Linux Patent Protection Network Gets Boost From Facebook, HP

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Network World – Facebook, HP, Rackspace, Juniper, Fujitsu and dozens of other organizations have joined a group building a defensive patent portfolio to protect Linux-using members from potential lawsuits.

The Open Invention Network (OIN) — founded in 2005 by IBM, NEC, Novell, Phillips, Red Hat and Sony — has taken a portfolio of 300 patents and licenses and built it up to more than 2,000 in a bid to protect the Linux community from intellectual property lawsuits.

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Seeking to boost membership, the patent group said Wednesday it has added 74 new licensees in the first quarter of this year, bringing its total number of corporate supporters to 334. In addition to those companies listed above, new members include the OpenStack cloud group and many smaller organizations that back Linux and open source.

Additionally, Google — which is fighting lawsuits against Linux-based Android — is moving up from licensee status to an associate membership, joining Canonical of Ubuntu Linux fame as the only companies with the second-highest level of OIN membership. Yahoo also joined as a licensee late last year.

One major threat to Linux — the SCO vs. Novell case — has gone by the boards since the Open Invention Network was founded, but threats remain, according to OIN CEO Keith Bergelt.

Microsoft hasn’t pursued its claim that Linux and open source software violate 235 Microsoft patents, but “behind the scenes, they’re still very active,” Bergelt said. If Windows desktop market share ever erodes, Microsoft could become more lawsuit-happy.

“They will continue to represent a potential source of antagonism toward Linux,” he said.

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But Microsoft is not the only company that potentially threatens Linux, according to Bergelt. “It’s really just anybody who supports proprietary platforms and has a large [patent]portfolio that it likes to continue to use to be able to discourage choice,” he said. “There will always be those who will be looking at Linux potentially threatening their livelihood, their way of life.”

The OIN’s goal is not to prevent legitimate use of patents to secure royalties when others infringe upon inventions, Bergelt said. The goal is to foster an open environment in which people can innovate without being subjected to frivolous claims, and prevent the tech industry form being dominated by “incremental innovation, which is a euphemism for mediocrity,” he said.

The Open Invention Network’s licensees gain access to patents owned by the Open Invention Network and agree to put their own Linux-related patents into a cross-licensing deal.

OIN patents cover a range of technologies. Security, transaction processing, mobile e-commerce, and biometrics software for mobile devices and PCs are among the covered categories, Bergelt said.

Microsoft’s bold patent claims against Linux could complicate the company’s efforts to get along better with the open source community and develop more interoperable products.

The software giant has taken a markedly different tact toward the open-source community since CEO Steve Ballmer labeled Linux a “cancer” in 2001, primarily because the concurrent use of open-source and Microsoft software in businesses has made it a competitive issue. Also, interoperability with other software could bring Microsoft more revenue.

Several development projects are under way that aim to make open-source software work better with Microsoft technologies. Microsoft’s deal with Novell calls for co-development of virtualization technologies to enable Suse Linux to run better on Windows and vice versa. SugarCRM, an open-source CRM vendor, also is collaborating with Microsoft to improve interoperability.

But the tenuous goodwill could be on the line since Microsoft asserted earlier this week that Linux and other open source software infringe on some 235 patents it holds. The claim sparked fear that lawsuits could be looming, although Microsoft officials insist they want licensing agreements, not epic court battles.

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