IBM will offer up a host of patents--from methods for encrypting data to network-monitoring techniques--free of charge for use by open-source software developers, the company said Tuesday.
Under the plan, IBM says it will immediately contribute 500 patents to what it hopes will become an industrywide "patent commons," from which commercial and private developers can mine commonly used code and programming techniques.
IBM officials say the gesture isn't completely altruistic--they believe the company, along with users, will benefit if more commercial software development is turned over to the open-source community. "The more things they develop, the more we can develop around that," IBM standards VP Bob Sutor says.
IBM will release more patents to open-source developers in the future, Sutor says, adding, "We don't have a fixed timetable."
Coming on the heels of the sale of its PC business to China's Lenovo Group Ltd., the move is a further indication that IBM wants to position itself primarily as a service provider, some analysts believe. "If your goal is to be a provider of higher-value services and solutions, then fighting over who owns a file format is not critical," says John Rymer, VP for application development research at Forrester Research.