This is great news, not just for open source, but for the entire software industry as a way to improve the quality of patents.
First of all, this initiative establishes open source software as prior art. It means that innovations used in open source cannot be patented by another party:
OSDL, IBM, Novell, Red Hat and SourceForge.net are developing a searchable database of open source code so patent examiners and the general public can search for prior art from the open source community when considering a patent application. Such a storage system would satisfy legal requirements for the code to qualify as prior art, IBM said.
Second, the public will be encouraged to review and provide feedback on software patents.
Finally, a patent quality index will be introduced to rate the quality of the patents.
This is a great step in the right direction for the open source ecosystem. Quite a bit of the effort from the open source community has been focused on arguing against the existence of software patents, and this initiative helps to make improvements within the existing patent system. I’m not going to get into the debate about whether or not software patents are a good idea; they do exist, and this initiative might help improve patent quality. I see this as a good thing for the software industry as a whole.