Google's Open Patent Non-Assertion Pledge
Written by Alex Armstrong   
Friday, 29 March 2013

Google has announced  a new initiative whereby it promises not to sue developers, distributors, and users of open source software utilizing its patents "unless first attacked".

The announcement of the  Open Patent Non-Assertion Pledge, was made on the Google Open Source blog by the company's Senior Patent Counsel, Duane Valzwho puts it into the context of Google's commitment to an open Internet and expresses the hope that it will encourage other patent holders to adopt it.

Interpreting the the legalese of the Open Patent Non-Assertion Pledge as:

"we pledge not to sue any user, distributor or developer of open-source software on specified patents, unless first attacked"

Valz outlines four key characteristics:

  • Transparency: Patent holders determine exactly which patents and related technologies they wish to pledge, offering developers and the public transparency around patent rights.

  • Breadth: Protections under the OPN Pledge are not confined to a specific project or open- source copyright license. (Google contributes a lot of code under such licenses, like the Apache or GNU GPL licenses, but their patent protections are limited.) The OPN Pledge, by contrast, applies to any open-source software—past, present or future—that might rely on the pledged patents.

  • Defensive protection: The Pledge may be terminated, but only if a party brings a patent suit against Google products or services, or is directly profiting from such litigation.

  • Durability: The Pledge remains in force for the life of the patents, even if we transfer them.

The third of these can be considered a get out clause and ensures that Google, or any company adopting this model, cannot lose out from its open source technologies.

At the moment Google has only applied the OPN Pledge to ten Map Reduce patents and so it's not going to have a dramatic impact of changing the status quo. But it does raise the interesting question of what would happen were it to protect its key Chrome and Android patents, both of which are founded on open-source technology, in the same way.

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