Google plays nice with patents

Google have just announced a new pledge in the "Open Patent Non-Assertion" (OPN) agreement, a new initiative that means they will not sue developers, distributors or users of open source software which uses Google's patents. Google has identified 10 patents in relation to MapReduce, "a computing model for processing large data sets," which can now be used by anyone as long as the software is open source.

There is a caveat: if Google is "attacked" first, they will use the patents offensively. Google still hopes that others will follow their example: "We hope the OPN Pledge will serve as a model for the industry, and we’re encouraging other patent holders to adopt the pledge or a similar initiative." The patents are largely insignificant, but represent a move in the right direction in a system that is "broken" according to patent experts. Google says there are a number of advantages to their system, including: 

  • Transparency. Patent holders determine exactly which patents and related technologies they wish to pledge, offering developers and the public transparency around patent rights.
  • Breadth. Protections under the OPN Pledge are not confined to a specific project or open- source copyright license. (Google contributes a lot of code under such licenses, like the Apache or GNU GPL licenses, but their patent protections are limited.) The OPN Pledge, by contrast, applies to any open-source software—past, present or future—that might rely on the pledged patents.
  • Defensive protection. The Pledge may be terminated, but only if a party brings a patent suit against Google products or services, or is directly profiting from such litigation.
  • Durability. The Pledge remains in force for the life of the patents, even if we transfer them.

Google lists IBM and Red Hat as pioneers of the open software, as well as the Open Invention Network (of which Google is a member). 

Other companies, such as Oracle and Apple, use patents offensively - an act that is condemned in technology circles. Loren Brichter, who created Tweetie for iOS (later Twitter for iPhone) and Letterpress, follows a similar guide to Google, saying that anyone can use his "pull-to-refresh" patent as "as long as they aren't a dick." 

Source: Google | Image via Google

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