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Patents Linux

How the Open Invention Network Protects Linux and Open Source (Video) 28

Posted by Roblimo
from the fighting-patent-trolls-and-other-dark-forces-one-license-at-a-time dept.
This is a Google Hangout interview with Keith Bergelt, Chief Executive Officer of the Open Invention Network (OIN), which was jointly founded by IBM, NEC, Novell, Philips, Red Hat, and Sony to share their relevant patents with all Linux and Open Source developers and users in order to prevent patent troll attacks on FOSS, such as the famous SCO vs. IBM lawsuits that hampered Linux adoption during the early 2000s. It costs nothing to become a an OIN licensee, and over 500 companies have done so. Few people know, however, that individual developers and FOSS users can become OIN licensees; that you are welcome to do so, and it costs nothing. Read their license agreement, sign it, and send it in. That's all it takes. They also buy patents and accept patent donations. And "...if your company is being victimized by any entity seeking to assert its patent portfolio against Linux, please contact us so that we can aid you in your battle with these dark forces." This OIN service is called Linux Defenders 911. We hope you never need to use it, but it's good to know it's there if you do need it.

Keith: Open Invention Network is an entity that was formed seven and a half years ago for the purpose of enabling Linux and creating freedom to operate, ensuring freedom to operate in and around Linux and creating an environment where there is patent non-aggression.

Robin: Okay, and who belongs to this?

Keith: There are over 500 licensees and six founding members: IBM, Redhat, Novell, Sony, NEC and Philips were the original founding members.

Robin: And they did this and threw their patents into the pool to protect Linux, is that what happened?

Keith: Actually it is similar conceptually, but what happened is they got together and contributed capital so that patents could be purchased and those patents could be made available freely to anyone who wanted to take a license.

Robin: Okay. So what does it take to become one of the, let me make it 501 associate members?

Keith: Well, there are full members, the six companies I mentioned, and there are associate members, and there are three associate members, two of them are Google and Canonical. And then there are 500 plus licensees, they are ordinary licensees. Everybody regardless of whether they are a full member, associate member, or an ordinary licensee signs essentially the same license.

Robin: Okay. So what would it take to become a licensee?

Keith: To become a licensee one just has to look at the license, take it off our website, sign it and send it back. And they can sign it electronically and send it back, or they can consult with us, and we will walk them through the license. There are all manner of approaches that people take, but all you have to do is sign it, and agree that you will not use your patents against Linux, and that you will essentially maintain a cross license. So if you have patents that are relevant to the Linux system, that you will share your patents freely with everyone else who signed the license?

Robin: Okay, so there is no cost for the little guy, the small company?

Keith: That’s right. There is no cost for anyone that wants to sign up. LG and companies like that have signed licenses and not paid anything either.

Robin: So who supports this? Where does the money come from?

Keith: The original six companies were very forward leaning and recognized seven and a half or eight years ago that patents could potentially be used by antagonists to Linux to slow or stall the progress of Linux because of its growing pervasiveness and ubiquity. And so those companies invested tens of millions of dollars in OIN at that point, and have continued to support OIN out into the future and indefinitely.

Robin: Okay. I don’t know whether this is a legitimate question to ask even: IBM is one of the founders, right?

Keith: That’s right.

Robin: Now they have all kinds of cross patent deals with a company that to protect its identity, I will call Microsoft. Does that help? Does the IBM/Microsoft cross patent licensing deal transfer through to OIN members or affiliates or not?

Keith: I think there are two questions there. One:It does help in that the cross licenses that any company has is good because it creates a certain sense of calm in the environment and less litigation. But the second question really is that does the OIN licensees benefit from the bilateral relationship between Microsoft and IBM? Not specifically, no. There are no patents that would come in that cross license. It is only owned patents, that a company has ownership of, that it is the assignee of, that could actually be made part of the cross license.

Robin: Okay, I am just curious about that. Have there been any fights with proprietary software companies or patent holders?

Keith: We haven’t had any fights with those companies. I think what we attempt to do is maintain a forward détente and a deterrence by having our portfolio, which should be useful in supported companies that are involved in Linux and support also of companies that would in the future be involved in Linux. And we think there is a whole universe of companies that are not big Linux users now that will be moving in that direction in the near to medium term.

Robin: I am sure there are because it seems to be more every year inevitably. Okay, Linux, we keep saying Linux, what about Apache, what about other open source or free software projects?

Keith: Yeah, I think that the original concept was to protect Linux because Linux is the largest and most significant economic force in the open source community, in open source movement. To me it has always been about open source is a modality for invention and innovation, and Linux just happens to be a project within that, like Apache and like the others that you mentioned. And so insofar as we are supporting freedom of action and freedom to operate in Linux, we are supporting the freedom to operate and freedom of action in other open source projects. So goes Linux, so goes the entire movement.

Robin: Okay. So you are doing what I think the average Slashdot reader or at least a lot of Slashdot readers feel is Good Work; how can we help you and support you?

Keith: I think numbers are important, having more licensees, and they don’t have to be companies that have lots of patents. I mean, we will want to have a mix of large companies, we want to have a mix of individual developers, small development shops, we want large companies that have lots of patents to be in the pool; we also want users, and so there is a big push this year, in particular, to bring more users in. Those people who are benefiting from what developers are delivering to them, and what vendors are delivering to them as well in combination with software. So we are looking to expand the community so that it is richer and there are more people who are saying, “Yes, we support Linux, we support open source.”

Robin: So my friend, Frank, who is a little one-horse not even a mom-and-pop consultant, because mom doesn’t work in the business, he makes Linux-based fax servers for some of his Florida small business clients. They love him because it is paperless fax for the first time, yay, so Frank should become an affiliate?

Keith: Yeah, he should become a licensee.

Robin: Licensee. I am sorry.

Keith: He can fill the form, put his digital signature on a license and send it back to us.

Robin: And as an individual I should?

Keith: Yeah. Individuals, we have over 100 individuals who are now licensees. In addition to the 500 plus entities.

Robin: So Slashdot reader, who likes open source, this means you, become an Open Invention Network licensee.

Keith: Exactly. Perfect.

Robin: What else should we say to the people?

Keith: I think just actively supporting the community. There are parallel communities. In the way that we collaborate and we create new technology through collaboration, in the open source world, think about this as a parallel universe where we have this pledge that we are making to each other that we are going to collaborate in the patent environment to ensure that patents don’t derail or stall the ability of innovation to grow at the level that Linux and open source allow it to grow.

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How the Open Invention Network Protects Linux and Open Source (Video)

Comments Filter:
  • Also, the Linux Defenders 911 is made in Flash, which was recently discontinued for Linux as a whole. Really, I think it's a good idea, but it's leaking irony all over.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Flash is still very available in linux, particularly as part of Google Chrome in which it is a built-in component to benefit from sandboxing

    • by DeBattell (460265)

      What are the implications of this for the while Nikon/Microsoft Android tax situation. Isn't Android based on Linux, or is Microsoft specifically targeting parts of it that are not from Linux to dodge IBM's wrath?

      • by jbolden (176878)

        Nikon's problem isn't that they can afford a lawyer. Android probably does violate Microsoft patents, but those patents are likely quite weak. No one knows for sure because people haven't gone public with the claims, only Barnes and Noble threatened to go public with Microsoft's claims and Microsoft dropped the claim as part of a "partnership" once they did threaten to go public.

        Microsoft's goal with the lawsuit is to make Google OEMs pay to Microsoft more or less what they would have to pay for WinRT so

  • Just activate the OIN Signal, click your heels together three times, and OIN will be there for you, citizen!!

  • In a situation that is serious but not a time-critical emergency, you should dial your local police number rather than 911; the latter is intended for situations where immediate response is essential. Therefore, metaphorically, when you are sued and have some weeks to prepare a response, you shouldn't dial metaphorical Linux 911 either.

    Now you might say, people dial 911 anyway, because nobody answers the non-emergency number, and if you trudge down to the police station and fill out paperwork nobody will do

  • by girlinatrainingbra (2738457) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @05:32PM (#43019185)
    The presence of wacky terms (redefinable at will without warning unilaterally by OIN), and the presence of Sony, rootkit disseminator, and Novell (SCO apologist, Microsoft licensor and shill via Mono) gives me pause and makes me wonder about the legitimacy and the true total motivations of this group... Something doesn't smell right here in Danemark.
    .
    For example, look at this particular line in their licensing agreement at http://www.openinventionnetwork.com/pat_license_agreement.php [openinventionnetwork.com] :
    "Linux System" shall, at any time, have the meaning set forth, at that time, on www.openinventionnetwork.com.

    Notice the infinite malleability of what a "linux system" is, and that it depends solely upon what OIN wants to say. So the rest of the licensing agreement contract has fixed values, but the definition of what shall constitute a Linux system is left to be freely redefined and pre-agreed to be bound to the definition of what the OIN says the definition is. Add "kludge" or "kick-in-the-ass" to the end of the so called open invention network OIN to get a load of their pigginess: OINK. No thanks. There's something definitely shady going on here.

  • License issues... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MaerD (954222) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @05:34PM (#43019211)

    Sooo I see a few things in the license that raise questions for me. IANAL, but here's my short list:

    1) "Linux System" and "Linux Environment Components" are both poorly defined. In the definitions section it states that a Linux System is as defined on the website, but I could find no further definition when I looked (albeit quickly) around the links from the front page. Does it mean the kernel only (which is actually "Linux")? Does it mean userspace? What if my application is cross platform (Linux, BSD, etc), or is GPL and someone makes it cross platform?

    2) The "exchange of value" for a contract seems to be based on "You get all of our patents, we get all of yours". What if I have 0 patents, and never plan to patent anything? Could I be held to have not held up my end of the bargin and be undeserving of the patent protection?

    3) Limitation Elections are not transparent. Oracle signed on, but exercised a limitation election (as has Geeknet, based on http://www.openinventionnetwork.com/licensees.php [openinventionnetwork.com]). Which patents were excluded? If I sign on, how can I know which patents are explicitly not licensed to me via the OIN agreement?

  • by goruka (1721094) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @05:41PM (#43019307)
    It doesn't work/misses the point if companies like Microsoft go after those who implement it or use it rather than Linux itself.
  • OIN is a very active patent buyer/aggregator. If members get hit, they have a massive portfolio to fire back with.
  • How is it relevant for other FOSS operating systems, such as NetBSD, FreeBSD, OpenBSD, Haiku, DragonflyBSD, etc... ?
    • by jbolden (176878)

      It isn't. This is a Linux initiative. Many of the players like IBM are much less friendly towards BSDs. On the other hand Microsoft and Apple two of the people that are active in suing right now are friendly towards the BSDs. Different enemies, different friends ergo different alliances are needed.

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