds' patent pool is useless

Spitting in the wind

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Open source activist Bruce Perens has dismissed as inadequate a new IP initiative backed by Linus Torvalds. The Open Source Development Labs' (OSDL) patent commons project is intended to provide patent protection to open source developers.

Perens, speaking at LinuxWorld, compared the patent pool to "spitting in the wind" -because the patents it contained come from "the wrong people."

OSDL, home to Torvalds, announced the commons project at this week's conference in San Francisco, California. The project will provide a library and database that aggregates patent holders' patent pledges along with a collection of software patent licenses and patents.

Torvalds said in a statement the commons project would help developers deal with the threat posed to open source by patents, by making it easier for patent holders to make their patents available in a common pool.

"Software patents are a huge potential threat to the ability of people to work together on open source," Torvalds said.

Companies which have donated IP to the community this year include IBM, Nokia and Sun Microsystems.

But Perens says the pool is flawed because the patents would only come "from the friends rather than the enemies of open source".

He added that the pool could not defend developers against patent claims because most of the patent holders have cross-licensing deals with each other. "If Microsoft turns out to be the aggressor, that does not help," he said.

"The pool turns out to be spitting in the wind."

Perens says a legislative and political approach, including lobbying politicians, is required to tackle patents in software. He noted open source infringes on "tens of thousands" of patents granted in the US and that companies taken to court over these would "lose some of the cases."

"We have to understand this is still an extremely fragile phenomena," he said. "There still exists legislation that would allow a pernicious company or companies to shut down development in US or other nations. Until we solve that problem we shouldn't be sleeping." ®

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