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IBM relinquishes IP for the sake of open standards

Unless you use it to sue

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Computer giant IBM is handing over a portfolio of intellectual property to any other developers that want to use it in the name of furthering interoperability and open standards.

The firm will grant "universal and perpetual access" to IP related to over 150 open standards. Open standards are technical agreements that help people writing software to ensure that it works with other software.

The announcement will extend access to IBM inventions not only to the open source community and other commercial developers, but also to users and consumers of the technology.

"IBM is sending a message that innovation and industry growth happens in an open, collaborative atmosphere," said Bob Sutor, IBM's vice president of open source and standards.

"Users will adopt new technologies if they know that they can find those technologies in a variety of interchangeable, compatible products from competing vendors. We think customers will like this added assurance for the open standards upon which they have come to depend," said Sutor.

There is an exception to the grant of access to the technology: it is closed to anyone taking legal action to block further interoperability. IBM will not extend the access to anyone who is suing someone else over patents necessary for interoperability in the standards to which this technology relates.

The intellectual property concerned was available for free to software makers before, but they had to apply to IBM for a royalty-free licence from the company. "This move clarifies and makes more consistent the intellectual property usage rules, encouraging even wider implementations of open standards," said a company statement. "IBM hopes that others companies and intellectual property holders make similar commitments."

Sutor commented on the announcement on his blog, saying that such action, if followed by other firms, could make for better software all round.

"I believe such positive, constructive actions regarding intellectual property are the preferred routes to accelerate the shift to better products and services for customers via open architectures," he said.

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