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Google Rolls Out ID System for Free and Open Source Software

Google on Thursday declared an "open patent non-assertion pledge" (OPN), which stakes out the company's self-declared legal boundaries on some free and open source software.

The company is promising that it won't sue over intellectual property claims associated with some open source software if that software has been pledged under the OPN. The one exception comes into effect if Google itself is subject to litigation.

"We pledge not to sue any user, distributor or developer of open-source software on specified patents, unless first attacked," Google explained, in a blog post.

The OPN isn't a blanket agreement. Google has to first specify which patents fall under the OPN. In its blog post, Google announced 10 patents associated with MapReduce as the first candidates for inclusion under OPN.

While it would seem that OPN software would be free to use, Google isn't offering legal indemnity.

"The Pledge is not an assurance that any of the Pledged Patents cover any particular software or hardware or are enforceable, that the Pledged Patents are all patents that do or may cover any particular Free or Open Source Software, that any activities covered by the Pledge will not infringe patents or other intellectual property rights of a third party, or that Google will add any other patents to the list of Pledged Patents," the OPN pledge states.

It also appears that Google is just trotting out the OPN to identify some free and open source software that it might not even own. The company will still use GNU, and other open source licensing, for some of its products.

"The OPN Pledge is oriented to open source software to which Google has contributed little or no code, or has not otherwise incurred any patent license obligations under patents it owns," Google explained in a FAQ. "The OPN allows us to do more than conventional patent rights transfer mechanisms around free or open software would allow."

Google is hoping that the OPN will serve as a model for others in the industry to adopt, although it just seems to be a list of software that's deemed by Google to be free and open. The idea behind OPN is to reduce lawsuits.

"Our pledge builds on past efforts by companies like IBM and Red Hat and the work of the Open Invention Network (of which Google is a member)," the blog stated. "It also complements our efforts on cooperative licensing, where we’re working with like-minded companies to develop patent agreements that would cut down on lawsuits."

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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