Open Invention Network, the Linux-based patent non-aggression community, exceeds 3,000 licensees

While some businesses remain entangled in patent wars, the companies which have joined the OIN are freeing Linux from patent fights.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Some businesses, such as pharmaceuticals, still spend enormous amounts of time and money on intellectual property (IP) fights. Thanks to the Open Invention Network (OIN), the largest patent non-aggression community in history, Linux and related open-source technologies have become mostly free of these expensive entanglements. Now, the OIN's membership has grown to 3,000 licensees.

OIN's mission is to enable Linux, its related software, and its programmers to develop and monetize without being hogtied by patent fights. In Linux's early years, this was a constant threat. Now, thanks largely to the OIN's efforts to get everyone to agree on the basic open-source principle -- that's it's better and more profitable to share than to cling to proprietary property -- open-source software has taken off in the marketplace. 

The OIN isn't the first to take this concept and apply it to the Unix/Linux operating system family. After Novell bought Unix from AT&T, rather than keep fighting with Berkeley Software Design Inc. (BSDO) over possible Unix IP rights violations in BSD/OS, an early, commercial BSD Unix, Noorda famously declared that he'd rather compete in the marketplace than in court. This Unix case was settled in 1994.

That was a one off. The OIN, which has grown by 50% in the last two years, has turned patent non-aggression into policy for thousands of companies. By agreeing to the OIN license, members gain access to patented inventions worth hundreds of millions of dollars while promoting a favorable environment for Linux and related open source software.

The license works by everyone agreeing to patent non-aggression in core open-source technologies by cross-licensing Linux System patents to one another on a royalty-free basis. OIN-owned patents are similarly licensed royalty-free to any organization that agrees not to assert its patents against the Linux System.

While it started out just covering the Linux operating system the Linux System has evolved to address Linux and adjacent Linux-related open-source technologies. It now covers open-source programs covering mobile communications, mobile payments, computing, blockchain, cloud, Internet of Things, and embedded and automotive technologies.

"For innovation and invention, open source and Linux are unmatched in the modern world. The open-source community's success is powered by the fact that shared innovation acts as a force multiplier -- where one plus one equals orders of magnitude more than two," said Keith Bergelt, `OIN's CEO. "OIN's remarkable growth has been driven by heightened recognition of the importance of open source and a broad-based recognition of patent non-aggression as a cultural norm in the Linux and greater open source community. Joining OIN is viewed by many as a litmus test of authenticity in the open-source community."

Jim Zemlin, Executive Director of The Linux Foundation knows this is true and credits the relatively unknown OIN for much of Linux's success. "The Linux Foundation's success has been directly enabled by the patent risk mitigation platform that the OIN has provided. Absent the now 3,000 strong member community of patent non-aggression that Keith Bergelt and his team at OIN have painstakingly built over the last dozen or so years, the level of open-source software innovation and unprecedented adoption rates could simply not have been achieved."

Eben Moglen, Chairman of the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) agrees.

OIN's success in increasing the peace throughout the global IT economy is an unprecedented achievement. By preventing patent aggression against Linux and other free and open source software, OIN has protected our entire software ecology of research, development and commercial utilization based on sharing. At this 3,000-licensee milestone, OIN represents one of the most important institutional achievements in the digital economy.  Without the leadership Keith Bergelt has brought to OIN, this profoundly important social result could not have happened. Everyone who collaborates on the making and use of free and open source software, from secondary school students to multinational corporations, is freer to learn, innovate and succeed because of Keith and OIN.

You too can sign on to the OIN license. Frankly, if your business has anything to do with developing Linux and related open-source software, you need to join. It will provide you, your programmers, and your business the IP protection you need to become an open-source winner.

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