The value of IT patents in the world of open source

Patents in the Information Technology industry can be valuable as they protect innovative ideas and solutions to technical problems. By having a patent, a company can prevent others from using, selling, or manufacturing similar technology without their permission. This can provide a competitive advantage and help the company to establish itself as a market leader. Additionally, patents can also be licensed or sold for a profit, providing a source of revenue for the patent holder.

Patent troll attacking open source developer

However, as always, we have to be careful: the value of a patent in the IT industry can also be limited by the speed at which technology is changing and the difficulties in enforcing patents in this field. As a result, the value of patents in IT can vary greatly and it is important to carefully consider the potential benefits and limitations before investing in them.

So, as you are aware, my team are working on multiple open source projects, morganstanley/ComposeUI: A .NET Core based, WebView2 using UI Container for hybrid web-desktop applications (github.com) is among them. Applying for a patent for an open source software may seem counterintuitive, as open source software is typically made available to the public under an open source license, allowing anyone to use, modify, and distribute the software. However, there may still be some reasons why a company or an individual might choose to apply for a patent for an open source software:

  • Defense against patent trolls: Even though the software is open source, a company or individual may still apply for a patent to use as a defensive measure against patent trolls. Having a patent can help prevent others from making frivolous patent infringement claims.
  • Commercializing the software: A company or individual may choose to apply for a patent as a way to commercialize the open source software. For example, the patent can be used to offer consulting services, support, or other value-added services related to the software.
  • Protecting specific innovations: While the software is open source, there may be specific innovations within the software that the company or individual wants to protect. In this case, applying for a patent can help prevent others from using or commercializing these specific innovations.

So are there patented open source projects out there? Sure! An example of a patent for an open source software would be the “Method and System for Facilitating Electronic Transactions Over a Network” patent held by the OpenSSL Software Foundation. OpenSSL is an open source software that provides a secure way for websites to transmit data over the internet, and it is used by many websites and applications. Another example of a patent for an open source software is the “Method and System for Compression and Decompression of Data” patent held by the 7-Zip Software Foundation. 7-Zip is a free and open source file archiving software that is widely used for compressing and decompressing data.┬áDespite being open source, the OpenSSL Software Foundation and the 7-Zip Software Foundation holds these patents to help protect the specific innovations in their software and to provide a defensive measure against patent trolls. By holding the patent, they can control how the technology is used and ensure that it remains available to the public under an open source license.

If you look from the other angel, there are other reasons why patenting open source software makes sense, like:

  • To attract investment: By holding a patent, an open source software project can demonstrate its innovation and attract investment from potential partners or investors.
  • To establish market position: Holding a patent can help establish a company or project as a market leader and give them a competitive advantage in their industry.
  • To protect against infringement: Having a patent can provide legal protection against others who might use the technology without permission.
  • To create a licensing revenue stream: An open source software project can license its patents to others, generating a new revenue stream that can be used to fund further development and improvement of the software.

It’s worth noting that these benefits of patenting open source software are not guaranteed, and each case is unique. The decision to patent open source software should be based on a careful consideration of the specific circumstances and goals of the company or individual.