Issue #14 December 2005

Open Invention Network to protect against patent threat


By licensing through OIN, participants will help create a broad protective area with respect to software patents around Linux and Linux-related applications.

Red Hat has a long history of groundbreaking approaches for the delivery of software technology and the announcement of the formation of the Open Invention Network (OIN) on November 10 was just another example. OIN was formed by IBM, Novell, Philips, Sony and Red Hat to provide a mechanism for protecting Linux and Linux-related applications from the threat of software patents.

First, OIN will acquire patents that are generally deemed to have broad value in the software industry. This approach is taken because a strong patent portfolio is generally considered the best deterrent to those who may wish to make patent infringement claims. The initial patent portfolio includes the well-known CommerceOne patents that went on the market in early 2005. The CommerceOne patents cover many of the fundamental elements of web-based commerce.

Second, OIN will make this portfolio of patents fully available to any party who is willing to enter into a reciprocal, royalty-free patent license with OIN. In exchange for full rights to utilize the OIN-owned patents, the licensee will license back to OIN, on a royalty-free basis, any software patents that read on the Linux kernel or Linux-related technologies.

Third, in addition to the license to OIN, each licensee will license every other OIN licensee under these same patents that read on the Linux kernel or Linux-related technologies. Thus, every licensee enjoys a "Linux" patent license from every other licensee.

By offering to license a highly useful and attractive portfolio of patents at no cost, OIN hopes to attract thousands of individuals, software foundations, and companies to join this Linux patent network. By licensing through OIN, participants will help create a broad protective area with respect to software patents around Linux and Linux-related applications.

Of course, there may be those who wish to threaten Linux and open source with their patent portfolios, and this is where OIN also provides a deterrent effect. OIN will be prepared to engage such parties to discourage such aggressive actions, including, if necessary, asserting OIN's patent portfolio. While the OIN members believe the mere existence of OIN will be a deterrent, they are prepared to stand behind that belief.

OIN is not the sole solution to the threat of software patents, nor is it the only means by which the open source community will build a patent commons. The role of the Fedora Foundation in underwriting the patenting of new inventions by members of the open source community, the pledging of patents by Red Hat and others, and the assimilation and coordination of patent commons information by the Open Source Development Labs will all play important roles. Moreover, many of these same organizations will work to either restrict the further spread of software patents or to ensure that issued software patents are of a high quality. In Red Hat's case, we will pursue both of these activities. The one thing that is certain is that the open source community is not standing idly by watching the software patent parade; it is helping to direct that parade.