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Huawei signs non-aggression patent pact with membership of Open Invention Network

Chinese giant plays nice with open source

Updated Huawei has become a licensee member of the Open Invention Network (OIN), which agrees to cross-license Linux patents to one another royalty free and to any organisation that agrees not to assert its patents against Linux.

The Chinese tech giant is already a long-standing member of the Linux Foundation and other open-source groups, including the OpenStack Foundation and the Cloud Native Computing Foundation. In October 2019, the company also became a Strategic Member of the Eclipse Foundation, stating: "At Huawei, we prefer to have both open source software and open governance around our projects."

Trade sanctions against Huawei and issues with Google licences may also be a factor behind the company's further embrace of open source.

OIN CEO Keith Bergelt told The Register he is delighted with the news. "It's probably one of the top five companies that we have been chasing for quite some time. I think my first conversations with Huawei were nine years ago. Back then Huawei wasn't doing that much in open source, but in the last six and a half years, Huawei has become very committed to open source and very active as a member of the board of the Linux Foundation. Among equipment suppliers Huawei has been a model."

What of the company's controversial status today? "Whether that's justified or not, I have no opinion and no knowledge," said Bergelt. "All I know is what I have observed relative to their relationship to the open-source community."

Bergelt told us that the political pressure on Huawei has given the company's leadership "a very strong sense of its positioning and its responsibility. It not only has to be a good citizen of the community that it's part of in open source, but it has to be a model citizen."

He agreed that Huawei is attempting to protect itself. "Whether it's Harmony [the OS being developed by Huawei for IoT and possibly more], or the agreement struck by SoftBank and the Chinese government to ensure access to Arm code irrespective of US policy, there's a whole series of things which fit together as part of insulating themselves from the vagaries and unpredictable elements of bilateral relationships."

Bergelt said there is a "major sense of momentum" towards open source in China and that more companies are expected to join. "We'd love to see ZTE; we'd love to see China Telecom and China Mobile," he told us. Although there are now more than 3,200 OIN licensees, some notable companies are missing. Outside China, "Amazon is another significant target," Bergelt said, as is Samsung. ®

Updated to add

Softbank-owned Arm has been in touch regarding Bergelt's suggestion of an "agreement struck by SoftBank and the Chinese government to ensure access to Arm code irrespective of US policy."

"Mr Bergelt’s statement is not accurate as it implies that the Arm and SoftBank joint venture with the Hou An Innovation Fund, known as Arm China, is not required to adhere to current US policies related to Huawei," an Arm spokesperson said.

"If an Arm China product is based on US-origin Arm IP, it is therefore subject to US export control. Under the current guidelines, Arm cannot license any IP subject to US export controls to [Huawei-owned] HiSilicon unless granted an export license by the US Commerce Department or it has been determined the IP is not of US origin."

The OIN told The Register Bergelt did not mean in any way to suggest Softbank and Huawei were circumventing American export controls, and welcomed the clarification.

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