Courtesy of ZDNet’s (very good) Open source blog, a list of those patents IBM is releasing sans charge. But what does it mean?

I frankly have no idea, but here’s some context. As of this writing, IBM says that its “current active portfolio” contains about 23,000 patents, and that in 2003 they received 3,415 new ones.

Patents aren’t free. If you’re paying the retail rate to a decent law firm, one will cost you in the range of US$10,000. IBM should get economies of scale and not be paying external law firms, but they’re spending at least $17M/year on this stuff (just the lawyers, not the inventors).

So, this announcement means that IBM is unlocking 2.17% of their active portfolio, representing a few million bucks in legal expenses. At one level this is good; I mean, you have to be worried about the legal overhang from US5694597: Method and system for optimizing access to a datastore, or US5255387: Method and apparatus for concurrency control of shared data updates and queries, or US6202098: Method and system for object oriented notification (to pick three completely at random from the page I happened to have open).

But one is left with some questions: How were these selected? Among the remaining 22,500 patents, are there some that IBM plans to begin litigating? Or probably won’t litigate, but might? Or is this a general statement that IBM will not bring its patent portfolio to bear against Open Source software in general? Inquiring minds want to know.

Oh yes, and a perusal of these patent titles would tend to reinforce the cynical view that most software patents are complete unadulterated bullshit.


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January 11, 2005
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