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Commercial, Open-Source Brands Team Up in Linux Patent Play

Commercial and open-source titans are banding together to promote Linux and spur global innovation through access to key patents.

The Open Invention Network (OIN) launched yesterday with financial support from IBM, Novell, Philips, Red Hat and Sony. The company, believed to be the first of its kind, is creating a new model where patents are openly shared in a collaborative environment and used to facilitate the advancement of applications for, and components of, the Linux operating system.

“The formation of Open Invention Network signals a growing movement where companies today are looking beyond their own organizational boundaries,” said Jim Stallings, vice president of intellectual property and open standards at IBM. “They are strategically sharing their intellectual property and building broader industry partnerships in order to accelerate innovation and drive new economic growth.”

Stimulating Linux Advances

The organization said it will foster an open, collaborative environment that stimulates advances in Linux — helping ensure the continuation of global innovation that has benefited software vendors, customers, emerging markets and investors, among others.

Patents owned by Open Invention Network will be available on a royalty-free basis to any company, institution or individual that agrees not to assert its patents against the Linux operating system or certain Linux-related applications.

Open Invention Network believes that creating a new system to manage and ensure access to key patents for the Linux operating system will have a significant economic impact.

Driving Open-Source Innovation

Among Open Invention Network’s initial patent holdings is a set of business-to-business electronic commerce patents that were purchased from Commerce One by JGR, a subsidiary of Novell.

“Open collaboration is critical for driving innovation, which fuels global economic growth. Impediments to collaboration on the Linux operating system seriously jeopardize innovation,” said Open Invention Network CEO Jerry Rosenthal.

“A new model of intellectual property management for Linux must be established to maintain advances in software innovation — regardless of the size or type of business or organization.”

An Economic Opportunity

According to International Data Corporation, the worldwide Linux business is expected to grow 25.9 percent annually, doubling from US$20 billion in 2005 to more than $40 billion in 2008.

“Open Invention Network is not focused on income or profit generation with our patents, but on using them to promote a positive, fertile ecosystem for the Linux operating system and to drive innovation and choice into the marketplace,” Rosenthal said.

“We intend to spur innovation in IT and across industries by helping software developers focus on what they do best — developing great Linux-related software with greater assurance about intellectual property issues.”

Making Enterprises Comfortable

Interarbor Solutions Principal Analyst Dana Gardner told LinuxInsider that this newfound corporation is yet another way Linux and open-source proponents are attempting to alleviate the notion of risk around the use of open source.

“One of the kudgels that companies like Microsoft have used is to plant the notion of risk and uncertainty around patents and intellectual property,” Gardner said. “So this is the other side of finding some common ground to try to reduce that level of uncertaintly.”

Red Hat Senior Vice President Mark Webbink said about as much in his statement. While he first declared that the OIN will set open-source developers free to innovate, he added, “At the same time, Open Invention Network extends to distributors and users of open-source software freedom from concern about software patents.”

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