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.