Putting Patent Fears To Rest

A new company seeks to make sure open-source users have 'clean' code.
There's been no major intellectual-property challenge to the growth of open source since The SCO Group's still-unresolved multi-billion-dollar lawsuit against IBM that was filed a few years ago. But open-source proponents want to minimize the chances of another occurrence. IBM, Novell, Philips, Red Hat, and Sony last week formed the Open Invention Network, a company that plans to buy patents on useful open-source technologies, and make that code available royalty-free to users who agree not to claim that Linux code infringes on their patent rights.

Open Invention Network's portfolio already includes a set of business-to-business electronic-commerce patents purchased from Commerce One by JGR Acquisitions, a subsidiary of Novell.

Linux suffers under a cloud of suspicion that some of its code has no right to be there. The threat of being caught in a patent dispute may scare off some potential users.

The Open Invention Network doesn't lift all those clouds, says Laura DiDio, a Yankee Group research fellow. It should mitigate some of the risks of potential patent-infringement lawsuits, but there's still a lot of patents the network doesn't own. "We also don't know all of the patents the company has or how well funded it is," she says. "All you need is one successful suit against Linux for the game to change."

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