Google has announced that it is taking a stand on open source and patents by doing something unique. The company has launched an initiative called Open Patent Non-Assertion (OPN) Pledge. This pledge says that Google will never sue any user, distributor or developer of open source software on the patents that it has specified unless the company is sued first.
They have added 10 patents to this pledge which are related to a software called MapReduce which is built to process large amounts of data. The software was first developed at Google and its modified versions are now being used by a lot of developers and companies to handle huge datasets. The company said that it will keep adding its other patents to the pledge list over time. This pledge is thus something akin to a beta version and depending on the popularity and progress of this initiative it will be scaled further. Google has specified that this is not going to be a Google-only initiative and will need support and pledges by many other companies in the tech space which make heavy use of open source software.
Here is an excerpt from the official announcement which elaborates on the pledge:
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 has been an active contributor and supporter of open source software since the early days and this goes hand in hand with their assertion that the web needs to be an open place. There is however some debate on whether Google itself is open. The definition of open source is that everyone is free to modify code and build on it and then publish the whole source code for everyone to access. Google’s definition of open in its products may not meet open source guidelines since most of the backend of Google products is closed and proprietary. Even if that is the case, Google has long supported and built open source projects like the Linux Kernel, Chromium (the browser on which Google Chrome is built), Android in addition to many other things. The company has also said that it will be willing to work towards cooperative licensing with other like minded companies. The end result if a lot of companies join in would be a big reduction in the number of patent related lawsuits.
Link | OPN Pledge
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