The short answer is the company’s selfless commitment to open source.  Out of the blue, Red Hat has updated it patent promise which covers 99% of open source software out there.

Red Hat has revised its patent promise to cover more open source software. The basic idea behind the promise was to assure others that Red Hat would not enforce its patents against free and open source software.

If you wonder why Red Hat is revising its patent promise, you are not alone. I asked the same question.

What was the sudden need to revisit the patent promise? Is there any change in market dynamics that lead to this decision?

Patrick McBride, senior director of Patents told us, “Red Hat and open source have changed considerably over the 15 years since we first published our Promise, and certain aspects of the Promise needed updating. We sought to keep our Promise current and helpful to promote open innovation into the future.”

The simple answer is that the first patent promise was created some 15 years ago, in 2002. That was before patents became an arsenal to attack competitors.

Red Hat feels that over time, as the open source landscape has changed considerably, those promises have become outdated. By updating the patent promises, Red Hat is expanding the coverage.

When Red Hat initially created the PP, it owned only a few patent. Today its patent portfolio has grown to over 2000 patents. Someone might feel threatened by this patent pool. We have already seen how Microsoft, Apple and many other companies have misused the US patent system to attack competitors.

The new Patent Promise squashes such concerns as it’s broader than its predecessor and now also covers permissive licenses. It applies to all software meeting the definitions of the Free Software Foundation or the Open Source Initiative or listed by the FSF or OIN.

If the first patent promise covered around 35% of open source software, the new promise covers more than 99 percent.

Virtually all open source software is now covered by Red Hat’s patent promise.

The question is what does it really mean? The question that we ask on this site is  ‘what’s the benefit of it’?

Red Hat promises that it will _never_ use its patents as a weapon. So, if you are using open source software and compete with Red Hat, you should not worry that Red Hat will come after you with its patent arsenal.

That’s a promise every technology company must make; the idea behind patents was to give the inventor enough time and legal protection to monetize from their idea, but now companies like Apple are getting patents on rounded corner and carry bags, so they can crush their competitors if needed.

So, kudos to Red Hat for not only actually making a promise in writing, but also actively revising it to cover even more open source software.

That’s why I now call them king of Open Source.