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Europe Casts Wary Eye On IBM's Open-Source Patent Largesse

IBM's pledge to offer free and open access to 500 key open-source software patents reverberated throughout the software industry Tuesday and is likely to have an impact on the ongoing debate over software patents that has been raging in Europe.

In announcing the move Tuesday, IBM said: "The pledge is applicable to any individual, community, or company working on or using software that meets the Open Source Initiative (OSI) definition of open-source software now or in the future." The announcement came the same day that the U.S. Patent Office announced that IBM had filed 3,248 patents last year--more than any other company.

IBM's overall patent policy is underpinned by an effort to keep software and computer patents in force; the European Community has been debating the issue of software patents in recent months, and momentum has been growing to eliminate patents for software there--a move that would be detrimental for IBM and also for its arch-competitor, Microsoft.

"I think IBM is trying to kill two birds with one stone," said Florian Mueller, campaign manager of NoSoftwarePatents.com, a Munich-based association. "IBM wants to appease the open-source people in the U.S. and simultaneously influence the political debate over patents in Europe."

Mueller, who heads the association, said he doubts the IBM move will be able to stop the momentum that he says is growing towards outlawing software patents in Europe. NoSoftwarePatents.com is supported by Red Hat, MySQL AB--both developers of open-source software--and by Germany's 1x1, a large ISP.

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