Saturday, October 01, 2005

SUN PROVIDES EMPTY PATENT ASSURANCES FOR OPENDOCUMENT: Yestarday Sun officially released what it calls the Sun OpenDocument Patent Statement — a statement that basically amounts to a covenant of patent non-assertion that applies to anyone seeking to create or use an implementation of ODF.

The OpenDocument format (ODF), short for the OASIS Open Document Format for Office Applications, is an open document file format for saving and exchanging editable office documents such as text documents (including memos, reports, and books), spreadsheets, charts, and presentations. This standard was developed by the OASIS industry consortium, based upon the XML-based file format originally created by

The standard was publicly developed by a variety of organizations, is publicly accessible, and can be implemented by anyone without restriction. The OpenDocument format is intended to provide an open alternative to proprietary document formats including the popular DOC, XLS, and PPT formats used by Microsoft Office, as well as Microsoft Office Open XML format (this latter format has various licensing requirements that prevent some competitors from using it).

The statement by Sun had some significant attruibutes that were summarized by David Berland at ZDNet:

  • Like previous patent grants by Sun and IBM, it's an irrevocable promise by Sun that guarantees developers and users that they won't be sued for patent infringement when using or developing an implementation of ODF. In a way, this does most open source licenses one better because those licenses don't explicitly contain patent grants.

  • Unlike previous patent grants by Sun and IBM, it doesn't list any specific patents. In other words, it basically says that whatever of Sun's patents an implementation of ODF may "read on" (in other contexts, that would be "infringe on") , Sun will not assert those patents against a user or developer of that implementation. Whereas other patent grants list specific grants, this non-assertion statement doesn't force developers or users to examine a list of granted patents in order to figure out if they can openly implement some specification (in this case ODF).

  • Like previous patent grants and like open source, privity is not a requirement. In other words, users and developers don't have to document their execution of a license with Sun. Lack of privity (as a requirement) clears the way for sub-licensing — one of open source's most endearing traits.
I wonder if open-source developers are really that spooked over patent infringement that Sun, IBM, CA, HP and all these other companies have to come out every month "pledging" patents in the press. This will do little to protect developers from infringement, especially when the pledging companies are practically the last people on earth that would actually sue them on their patents. In fact, I would be concerned that developers begin clustering around particular technologies due to these pledges - if I were a holding company, this would be like smelling blood in the water . . .

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