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IBM uses intellectual property to drive SOA market

This week IBM gave developers a free pass to use any of its patents related to Web services standards as part of an ongoing drive to promote service-oriented architecture (SOA) development, a move that analysts say may provide a competitive edge.

IBM continued its drive to stimulate service-oriented architecture (SOA) adoption this week giving developers a free pass to use any IBM patent related to more than 150 Web services and SOA standards.

Promoting SOA is a way to prompt customers to rethink the strategic center of gravity of their IT portfolios.
Neil Ward-Dutton
Research DirectorMacehiter Ward-Dutton

Giving away intellectual property rights this month, commissioning a survey on SOA adoption also released this week, hosting a major conference on SOA development in May, Big Blue appears to be making a big play for SOA. IBM executives say they are supporting the need of developers and customers who will create the next generation of SOA applications. Analysts say the major SOA marketing efforts also make good sense for IBM's software business built around its WebSphere product.

Robert LeBlanc, IBM's general manager of business consulting services and SOA, released the results of a survey conducted by the Link Group at IBM's Impact 2007 SOA conference, which drew 4,200 attendees last month. The survey indicates that participating respondents are overwhelmingly making the decision to move to an SOA.

Survey results indicating that budget for SOA projects in 2007 increased between 10 and 20 percent compared to 2006, would appear to support IBM's decision to essentially put its intellectual property on the line to help fuel SOA adoption.

Explaining why his company is freeing SOA developers from any worry about infringing on IBM patents when using standards and specification ranging from SOAP and WSDL to WS-Policy and Service Component Architecture (SCA), Bob Sutor, IBM's vice president of open source and standards, said he hoped it would stimulate development.

"This is telling people go for it and code using these open standards," he said. "We want more people using these standards. We want more software, software we've never seen before that's smart and innovative, but it interoperates with everything else we've got out there. So let's move the ball forward."

Analysts called this a smart move for Big Blue, which risks the loss of little intellectual property revenue, while promoting SOA technology that is increasingly profitable for the company.

Bradley F. Shimmin, principal analyst of application infrastructure at Current Analysis LLC., said IBM sees an opportunity among customers, including long-time users of its MQ Series middleware, who are looking move into standards-based SOA. IBM is already having success marketing WebSphere and SOA to these customers.

"The company has already had great success with its WebSphere product family, which grew 14% this spring, compared with last year," Shimmin said. "And more generally, middleware accounted for 40 percent of IBM's software revenue this last quarter. Considering these numbers and the company's recent push toward pre-built vertical business processes and best practices, an approach shared by Oracle, it's easy to see that IBM is banking heavily on SOA as a means to capitalize upon existing integration customers and grow into a provider of comprehensive, standards-based business process enabling technologies."

Beyond the patent play, Neil Ward-Dutton, research director at Macehiter Ward-Dutton, sees SOA as part of IBM's strategy to compete with what he terms "the other 800-lb gorillas" in the industry.

"Promoting SOA is a way to prompt customers to rethink the strategic center of gravity of their IT portfolios," Ward-Dutton said. "In recent years the industry pendulum has swung away from systems and middleware and database technologies as being the strategic center of gravity, to packaged application suites being the anchor point for technology choice and direction. SAP and Oracle are kings here of course, and IBM made a strategic choice around that kind of business a while ago. It decided not to be an applications vendor."

Focusing on SOA, provides IBM with a marketing storyline for customers and prospects that plays on the strengths of the service-oriented approach, including driving business value from IT, offering a flexible foundation for business and an open standards-based vendor-neutral applications strategy, Ward-Dutton said. This differentiates IBM, from Oracle and SAP with their traditional packaged application approach, he added, but noted that is changing, too.

"Of course SAP and Oracle are now working hard to blend SOA into their offerings, but IBM can still validly claim that SAP and Oracle still want their apps at the heart of the customer's tech landscape," Ward-Dutton said. "In this way SOA is a rerun of an industry battle that we've seen over and over again."

Tony Baer, principal, onStrategies, pointed out that the SOA profit potential outweighs any risk of loss of revenue by letting developers use IBM patented technologies for free.

"In general, IBM doesn't make money on its patents per se, or at least not huge gobs," Baer said. "But as IBM is very much an integration player, both in its software and services, it has a vested interest in wide application of the technology that may be under patent. And so greater take-up of SOA -- patented technology and not -- is clearly in IBM's interest."

While Sutor said the new IBM policy on patents "simplifies things" for developers giving them "one less thing to worry about," Michael Goulde, senior analyst Forrester Research, Inc., said he isn't sure how much coders worry about patent infringement.

"I'm not sure how much developers worry about this stuff anyway," he said. "Patents are so opaque. How many developers are going to have the resources to research any and all applicable patents? The average open source developer doesn't have the resource to do that kind of work. So they don't."

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IBM looks to govern SOA

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That said, he did not argue with Sutor's characterization of this week's move as "IBM doing good things with intellectual property relating to open standards and open source."

Goulde acknowledged, "It's a nice move on IBM's part. I don't want to downplay that, but I'm not sure in the reality of things how much its going to change things for developers. It's nice to know that IBM isn't going to chase you down."

It also puts some pressure on IBM's competitors to follow its lead in taking the patent infringement onus off developers working with Web services and SOA standards, the Forrester analyst said. He noted that while a coder doesn't have to worry about a patent infringement lawsuit from Big Blue, other vendors so far are not granting developers that kind of free pass with their intellectual property, but that may change if they follow IBM's lead.

"The larger vendors that compete directly with IBM will have a strong incentive to follow suit," Goulde predicted. "It will certainly cast them in a less favorable light should they not."

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