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Pro-Linux IP consortium Open Invention Network will 'pivot' to take on patent trolls

Not many actual software companies threaten Linux now

Keith Bergelt, CEO of the Open Invention Network (OIN), says the organisation is "pivoting to focus on" risks from "non-practising entit[ies]" also known as patent trolls.

The OIN was founded in 2005 by IBM, Suse, Philips, Red Hat and Sony, its purpose being to cross-license patents, royalty-free, subject to a non-aggression agreement, where the licensee agrees not to assert the patents against the Linux community.

Google, NEC and Toyota are also full members, Canonical and Tom Tom are associate members, and there are over 3,000 licensees. In October 2018 Microsoft became a licensee, a moment that Bergelt, speaking at the Open Source Summit in Lyon, described as a "watershed event".

Top of mind today is a complaint (PDF) filed by Rothschild Patent Imaging (RPI) in September in a Northern California district court against the GNOME foundation, creators of popular Linux desktop software. "There are hundreds of companies that are out there whose purpose is to aggregate patents with a desire to be able to serially litigate. [RPI], which is litigant plaintiff in the suit against GNOME, has filed 714 suits over the last six years," claimed Bergelt.

The GNOME Foundation is fighting the claim – it asked the court last Monday to dismiss the case – and has raised (at the time of writing) $118,500 against a target of $125,000 in an appeal for funding.

Bergelt said that "what we will be announcing in the next several weeks is a programme for the Linux Foundation and OIN of getting together to fund, in conjunction with support from two very significant operating companies, a programme designed to attack poor quality patents and to invalidate them so that they can't use them ... to be able to try to extract rents on patents that have very significant prior art."

According to Bergelt, the original purpose of the OIN is less relevant today. "We thought almost exclusively in the beginning on practising entity, operating company risks: patents that were held by operating companies whose behaviours were antagonistic to Linux. There are fewer and fewer of those companies as we move forward in the community and open source becomes more relevant to all companies."

Therefore "we're pivoting to focus on non-practising entity risk as well as some residual operating company risk."

The identities of the "two very significant operating companies" is not yet known, so watch out for announcements. ®

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