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Linux, Open Source Get Patent Protection Program

The sponsors hope the program will ultimately promote their goals of greater freedom in the open source community to expand the Linux platform.
Open Invention Network (OIN) unveiled a program Tuesday that aims to make it easier for patent and trademark office examiners -- and others -- to access prior art, increase the quality of patents granted, and decrease the number of poor quality patents.

The Linux Defenders program, sponsored by the Software Freedom Law Center and the Linux Foundation, is designed to address intellectual property concerns about meritless patents for the Linux and open source community. The program solicits prior art to help invalidate and reject poor quality patent applications and patents, while encouraging high quality inventions and defensive applications.

"Linux Defenders offers the Linux and broader open source community a unique opportunity to harness its collaborative passion, intelligence, and ingenuity to ensure Linux's natural migration to mobile devices and computing," Keith Bergelt, CEO of OIN, said in a statement released Tuesday. "This landmark program will benefit open source innovation by significantly reducing the number of poor quality patents that might otherwise be used by patent trolls or strategists whose behaviors and business models are antithetical to true innovation and are thus threatened by Linux."

The sponsors hope the program will ultimately promote their goals of greater freedom in the open source community to expand the Linux platform. Use of Linux Defenders is free of charge to those who contribute prior art or inventions. The sponsors will host defensive publications on databases accessible by Patent and Trademark Office examiners.

Defensive publications, endorsed by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office for IP rights management, are records that provide descriptions and artwork of a product, device, or method so that it enters the public domain and becomes prior art. They allow inventors to claim their inventions and prevent others from making later claims against them, without requiring inventors to pay for patent applications.

Linux Defenders, will contain a Defensive Publications component with Web-based forms and a "Wiki-style" contribution model. A completed defensive publication will be added to the IP.com database used by attorneys and the Patent and Trademark Office.

"A large number of poor quality patents have the potential to stifle innovation," Eben Moglen, chairman of the Software Freedom Law Center, said in a statement. "The Software Freedom Law Center is pleased to co-sponsor Linux Defenders with the goal of ridding the world of patents that unscrupulous organizations use to cripple the innovation inherent in freely redistributable, open source software."

Jim Zemlin, executive director of The Linux Foundation said the program would also give developers increased confidence.

"The open source community is getting an IP rights tool that will limit distractions created from organizations that like to play the FUD [fear, uncertainty, doubt] game," he said. "We enthusiastically encourage the Linux and open source communities to contribute to Linux Defenders."

Mark Webbink, executive director of the Center for Patent Innovations at the New York Law School, said he the school will host Linux Defenders, which he called "a natural extension of our Peer to Patent platform.

He said it also advances the group's goal of addressing core issues that affect the integrity of the patent system.