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CA, IBM Join in Open Patent Pledge

Rivals Computer Associates International and IBM have agreed to exchange software license rights and releases in a bid to bring technologies to the public for open source development.

The cross-license patent agreement means that CA is joining IBM in encouraging other companies to create a "patent commons." In such an environment, patents are pledged royalty-free in order to boost innovation, said Mark Barrenechea, executive vice president of technology strategy and chief technology architect at CA.

The patent cross license will allow both companies to bring value to IBM's mainframe and distributed platforms -- and share that with mutual customers.

CA said it will open up access to software covered by 14 of its U.S. patents, along with counterparts of these patents issued in other countries. Access would be for individuals and groups working on open source software.

To qualify for CA's new program, licenses of solutions using CA's intellectual property must be certified by opensource.org. Technology covered in those patents includes a modeling schema that automates translation between programming languages and provides visual modeling and editing of bits of data. The patents help programmers create better programming tools.

Other patents up for use cover business intelligence and analytics, such as helping developers view multi-dimensional data.

The deal highlights the ongoing effect of open source on competitors and the IT industry.

CA and IBM compete fiercely in the large, multi-billion-dollar market for software that manages the operations of computer systems. But cooperating in certain areas such as in the patent deal, is apparently good for business.

For example, Barrenechea said in an interview Wednesday, CA supports IBM's zSeries mainframe systems and is a leading provider of management and security software for mainframes. CA also manages and secures IBM's DB2 database, other hardware platforms and WebSphere application middleware.

"We have a philosophy of trying to work closely with leading technology providers," Barrenechea said. "There is another part of IBM we compete with, but at the same time we're good partners in other parts of the market."

CA, which opened its Ingres database to the open source world last year, is following in the footsteps of IBM's patent commons pledge from earlier this year.

In January, Big Blue opened 500 software patents to developers of open source software so they can develop without fear of being accused of infringement. The patents are available to those who abide by the Open Source Initiative (OSI) and use one of 50 OSI-certified licenses.

The Armonk, N.Y., company said it wanted the 500 patents to form a kind of "patent commons," which would include other intellectual property (IP) owners willing to release their patents to open source. Officials said that while IP ownership is essential, technical innovation depends on shared knowledge, standards and collaborative innovation.

The practice of open sourcing software is a touchy subject. Reaction to IBM's move has varied, with some praising the company for its open-mindedness and skeptics speculating that IBM's true intentions are to gain more control in the market.

Barrenchea said CA and IBM see eye to eye on opening up patents.

"Now was the right timing, inclusive of our other license agreements," Barrenechea said. "We believe in the open source community. We believe in open innovation."

The executive said CA and IBM hope other companies with rich patent portfolios will join them in bringing open source innovation to the market. He did not specify other companies that may be in talks with IBM and CA.