The OIN was formed in 2005 by IBM, Sony, Philips N.V. and Linux distributors Red Hat Inc. and Novell. Then, as now, the group was created to defend Linux from patent trolls and other attacks from patent holders. It tries to do this with its own patents which are then available royalty-free to any company, institution or individual that agrees not to assert its patents against Linux. While it hasn't been done, these patents could also, in theory, be used by the OIN, or an OIN member, against a hostile company in a patent war.
After years of slow, steady growth, OIN has been growing significantly in the last quarter. During the second quarter of 2011 alone, OIN had 35 new companies join its community of licensees. The consortium now has 360 corporate supporters. OIN licensees, which include founding members and associate members, benefit from leverage against patent aggression and access to enabling technologies through OIN's shared intellectual property resources.
Why are companies doing this? Need you ask? Look at the mobile software patent wars surrounding Android, the insane court decision that's blocked the sales of Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 in the European Union, and how Microsoft is trying to get patent contracts from such Linux using companies as Samsung.
No wonder companies like Google are building up their patent portfolios and Cisco and Twitter are joining forces with the OIN. Any major technology company CEO with a room temperature or higher IQ knows he or she needs patent ammo for the ongoing IP wars. As Keith Bergeit, OIN's CEO explained, "Increasing IP assertion and litigation activities and the increasing ubiquity of Linux together have combined to increase the value of OIN's license offering. For licensees, OIN creates a 'no fly zone' for Linux as it relates to IP assertion and litigation activity, helping to promote open source collaboration and the innovation that arises from it."
That's why, besides Cisco and Twitter, other major companies that have recently joined the OIN include CentOS, Data-Warehouse, Fujitisu, and Nationwide Mutual Insurance, Even so you might wonder why Cisco, which has a few patents to call its own, would join up. Keith Bergeit, OIN's CEO, speculated, "OIN believes that Cisco became a licensee to support for Linux as Linux has apparently become increasingly relevant to the core Cisco business."
Last, but not least, Bergeit told me that founding member Novell, although now a wholly owned subsidiary of Attachmate is still in the OIN. In addition, "Attachmate has guaranteed the performance by Novell of Novell's obligations as a licensee and member of OIN."
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