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EVIL patent TROLLS poised to attack OpenStack, says Linux protection squad

Open-source cloud's own openness a problem

A group established to shield Linux from patent trolls has warned OpenStack will be the next big target for intellectual property hoarders.

The Open Invention Network (OIN) reckons the open-source cloud is ripe for the plucking by trolls, who would easily be able to box off and claim core technologies as their own.

That would see developers and customers using OpenStack forced to hand over fistfuls of cash in royalties – following either cases or, more likely, closed-door deals that avoid the expense of court.

Keith Bergelt, OIN chief executive, told The Reg OpenStack lacks an IP rights protection policy beyond its basic Apache licences to protect itself.

“It creates a potential situation for mischief and for people to start inventing ahead of where core technology is being invented,” he said.

“I have more than a little concern this could be a flash point or a battleground.”

According to Bergelt, there’s nothing to protect the cross licensing of technologies between OpenStack’s sub projects.

That’s a problem because OpenStack meetings are open, so anybody can attend, take notes and walk away to file a patent in an area of prospective development.

It’s a problem Bergelt said he’s raised with OpenStack’s legal affairs committee, whose official members are drawn from Canonical, SUSE, Hewlett-Packard, AT&T and Rackspace, with two unofficial members from IBM and Red Hat.

“There’s no provision on joint ventures and joint collaboration on a project that would protect IP. You don’t even need to be a part of the project – you can be an observer,” he points out.

He reckoned this is creating a potential minefield, as trolls could file patents ahead of the game.

OIN has taken steps itself to extend its own protection to OpenStack, with 33 Python packages used in OpenStack separately protected by the body.

OIN was founded in 2005 by IBM, Novell, Philips, Red Hat and Sony at a time when heightened anxiety over patent litigation was beginning to threaten Linux.

At the time, the SCO group was suing IBM for $3bn, claiming Big Blue had infringed on its Unix patents in Linux, and then took on Novell. Red Hat then waded by taking on SCO. Microsoft, meanwhile, had claimed Linux violated 270 of its patents, which it refused to name, but started asking Linux-using ISVs and OEMs to pay up.

The threat was that the use of Linux would be curtailed as companies had to pay royalties to those claiming their IP had been trampled by Linux. OIN is a holder of patents donated by members, which are then available for use by other OIN members.

The body's licensees include Oracle, Google, Canonical, Rackspace and SugarCRM, as well as a new generation of VC-backed startups including Dropbox.

OIN had 10 licensees in its first year, which climbed to 30-40 licensees per quarter and Bergelt reckons that has more than doubled to just over 100 per quarter. There were 400 licensees in 2013. More than 1,000 organisations are now licensing its patents. ®

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