Open Invention Network Linux patent protection group turns 15

For fifteen years, the Open Invention Network has been protecting Linux and open-source software developers and companies from open-source's enemies and patent trolls. And, they're not about to stop anytime soon.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Today, everyone who's anyone uses open-source software (OSS). In 2005, it was a different story. Linux was still under attack by SCO for imaginary copyright violations and then Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer claimed Linux violated over 200 Microsoft patents. Linux needed all the intellectual property (IP) law help it could get. So, IBM, Sony, Phillips, Red Hat, and Novell formed the Open Invention Network (OIN) patent consortium to defend Linux against IP attacks.

Now, 15 years later, the Open Invention Network (OIN), the largest patent non-aggression consortium ever, is still protecting Linux and open-source software from patent attacks and patent trolls. Indeed, its scope has grown ever larger. Recently, it expanded its intellectual property protection from core Linux programs and adjacent open-source code by expanding its Linux System Definition. In particular, that means patents relating to the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) 10 and the Extended File Allocation Table exFAT file system are now protected.

Perhaps most amazing of all, Microsoft is a member of the OIN.  

Since the early days, OIN has grown to over 3,300 members. In total, the OIN community now owns over 2.6 million patents and applications. In addition, OIN provides royalty-free access to its strategic portfolio of more than 1,300 worldwide patents and applications.

The OIN's Linux System definition alone has evolved to include nearly 3,400 software packages, which is three times that which was covered at its launch in 2005. This ensures freedom of action in global open-source projects and technology platforms including Linux, Python, GNOME, SUSE, X.org, Perl, Fedora, Android, Hyperledger, Open Stack, Apache, Avro, Kafka, Spark, and Hadoop; Automotive Grade Linux (AGL), Robot Operating System (ROS), KDE Frameworks, Eclipse Paho, and Mosquito, among many others.

OIN's community explicitly supports patent non-aggression in core Linux and adjacent open source technologies by cross-licensing Linux System patents to one another on a royalty-free basis. Patents owned by OIN are similarly licensed royalty-free to any organization that agrees not to assert its patents against the Linux System. You can sign the OIN license online today.
In addition to its historic mission of defending Linux and OSS from enemies, OIN has worked with numerous community members to either eradicate patent aggressors' lawsuits. For example, with the OIN's help, the GNOME Foundation stopped a patent attack by  Rothschild Patent Imaging (RPI) dead in its tracks.  

As patent risk has evolved to include patent assertion entities (PAEs), aka patent trolls, OIN is actively defending against them as well. The OIN, along with IBM, The Linux Foundation, and Microsoft, are funding the first program, the Unified Patents' Open Source Zone, designed to limit patent troll aggression aimed at the open-source community.

Today, "Freedom to participate in open-source projects and adopt Linux and other open-source code has been enabled through broad-based participation in the OIN cross-license, which has become a litmus test for authenticity in the open-source community," said Keith Bergelt, the OIN's CEO. "Joining the OIN community demonstrates an explicit recognition among signatories of a commitment to open source technologies and the set of norms required around the appropriate use of patents in an increasingly open source-centric world."
Technology companies know the debt they owe the OIN. Chris DiBona, Google's director of Open Source said in a statement: "Linux and adjacent open source software power the cloud-based services of today and tomorrow. Throughout, OIN has been there to ensure that open source remains safe for users, consumers, and developers alike to consume and upon which to build."
Thomas Di Giacomo, SUSE's president of engineering and innovation, added: "Open source is one of the fastest-growing markets in the industry, in part, due to the protection afforded by the OIN, which we are a proud active member for years, and its patent non-aggression community."
Even Microsoft acknowledged, said Microsoft VP and Chief IP Counsel Jennifer Yokoyama, that, "OIN has created a safe space of innovation in a world which has become increasingly dependent on Linux and open-source software technologies. Participation in the OIN community has enabled Microsoft to further enhance our partnerships with developers around the world." 

Indeed, while we tend to credit individual developers for Linux and OSS, followed by their organizations and companies, the entire open-source world is also honor-bound to the OIN. Without its legal IP protection, we may yet live in a world dominated by proprietary software and methods. 

Thank you, OIN. Thank you very much. 

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