Google just announced the “Open Patent Non-Assertion Pledge” or OPN as a way to decrease patent threats surrounding open-source software. Open-source software is freely available to public and private entities, with its complete source code, to change, use, or distribute to anyone for any reason. It is generally created collaboratively and publicly by individuals donating their time. The OPN Pledge essentially grants any Open Source Software developer permission to use a limited number of specific Google patents. This pledge would be terminated with respect to a particular person or entity who brought patent litigation against Google or an entity controlled by Google, but would otherwise grant complete immunity from patent litigation by Google for those specified patents.
Google’s stated reason for making this pledge is that Google “is committed to promoting innovation to further the overall growth and advancement of information technology and believes that Free or Open Source Software is a very important tool for fostering innovation.” Google has good reason for encouraging open source development, not just for good press, but also because Mountain View has profited greatly from the open-source operating system Linux. Google’s wildly popular mobile OS, Android, which overtook Apple’s iOS not long ago, is built upon the Linux platform.
If this pledge catches on, Google has plans to expand it, along with hopes that it will be adopted as an industry standard. This sort of independent action to reform patent law is quite interesting and could potentially have a large effect on the intellectual property landscape in the US, given the seeming lack of impetus for change among America’s legislative bodies.