​Toyota throws weight behind Linux patent protection group

Toyota and other car companies have joined the Open Invention Network patent non-aggression community.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

You probably don't think of car companies as Linux and open-source supporters. You'd be wrong. Toyota, the world's largest car manufacturer, just joined the Open Invention Network (OIN), the largest patent non-aggression community in history.

Toyota Linux

Toyota has thrown its patents into protecting Linux.

OIN was formed by IBM, Sony, Phillips, Red Hat, and Novell in 1995 to defend Linux against intellectual property attacks. OIN's plan, then and now, is to acquire Linux-related patents. It then shares them royalty-free to any organization that agrees not to assert its patents against Linux or its applications.

It's worked.

OIN now has more than 2,000 members. In the last 18 months, with the rise of open source and Linux in all technology businesses, OIN has doubled in size.

OIN members gain access to hundreds of millions of dollars worth of intellectual property while promoting a positive environment for Linux and open-source software. Keith Bergelt, OIN's CEO, said, "In expanding its network of licensees and the strength of its community, OIN has appealed to small and large companies alike and is now seen as a key resource in supporting patent non-aggression."

The automobile industry, with the rise of self-driving cars and smart cars, is embracing open source's patent non-aggression as the new normal. Besides Toyota, Hyundai, Kia, and Ford Motor Company recently joined OIN.

Any company can join OIN as a licensee without paying a fee. You simply agree to share your patents under the OIN License Agreement.

In return, "OIN, grants to You and Your Subsidiaries a royalty-free, worldwide, nonexclusive, non-transferable license under OIN Patents to make, have made, use, import, and Distribute any products or services. In addition to the foregoing and without limitation thereof, with respect only to the Linux System, the license granted herein includes the right to engage in activities that in the absence of this Agreement would constitute inducement to infringe or contributory infringement (or infringement under any other analogous legal doctrine in the applicable jurisdiction)."

To have a say in how OIN conducts its business and enforces it shared patent pool, you need to become a member. That, according to sources, cost Toyota a one-time fee of $20 million. If that sounds like a lot, you've never dealt with patent enforcement and litigation.

According to Bergelt, other Fortune 500 companies are on the verge of becoming OIN licensees and members. At this time, besides Toyota, other OIN members include Google, IBM, NEC, Philips, Red Hat, Sony, and SUSE. You might notice that only two of OIN's eight members are known first and foremost as Linux companies. Other recent licensees include SpaceX, SAP SE, and Sierra Wireless.

With this influx of new members, and Linux's migration into all aspects of technology, OIN's patents no longer just cover Linux's core. It now also covers related open-source technologies in mobile, cloud, Internet of Things, embedded, and automotive.

At this rate, Microsoft -- once it's profitable, albeit bogus Android patents have expired -- might even join OIN. That's not idle speculation on my part. Sources have said that Microsoft, which started making peace with some of its patent enemies and has embraced Linux on the cloud, is considering joining OIN.

Sound impossible? Check again in a few years. Open source is everywhere -- and so are companies fed up with the US's current dysfunctional patent system.

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