The recent verdict against Oracle in its patent case against Google over Java use in Android is good news for the Linux community – and in more ways than one, according to Keith Bergelt, CEO of the Open Invention Network (OIN).
The OIN was set up in 2005 to build a defensive patent-portfolio pot that could be shared royalty-free by participants, and which could be used to ward off patent trolls and aggressive litigation against Linux. Companies such as Red Hat, Google, and IBM have put money into the venture as a way of safeguarding themselves and promoting open source code.
Last week's verdict set an encouraging precedent, Bergelt told The Register.
"It's a heartening sign the judge was very analytical and it wasn't a passive case of not making a decision," he said. "It was an affirmative decision which we should take as a positive signal to the community."
Given that both Oracle and Google are members of the OIN, one might wonder how they ended up in court at all. But with issues that don’t directly affect the kernel, it wasn't in the OIN's remit to get involved, Bergelt explained. The Java case was about separate technologies from Linux, although that didn't stop Google from draping itself in the open source mantle for the case.
There was also another benefit to high-profile cases like this, he pointed out: people are reacting in general against patent litigation and looking for alternatives.
Bergelt recounted how the OIN had recently purchased a patent bundle covering functions used by 80 to 90 per cent of web companies at well below market value, because the seller was concerned about the uses to which it might be put by IP lawyers. Companies are seeing the benefits of selling to the OIN, too.
"Our money is as green as anybody else's," he said. "Companies see the ills or the potential negative consequences of selling to the highest bidder or to someone who plans monetization via litigation."
The OIN is also trying to build up defenses for developers and organizations that want nothing to do with the patent system. So-called Linux Defenders are registering cases of prior art and registered statmenets around key Linux processes and these can be used to discourage the trolls.
"There's a community that's somewhat at the edges and somewhat antagonistic towards patenting. then we provide them with a tool that suits their philosophy by giving them an anti-patent, if you will," Bergelt said.
He compared the situation to that of the major network-switching companies, who saw over time that there was more to be gained from cross licensing and trying not to stifle innovation. The same kind of approach is perfect for Linux, given the central role it plays in the industry, he argues, and would work in the interests of true innovators rather than patent trolls. ®