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IBM, Industry Group To Consolidate Linux Patents

Five vendors are forming a new company to acquire patents and offer them royalty-free with a proviso that acquirers not assert the patents against Linux vendors or members of the consortium.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story was innacurate due to an editing problem.

A group of tech giants linked up on Thursday to promote Linux globally, with the unveiling of a new company called the Open Invention Network (OIN).

They are IBM, Novell, Philips, Red Hat, and Sony. Through OIN, they will acquire patents and offer them royalty-free with the proviso that acquirers not assert them against Linux or other OIN members.

"Open collaboration is critical for driving innovation, which fuels global economic growth," said Jerry Rosenthal, OIN chief executive officer, in a statement. "Impediments to collaboration on the Linux operating system seriously jeopardize innovation." Rosenthal previously served as director of IBM’s intellectual property licensing program.

Rosenthal said the OIN is not focused on creating income or profits, but on promoting "a positive, fertile ecosystem for the Linux operating system and to drive innovation and choice into the marketplace." The new organization will be based in Pound Ridge, New York.

The OIN announcement drew an immediate response from Florian Mueller, an open source software proponent in Europe who led an anti-Microsoft campaign called "nosoftwarepatents.com" that sought unsuccessfully to abolish or limit software patents in the EU.

In an e-mail Mueller said: "The most important question isn’t answered by the announcement: Will this new organization acquire and use patents to force a player like Microsoft into a cross-licensing agreement in the event of a conflict?"

"Only in that case, this initiative may be strategically relevant. Such an alliance, even it it had a billion-dollar budget, could only buy up a negligible portion of all software patents that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the European Patent Office crank out."

The formation of OIN takes place a year after Microsoft’s chief executive Steve Ballmer electrified the open source world by citing a report that Linux violated more than 200 Microsoft patents. Microsoft has been filing software patents aggressively in recent months.

The high tech industry at large has been roiled by patent litigation. Microsoft recently was on the losing end of patent litigation with Eolas and this week a Virginia judge was reviewing litigation in which BlackBerry provider Research in Motion lost a patent case to a small patent-holding firm. In addition, IBM has been the target of a lawsuit by the SCO Group involving Linux.

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Brian T. Horowitz, Contributing Reporter
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Jessica Davis, Senior Editor
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing