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Patent Commons Library Opens Doors

The Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) group is throwing the doors open to its software patent library today. But you won't have to worry about late fees or need a library card.

The organization's repository of all the public software patent pledges made by tech companies to the open source community went live Tuesday at PatentCommons.org.

The pledges are from patent holders that have decided not to assert their technology or standards based on those patents, provided they are used to benefit the open source community.

The OSDL doesn't hold any of the patents. The site is an informational resource that aggregates the information publicized by patent holders under one virtual roof.

Launched earlier this year by the OSDL, the Patent Commons Project is a collection of five databases housing the who, what, when, where and why of open source patent pledges. The database contains more than 500 searchable patents.

The site is designed to take some of the guesswork out of creating open source applications that touch on patented technology. It's also a handy reference site for vendors as well as end users interested in finding out just what is available to the open source community and who contributed the patents.

Visitors won't have to pay a dime to access the databases, nor will they need to register to take advantage of the resources within the site.

Diane Peters, OSDL general counsel, said the organization expects to more patent pledges in the near future and wanted to get the Web site running now.

"One of the reasons we're pushing for this to go live with this sooner rather than later is that we want to get ahead of what we think are a number of pledges that are coming out," she said. "So, for us, it was easier to build the database and to provide a framework within which additional pledges and covenants can be made than it would be six months down the road."

Users can access one of five databases to get at the information they're looking for, either by: contributor; commitments; patents; the standards and technology the patents apply to, such as the OpenDocument Format; and other legal solutions, for example the indemnification plans offered by Hewlett-Packard, JBoss and Novell.

The database contains notable patent pledges from companies such as IBM , which donated 500 software patents to developers who license their applications through one of the Open Source Initiative licenses.

Sun Microsystems pledged more than 1,600 patents under its OpenSolaris initiative.

The patent commons library also references the pledges made by Computer Associates, Ericcson, Red Hat, Novell, Nokia and others.

The effort is similar, though different, from the recent launch of the Open Invention Network (OIN) by IBM, Novell, Philips, Red Hat and Sony. OSDL officials said that where the OIN is more of a cross-licensing arrangement between the major players for the patents around the Linux operating system and certain applications, the Patent Commons Project is a resource site including all open source software for the masses.