April 6, 2005 11:51 AM PDT

IBM: Proprietary technology not enough

SAN FRANCISCO--IBM, the company with more intellectual property than any of its competitors, believes it's time to learn how to share.

Irving Wladawsky-Berger, vice president of technology and strategy at IBM, said the days are gone when a company could get by on its own. Now, cooperation is the order of the day, he said at the Open Source Business Conference here.

"In the old days, maybe 10 years ago, a business thought everything they did had to be proprietary and intellectual property (IP) had to be protected against all comers," Wladawsky-Berger said. Now, though, "if you really want to tap into the energy of communities out there, you need to balance your proprietary approach to IP with a much more open, collaborative approach."

IBM itself has taken a mixed approach to the open-source idea.

It has aggressively promoted Linux for years and assigned hundreds of programmers to improve it. It also launched the Eclipse programming tool project. At the same time, IBM sells a lot of proprietary software, including its WebSphere business software and DB2 database.

When it comes to legal actions, IBM also is mixed. The company permits use of 500 patents for open-source projects, but continues to win more patent awards than any competitor.

In his speech, Wladawsky-Berger described "a new kind of innovation cycle" in which companies move ahead of an expanding wave of open-source software.

"A big part of your power is to have your people work with the communities and donate some of your intellectual property to those communities so they can get better. Then you build proprietary offerings on top of the open-source platform," he said. "Those proprietary offerings at some point will lose their value as proprietary offerings. Then there probably will be more value donating it to an open-source community, and on and on and on."

The executive isn't alone in his views. Tuesday, Sun Microsystems President Jonathan Schwartz described what he called the "participation age" based on open-source software and its ability to draw new programmers and new economies into the computing realm.

And Novell, which bought its way into the open-source realm with the acquisitions of Ximian and Suse Linux, also believes in a hybrid approach. Novell executives have described open-source software as a rising water level; proprietary software above that level can be sold for a time before eventually being swamped.

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Patents and OSS
"When it comes to legal actions, IBM also is mixed. The company permits use of 500 patents for open-source projects, but continues to win more patent awards than any competitor."

So if you promote Open-Source Software (OSS), you should not pursue patents?

I think that is the wrong message.

Let's admit that software patents exist. If you are a software developer, you must patent your innovations in any jurisdiction that allows software patents, provided you can afford it, or distrubute it as OSS (That should guarantee that any patent covering that concept of yours won't be granted). If you do opt for the patent route, just don't go around collecting royalties or sueing someone/everybody. Donate it to the Public Patent Foundation. With the state which patent offices are in today, they are very likely to grant almost any software patent applied for, even if it is something very obvious or that requires little-to-none thinking, like Amazon.com's One-Click shopping (The USPTO lost whatever credibility it had in my eyes the day I heard about that patent).

If you come up with some innovation and do not seek protection, you are asking someone else to sue you. Software development is not about discovery or invention. It is about problem-solving (Which os why I argue against patent protection for software). And guess what! It is very likely that someone else is trying to solve that problem too. And if he/she/they emerge with the same solution as yours, and they gain patent protection for it, you are basically screwed!

Just because you promote OSS does not mean that you can not promote OSS. By the way, how many of those IBM patents are software patents, and how many are for something else, e.g. material science, nanotechnology, A.I., etc.?

But I have to admit, the fact that software patents exist is a sad story.
Posted by (16 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Donate it to the Public Patent Foundation
Does this mean donate the Patent Description and let them take out the patent, or does it mean spend a quarter of a mil getting a world patent and donating that.
It would be likely that the PPF wouldn't have that sort of dough, even for just one patent, and neither would the garage based OS developer.
If any one can come up with a practical suggestion, I'm sure the OSS community would love to hear it. I certainly would.
Posted by Stomfi (52 comments )
Link Flag
Patents and OSS
"When it comes to legal actions, IBM also is mixed. The company permits use of 500 patents for open-source projects, but continues to win more patent awards than any competitor."

So if you promote Open-Source Software (OSS), you should not pursue patents?

I think that is the wrong message.

Let's admit that software patents exist. If you are a software developer, you must patent your innovations in any jurisdiction that allows software patents, provided you can afford it, or distrubute it as OSS (That should guarantee that any patent covering that concept of yours won't be granted). If you do opt for the patent route, just don't go around collecting royalties or sueing someone/everybody. Donate it to the Public Patent Foundation. With the state which patent offices are in today, they are very likely to grant almost any software patent applied for, even if it is something very obvious or that requires little-to-none thinking, like Amazon.com's One-Click shopping (The USPTO lost whatever credibility it had in my eyes the day I heard about that patent).

If you come up with some innovation and do not seek protection, you are asking someone else to sue you. Software development is not about discovery or invention. It is about problem-solving (Which os why I argue against patent protection for software). And guess what! It is very likely that someone else is trying to solve that problem too. And if he/she/they emerge with the same solution as yours, and they gain patent protection for it, you are basically screwed!

Just because you promote OSS does not mean that you can not promote OSS. By the way, how many of those IBM patents are software patents, and how many are for something else, e.g. material science, nanotechnology, A.I., etc.?

But I have to admit, the fact that software patents exist is a sad story.
Posted by (16 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Donate it to the Public Patent Foundation
Does this mean donate the Patent Description and let them take out the patent, or does it mean spend a quarter of a mil getting a world patent and donating that.
It would be likely that the PPF wouldn't have that sort of dough, even for just one patent, and neither would the garage based OS developer.
If any one can come up with a practical suggestion, I'm sure the OSS community would love to hear it. I certainly would.
Posted by Stomfi (52 comments )
Link Flag
Disgorge IP?
Scwartz is drinking too much Redmond Blue Koolaid.

While developing nations who enhance GPL products will have to release the results back to the world (including the U.S.), it is also true that U.S. companies are bound by the same constraints, let alone the fact that the GPL gave the developing country access in the first place.

It's okay for Sun to use whatever license it wants to release OpenSolaris, but this running down the GPL is just plain dumb. The GPL entitles the little guy to all the enhancements of the code that the big guy makes and is an IP equalizer.
Posted by rdean (119 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Disgorge IP?
Scwartz is drinking too much Redmond Blue Koolaid.

While developing nations who enhance GPL products will have to release the results back to the world (including the U.S.), it is also true that U.S. companies are bound by the same constraints, let alone the fact that the GPL gave the developing country access in the first place.

It's okay for Sun to use whatever license it wants to release OpenSolaris, but this running down the GPL is just plain dumb. The GPL entitles the little guy to all the enhancements of the code that the big guy makes and is an IP equalizer.
Posted by rdean (119 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The benefit$ of "hybrid"...
IBM, Sun, Novell, Red Hat and others can hire the best people they can surely afford. But if talents and products are free in the open-source community, imagine how much that saves them. They use these open-source products, inject some proprietary features and then you sell (subscription-based support) for profit.

So what goes back to the hard-working-expert-genius-kind-hearted-souls who contributed/participated to the community?

One thing is sure: the profit$ stay with IBM, Sun, Novell, Red Hat and others.

Don't get me wrong, though. I am not saying that open-source is bad considering how much good it delivered to various industries especially in the recent years. What pisses me off is that the beneficiarie$, unfortunately, are NOT the hard-working-expert-genius-kind-hearted-souls who are happy enough to be just in the roster of contributors/participants to the open-source movement. I respect them for that. I just hope these people actually get paid somehow when companies earn from their works (which can in fact be inventions).

I guess, what consoles me is the fact that these contributors/participants can continue to contribute/participate anyway. At least that means they can afford to eat, drink and be merry while they "work for free".
Posted by Mendz (519 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The benefit$ of "hybrid"...
IBM, Sun, Novell, Red Hat and others can hire the best people they can surely afford. But if talents and products are free in the open-source community, imagine how much that saves them. They use these open-source products, inject some proprietary features and then you sell (subscription-based support) for profit.

So what goes back to the hard-working-expert-genius-kind-hearted-souls who contributed/participated to the community?

One thing is sure: the profit$ stay with IBM, Sun, Novell, Red Hat and others.

Don't get me wrong, though. I am not saying that open-source is bad considering how much good it delivered to various industries especially in the recent years. What pisses me off is that the beneficiarie$, unfortunately, are NOT the hard-working-expert-genius-kind-hearted-souls who are happy enough to be just in the roster of contributors/participants to the open-source movement. I respect them for that. I just hope these people actually get paid somehow when companies earn from their works (which can in fact be inventions).

I guess, what consoles me is the fact that these contributors/participants can continue to contribute/participate anyway. At least that means they can afford to eat, drink and be merry while they "work for free".
Posted by Mendz (519 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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