Community patent partners

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New York Times: “I.B.M. plans to announce today that it is making 500 of its software patents freely available to anyone working on open-source projects, like the popular Linux operating system, on which programmers collaborate and share code.

Smart move by IBM. It’s difficult to say how this will play out, but if done right IBM will gain additional respect from open source developers.

What makes this news so interesting to me is that just this past week at CES I had a couple conversations with people about why I thought companies should initiate approaches like this with community developers.

Bring the developers in as partners. This is particularly important in areas of heated innovation and competition. You want numbers. You want risk-taking individuals and groups scouting out new approaches on your side. It grows your network. It grows the knowledge base. It also just may save you a patent fight in the future. How? If you attract a good community developer pool, they very well may invent technologies that will never be patented. And if you were unlikely to have discovered and patented these techniques yourself, it’s probably better in most cases to have the technology in the public domain (courtesy of a community project) than in your competitors’ hands.

1 COMMENT

  1. Your last part “better in most cases to have the technology in the public domain (courtesy of a community project) than in your competitors’ hands.” confused me a bit ?
    If the idea is in the public domain, then don’t you competitors have it also ?

  2. >> …don’t your competitors have it also

    Sure. But they can’t use it as leverage against you in court if it’s public domain. I should have made this clearer.

    In the extreme: you want to accumulate as many patents as you can get and if you don’t patent something, you don’t want anyone else to either.

    Of course in the real world the business ecosystem is much more intertwined and interdependent than this simple, lopsided statement.