Consortium launches Linux patent pool

OIN aims to help open-source developers defend against possible claims by Microsoft, patent trolls

Open Invention Network, which buys patents related to the Linux operating system and licenses them royalty-free, Tuesday launched a program aimed at encouraging open-source developers to document information about their work so that it can be easily read and used by patent offices and lawyers.

The intellectual property company said the new Linux Defenders Program will provide funds to help developers pay to to upload documentation about their code to sites like IP.com, a patent database. Keith Bergelt, CEO of OIN, called IP.com the main source of information for patent officials and others researching the viability of a proposed patent.

"You don't have to write a book [about your work]," said Bergelt. "You could put your ideas in bullet form or one very long blog-like sentence." OIN will also aid developers going the potentially costlier and more lengthy process of submitting their own patent applications, he added.

The program, says Bergelt, will make it easier for patent holders and users to defend against claims by so-called 'patent trolls' as well as from Microsoft, which has claimed that Linux violates its patents. To date, Microsoft has not attempted to legally prove that assertion.

"Our activities by their very nature are a deterrent to Microsoft or any other company to engage in hostile action or rhetoric," he said. "We didn't acquire our existing patent portfolio by accident."

OIN was created in 2005 by a consortium that includes open-source advocates like IBM, Red Hat, Novell, NEC, Royal Philips Electronics and Sony, and today owns more than 150 Linux-related patents. Firms that license OIN's patents must agree in return not to use them against Linux vendors or users. Licensees include Google, Oracle and Alfresco Software.

OIN first announced in August that it was creating a pool of Linux patents . Bergelt this week said that the Linux Defenders program has several challenges, especially in convincing the many open-source developers who oppose the patent system in general, to participate.

The second major challenge is in helping developers figure out who deserves credit for inventions made in the communal process of developing open-source software. "It is sometimes tricky, creating a discrete zone for what you and what others invented," he said.

LinuxDefenders.org carries on some of the work promoted by the former Open Source Development Labs, which ran on online library of open-source patents that was also designed to allay concerns about patent lawsuits. The patent library was apparently discontinued after the OSDL merged with the Free Standards Group in early 2007 to form the Linux Foundation.

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Eric Lai

Computerworld
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