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IBM Interoperability Pledge

| by Mark Little Follow 15 Followers on Jul 11, 2007. Estimated reading time: 1 minute |
IBM has announced that it is granting universal and perpetual access to certain intellectual property that might be necessary to implement more than 150 standards designed to make software interoperable. As the press release states:
One likely result of the pledge to commercial and open source communities is that it will be easier for more computing devices and software to be compatible with one another. The move, which IBM believes is the largest of its kind, is also designed to spur industry innovation, while discouraging litigation.
and Bob Sutor, IBM's VP of Open Source and Standards, added:
"IBM is sending a message that innovation and industry growth happens in an open, collaborative atmosphere. 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."
Previously, all adopters of these specifications and protocols needed to secure royalty-free licensing terms from IBM and often co-authors. This move clarifies and makes more consistent the intellectual property usage rules, encouraging even wider implementations of open standards. IBM hopes that others companies and intellectual property holders make similar commitments.

IBM has created a set of pages dedicated to the Interoperability Pledge and the front page states:
IBM is offering a patent non-assert pledge to include the software specifications identified in the following list. IBM intends this pledge to include specifications for software interoperability for which it has made a royalty-free patent licensing commitment. No action is required by users of these specifications to invoke this non-assert commitment.
The list of specifications covered is quite impressive, including SCA/SDO, XACML 1.0/1.1, XML 1.0/1.1, MTOM, WS-MTOMPolicy 1.0, OpenDocument 1.0/1.1, OGSA, OWL, SAML 2.0, SOAP 1.2, UDDI, WS-RM, WS-Security, WS-Addressing, WS-AtomicTransaction, WS-BusinessActivity, WSDL etc. etc.

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Nice gesture but this basically corrects a mistake by Eric Newcomer

Standards in general are not something anyone should be seeking to impede with patent claims in the first place. I always cite the example of the World Wide Web, and Tim Berners-Lee's conscious decision not to seek any patents for his inventions (i.e. contributions thereto) of HTTP, URL, and HTML. I believe this is one of the reasons the Web has become so widely adopted, and why its standards have become the foundation for so much innovation.

Sometimes I have asked the rhetorical question: "Can you imagine if IBM or Microsoft had invented the Web?" Would they have decided not to try to patent it? If they had (which seems likely given their view toward Web services standards - Microsoft having previously made an equivalent statement last year:
www.microsoft.com/interop/osp/default.mspx), would that have inhibited the adoption of the Web?

So this is good news, yes, but it just highlights the fact that many Web services specifications were previously encumbered by patent rights. Although Web services have been widely adopted and implemented anyway - but mainly SOAP and WSDL, which are published by the W3C, which has (because of Tim) a very strict policy against encumbering specifications with patents. (Which by the way was also a major reason for Microsoft and IBM to start submitting specifications to OASIS instead of W3C, and why the industry does not have any real leadership around Web services standardization efforts, or a consisent architecture for Web services.)

It would be interesting to understand how much of the WS-* "backlash" has been caused by the IP issues highlighted by this, and Microsoft's prior, announcement.

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