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Linux patent protection group grows 28 percent in first quarter

Apr 20, 2011 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — views

Open Invention Network (OIN) announced a 28 percent increase in membership in its open source patent protection licensing service since the beginning of the year, bringing the total to 334 corporate supporters. The 74 new organizations covered under OIN's royalty-free license include Hewlett-Packard and Facebook, as well as smaller Linux-focused entities such as Clonezilla and Mandriva.

The 74 new OIN members signed since the beginning of the year, "benefit from leverage against patent aggression and access to enabling technologies through OIN's shared intellectual property resources, says OIN.  The new members, which bring the total to 334 corporate supporters, include Hewlett-Packard (HP), which this year announced new Pre phones based on its Palm-acquired, Linux-based WebOS operating system, as well as an HP TouchPad tablet (pictured).

HP has announced intentions to seed its Linux-based WebOS across other devices, including desktop PCs as an optional fast-boot installation offered side by side with Windows. The latter move is seen as straining the computer giant's relations with its longtime partner Microsoft — one of the major sources of lawsuits OIN aims to protect against (see farther below).

Other major companies on the new member list include Facebook, Juniper, Fujitsu, and Symantec. Smaller Linux-focused organizations have also joined, including ArcheOS, Clonezilla, Linutronix, Mandriva, Tin Hat Linux, and uClinux, says OIN. The full list of new members is available at a link at the end of the story.

OIN background

OIN was established as a defensive patent management organization by IBM, Sony, Philips, Novell, and Red Hat back in 2005. It has since been joined by NEC, and also receives financial contributions from Canonical (Ubuntu), says the group.

OIN acquires patents from universities and other sources and licenses them royalty-free to companies, universities, and other organizations that agree not to enforce their own patents against Linux and "certain Linux-related applications," says OIN. The group often works with universities on technology and patent acquisitions, funded research, and defensive publication programs, says the group. (see farther below for more background.

The company says it is committed "to enable Linux and address the ongoing threat from companies that support proprietary platforms to the exclusion of open source initiatives, and whose behaviors reflect a disdain for innovation."

OIN's CEO Keith Bergelt was an outspoken critic of Microsoft's lawsuit against TomTom over the use of the FAT file-system in embedded Linux products. TomTom subsequently settled with Microsoft, but OIN's Linux Defenders program then posted three of the eight patents cited in Microsoft's lawsuit for prior art review by the Linux community, hoping to convince the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) to invalidate them.

In Sept. 2009, OIN and its Linux Defenders program (logo shown at right) acquired 22 Linux-focused patents that had previously been owned by Microsoft. OIN purchased the 3D graphics-related patents from Allied Security Trust in an effort to protect them from "patent trolls" intending to assert them against Linux firms.

Co-sponsored by the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) and the Linux Foundation (LF), OIN's Linux Defenders program was launched in December 2008 with the primary goal of making prior art more readily accessible to patent and trademark office examiners via defensive publications, says OIN. Endorsed by the USPTO, defensive publications are said to provide a form of preemptive disclosure that prevents other parties from obtaining a patent.

Last August announced a partnership with Arizona State University's Arizona Technology Enterprises (AzTE) office, focused on mobile device identity management research. As part of the agreement, OIN acquired key intellectual property from AzTE aimed at providing "intellectual property for defensive purposes" for open source software on mobile devices, according to OIN.

Stated Keith Bergelt, CEO of Open Invention Network, "Sophisticates within technology companies and the greater open source community have come to recognize the value of joining OIN's licensee community."


The full list of new OIN members signed since Jan. 1 is available here. More information on Open Invention Network may be found at the OIN website.

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