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New Company Launched to Spread Linux

Five major Linux supporters are backing a new company whose goal is to acquire patents and offer them royalty-free in order to extend open source operating systems worldwide.

The Open Invention Network (OIN) launched today with undisclosed financial backing from IBM, Novell, Philips, Red Hat and Sony, according to the companies.

The company's members said they would create an enterprising new model where patents are shared royalty-free "to any company, institution or individual that agrees not to assert its patents against the Linux operating system or certain Linux-related applications."

The idea is that sharing patents based on Linux will stimulate development of applications based on the open source operating system without fear of legal reprisals, said OIN CEO Jerry Rosenthal.

"Open collaboration is critical for driving innovation, which fuels global economic growth. Impediments to collaboration on the Linux operating system seriously jeopardize innovation," said Rosenthal, who was the vice president of IBM's Intellectual Property and Licensing business before taking the helm of OIN.

"A new model of intellectual property management for Linux must be established to maintain advances in software innovation - regardless of the size or type of business or organization."

Rosenthal went on to promise that OIN is not focused on generating profits from the patents, "but on using them to promote a positive, fertile ecosystem for the Linux operating system and to drive innovation and choice into the marketplace."

Still, OIN acknowledged Linux proliferation will provide the IT world with a nice economic boost, noting that IDC estimates the worldwide Linux business will grow 25.9 percent annually, doubling from $20 billion in 2005 to more than $40 billion in 2008.

OIN said its initial patent holdings include a set of business-to-business e-commerce patents purchased from Commerce One by JGR, a subsidiary of Novell. But the public can expect more going forward.

While the move should open up the flood gates for Linux, it is also a heady response to all of the hullabaloo in Europe over fair use of open source software.

Last November, the Open Source Risk Management (OSRM) group began documenting the sources of innovation claimed by such patents to counter the concerns voiced by officials in Munich, Germany over 50 Linux-related patents.

Moreover, major vendors such as IBM have made aggressive open source moves in the past year, including the dispersal of 500 patents in a "commons" pool that would allow use of the software without risk of patent infringement.