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Open Invention Network Grows, Can it Stop Patent Feuds?

Patents remain a source of risk for the open source ecosystem, though the Open Invention Network (OIN) is doing its' part to help reduce the risk.

The OIN launched back in 2005 as a group tasked with acquiring patents and then licensing them back to the open source community on a royalty-free basis.

OIN has continued to grow over the years, and for the first quarter of 2011, the group grew by over 70 new licensees including HP, Facebook and Juniper Networks. Though OIN aims to reduce patent risk, that doesn't mean that it eliminates all patent risk, just look at Oracle and Google.

Oracle and Google are OIN members, yet they are both involved in a legal battle with each other over patents.

"Oracle's litigation is outside the scope of its obligations under the OIN license," Keith Bergelt, CEO of Open Invention Network told InternetNews.com "As, to our understanding, it is a suit involving its proprietary Java technology which, though implemented in Linux, is separate and distinct from Linux."

When it comes to Linux, Bergelt explained that the OIN employs a team of licensing professionals who actively contact Linux distributions, development organizations, vendors, and users to aid them in understanding the OIN license and its benefits.

"As Linux becomes more central to the businesses of larger, more prominent technology companies, they are recognizing that the benefits of becoming a licensee far outweigh the risks in terms of cross licensed patents and giving up the right to sue companies on Linux grounds," Bergelt said. "In addition, the level of concern is rising in companies moving inexorably toward Linux reliance regarding the potentially antagonistic behaviors of companies that support proprietary platforms/operating systems who have in the past used their patent portfolios to discourage the use of Linux."

Bergelt added that an OIN licensee receives a non-exclusive license to OIN's owned patents and any cross licensed member/licensee patents and pays zero dollars to become a licensee.

"Licensees are required however to forebear their right to sue other companies on anything captured in the Linux System Definition," Bergelt said. "In addition, licensees are required to cross-license OIN's other licensees any of their own patents covered under the Linux System Definition."

The OIN isn't just aiming to protect Linux with licensing, it also has programs designed to identify prior art, to limit the effect of patent litigation directed at the Linux. The OIN launched its Linux Defenders program back in 2008, with programs for Peer to Patent which helps to provide identification or prior art to aid the Patent and Trademark Office in rejecting patent applications.

Linux Defenders also works on Defensive Publications as well as Post-Issue Peer to Patent, which helps in the identification of prior art, allowing for the invalidation or reduction in the claim scope and threat from already issued patents.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.