Red Hat updates its open source patent promise

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Red Hat has told its customers it won't take action if customers use any of its 2,000 patents, provided they're only used in properly-licensed open-source software.

The company first issued a patent promise in 2002, used to try and discourage "patent aggression" when used for free and open source software, but it's now decided to re-issue its promise to make it more up to date and encompass the additional patents it now holds.

For clarification, the promise now covers software approved by the Open Source Initiative (OSI) as detailed on an extensive list issued by the organisation and the Free Software Foundation (FSF).

"Our Promise extends to combinations with such Covered FOSS if the claimed invention is substantially embodied in the Covered FOSS portion of a combination and if all other portions of the combination are merely enabling or general-purpose technologies or practices," the company said in its updated promise.

However, Red Hat also made it clear the promise doesn't extend to "hardware by itself or other non-Covered FOSS by itself." It also doesn't apply if a party ever takes legal action against Red Hat or has attempted to in the past regarding patents, even if a cross-claim or counterclaim.

"Our Promise is not an assurance that Red Hat's patents are enforceable or that practicing Red Hat's patented inventions does not infringe others' patents or other intellectual property," it added.

Another reason the company issued the update now was to cover more of the market. The 2002 promise covered 35% of open source software, while this update will ensure 99% is protected.

Red Hat hopes its patent promise will encourage other businesses with a wide portfolio of patents to cover their position too, while also encouraging the development of open source software.

"While some companies in recent years have sought to allay concerns about the possible use of their patents through commitments similar to Red Hat’s original Patent Promise, to our knowledge, no company has gone as far as Red Hat in making such a wide-ranging commitment as our new Promise, including coverage of our entire patent portfolio," Red Hat explained. "We encourage other companies to make commitments similar to this one."

Clare Hopping
Freelance writer

Clare is the founder of Blue Cactus Digital, a digital marketing company that helps ethical and sustainability-focused businesses grow their customer base.

Prior to becoming a marketer, Clare was a journalist, working at a range of mobile device-focused outlets including Know Your Mobile before moving into freelance life.

As a freelance writer, she drew on her expertise in mobility to write features and guides for ITPro, as well as regularly writing news stories on a wide range of topics.