Open-source software -- heck, all software -- has been plagued by patent trolls for decades. The Open Invention Network (OIN), the largest patent non-aggression community in history, is now expanding protection of open-source and Linux by partnering with IBM, the Linux Foundation, and Microsoft to further protect it from Patent Assertion Entities (PAEs), aka patent trolls. This new consortium is doing this by supporting Unified Patents' Open Source Zone with a substantial annual subscription.
Unified Patents is an international organization of over 200 businesses. Unified Patents takes an aggressive stance against trolls. The name of its game is deterring trolls from attacking its members by making it too expensive for the troll to win. The group does this by examining troll patents and their activities in various technology sectors (Zones). The Open Source Zone is the newest of these Zones.
United Patents does this in a variety of ways. For example, it runs a public bounty program, where it seeks prior art for troll patents. According to Kevin Jakel, Unified Patents CEO, in a recent interview, "The prize money offered can be as much as $10,000 for anyone that is able to find prior patents on the one being questioned. For example, we recently announced a $10,000 bounty for any prior art relating to network monitoring and sequence integrity."
In practice, their method works. For instance, with Unified Patent's aid, the ride-sharing company Lyft recently beat a patent troll. In the case, a troll claimed essentially he has created all ride-sharing software. US District Judge Jon S Tigar ruled against the troll, saying, "Given the lack of an algorithm for allocation, RideApp 'has in effect claimed everything that [performs the task] under the sun."
Unified Patent would rather not have to win court. As the company observes even a successful against a troll can cost $2 million in legal fees and take up six months of time. They would rather show the troll that attacking one of its members will cost them more than it's worth.
OIN's methodology, on the other hand, doesn't work directly against trolls. It practices patent non-aggression in core Linux and adjacent open-source technologies by cross-licensing Linux System patents to its members on a royalty-free basis. Patents owned by OIN are similarly licensed royalty-free to any organization, which agrees not to assert its patents against the Linux System.
That works well against organizations that use patents in their businesses. But, since trolls only use patents as clubs to exploit money from working companies, OIN's fundamental approach doesn't affect them much.
So, in light of this, Keith Bergelt, OIN's CEO, said: "Patent trolls increasingly look to leverage questionable patents against open source. Our mandate is to educate business leaders about the benefits of open source and shared innovation while providing a 'patent no-fly zone' for Linux and adjacent open-source technologies." This team-up, he said, "adds another key patent non-aggression initiative to our efforts."
Todd Moore, IBM's CTO of Developer Ecosystems IBM, agreed. "IBM and Red Hat believe this is a key initiative to significantly deter non-practicing entities from asserting patents against the open-source community," he said.
Microsoft, which has seen the open-source light, agrees. Microsoft corporate vice president and chief IP Counsel Erich Andersen, said: "We are pleased to stand with OIN, the Linux Foundation and IBM in protecting Linux and other important OSS technologies against patent aggression."
Linux and open-source companies are under constant threat from trolls. For example, recently, the non-profit Linux desktop GNOME Foundation was attacked by the patent troll Rothschild Patent Imaging. This move should make patent trolls think twice before launching other such attacks.