Group aims to defend Linux from bad patents

Linux Defenders is asking the open-source community to help find examples of prior art to fend off action based on poor-quality patents
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

A group has been formed to help protect Linux from being undermined by poor-quality software patents.

Linux Defenders, launched on Monday, aims to enlist the developer community's help in finding 'prior art' related to patents affecting open-source code. Prior art is information relevant to a claim of originality in a patent. If examples of work are collected that show an invention has been described in prior art before the patent was granted, then that patent is invalidated.

The sponsors of Linux Defenders are the Open Invention Network (OIN), the Software Freedom Law Center and the Linux Foundation.

The Linux Defenders effort has three sections: 'Peer to Patent', dealing with patents under review; 'Post-issue Peer to Patent', for patents that have already been issued; and 'Defensive Publications', for pre-empting predatory patent filings.

The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has opened up its patent-examination process to the Linux community for the first time for the Peer-To-Patent scheme. The community can participate in the USPTO's established process by supplying information to help it assess the claims of pending patent applications.

Post-issue Peer-to-Patent calls for community peer review of patents that have already been granted. "In recent years, the USPTO has at times been overwhelmed by the number of patent applications being filed in areas of new technology, such as software and business methods. Lacking access to comprehensive prior art in these subject matter areas, the USPTO had little choice but to grant patents that would otherwise have failed the test of patentability had relevant prior art been before the examiner," according to the Linux Defenders website.

In addition, the organisation will collate submissions of documents and artwork of inventions that have not been given a patent. This will form a body of defensive publications of prior art that could prevent future poor patents.

The move could help Linux in suits such as the one filed in October 2007 by "portfolio licensing" company IP Innovation. In that suit, the company claimed Linux operating systems from Red Hat and Novell infringed on a US patent it held.

Linux Defenders is also running the Linux Defenders 911 website, where companies can report any attempted patent-enforcement action against Linux developers. "If your company is being victimised by any entity seeking to assert its patent portfolio against Linux, please contact us so that we can aid you in your battle with these dark forces," states the Linux Defenders 911 site.

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