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A database containing more than 500 software patents and backed by big-name vendors has been posted online to foster development of litigation-free open source.

Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) has launched its Patent Commons Project with backing from IBM - the industry's largest holder of technology patents - Computer Associates International (CA), Novell, Red Hat, Intel and Sun Microsystems.

The site hosts more than 500 pledged patents and more than a dozen technical standards supported by additional patent pledges and covenants. Content hosted in the library is available to developers, users and vendors.

Stuart Cohen, OSDL's chief executive, called the project an important first step in helping developers reduce the chances of patent litigation, because it would help them understand commitments associated with different intellectual property (IP).

"Developers can innovate as free as possible from litigation," he said.

OSDL announced the project at LinuxWorld in San Francisco, California, this August. Despite receiving broad support, at least one open source evangelist was critical. Bruce Perens said the pool was like “spitting in the wind” because it was backed only by "friends rather than the enemies of open source". IBM alone this year has donated 500 of its patents to the community.

OSDL said the project would catalogue existing patents commitments from companies and individuals who wish to retain ownership of their patents. In coming months, the site will feature information about open source licenses, indemnification programs and information for those who wish to contribute to the commons. ®

Reducing security risks from open source software

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