Open Invention Network CEO Keith Bergelt (right) told ZDNet today Canonical's joining as an associate member is part of a new strategy for the patent-sharing collective aimed at clearing patent bombs in desktop and mobile markets.
OIN, which was founded by IBM and five other large patent holders five years ago, describes itself as a mine-clearing effort for Linux IP.
The Founding Members direct policy, licensees can agree to put down their legal briefs, while Associate Members pay an unspecified fee and will exist somewhere in the middle.
"In mobile and in desktop we're bringing in relationships where people provide a financial commitment, which we're not announcing the amount, to support the evolution of OIN's activities into these new areas," said Bergelt.
In other words, expect a select few other companies to be invited. Perhaps as many as a half-dozen. They and the Founding Members will keep Bergelt's 22-member staff employed.
To critics like Florian Mueller of FossPatents, all this sounds more like Skull & Bones than Semper Fi. "Canonical is known for being a strategic partner of IBM, and since IBM is the most influential force behind the OIN, that's probably the reason why its membership status was upgraded," he wrote me.
While Bergelt said the group's definition of the Linux System is clearly listed on the group's Web site, Mueller called those definitions arbitrary.
"It seems to me that the OIN is basically a strategic patent troll, a non-practicing entity owned by a small group of companies that can use it for its purposes against their competitors whenever they elect to do so, and the protection of Linux is just a pretext," he wrote.
Most open source advocates disagree with Mueller. Pamela Jones of Groklaw believes it is Mueller who is engaged in FUD:
You know who I think would *really* love OIN to be transparent? Microsoft. Then it could avoid getting checkmated by OIN next time. Remember, it was OIN who blocked Microsoft's attempted sale of anti-Linux patents to patent trolls last year. Florian didn't do that. I didn't do it. You didn't do it. OIN did it.
And he thereby protected Linux from an evil machination designed to tie Linux to the railroad tracks, as I wrote at the time. For this one act alone, the community owes OIN our thanks to time indefinite. Yes. Really. I'm guessing that is why OIN is now a target for FUD attacks.
By "he," I assume Jones meant Bergelt, although Keith himself was quick to deflect credit away from himself and toward his members. "There should be increased freedom of action in the space and it shouldn't become an area where anyone is derailed from offering choice to the market."
Bergelt was apparently quite taken with my comparison of OIN last year in a bomb disposal crew, although personally I think Avatar should have gotten the Oscar as Best Picture.
My own view is that software patents should not be, but so long as they are something like OIN is necessary or we'll all be in court all the time. It doesn't provide a level playing field, but it does good work.
So, by the way, do Florian Mueller and Pamela Jones. Can't Linux's friends just all get along.