Nokia’s Linux Pledge

Finnish phone manufacturer Nokia made a pledge yesterday to not assert any of its patents infringed by the Linux kernel. The statement, though, was overshadowed by the introduction of its first Internet tablet, the Nokia 770.

What’s curious about the patent amnesty is its timing. Was the pledge merely part of a marketing campaign to garner support from the open source community around a new product or to publicize its commitment to open source, or was it, even, a philanthropic effort?

And consider the venue. What better place to open its patents to the world than at the LinuxWorld Summit held in New York this week?

For many in the open source community, it probably doesn’t matter. Too few companies have come right out and said they wouldn’t enforce their intellectual property against the Linux kernel, much less put it in writing.

Nokia officials were not available for comment at press time.

John St. Clair, COO at open source insurance and risk mitigation firm Open Source Risk Management (OSRM), said Nokia’s pledge doesn’t have a tremendously big impact on risk reduction but is a good sign of the company’s commitment to Linux.

The OSRM published a report in August stating it discovered 283 patents that could be found to infringe on the Linux kernel.

The report claims a third of the patents found are held by Linux-friendly companies like IBM , Intel , Novell , Oracle and Red Hat .

St. Clair wouldn’t say whether Nokia was one of the patent holders mentioned in the report, but considers it a Linux-friendly company.

“In a general sense, Nokia would be considered someone who in the past was friendly towards Linux,” he said. “They would not be the ones that most people would be concerned about from the outset, but it’s always great to know, in writing, that an organization sits firmly in one camp or the other.”

In fact, Nokia’s gone a step further than IBM, the darling of the Linux and open source community for its fight against the SCO Group .

In a statement made in August (also made at a LinuxWorld conference), Nick Donofrio, IBM senior vice president of technology and manufacturing, said Big Blue has no intention of asserting its patents, “unless of course we are forced to defend ourselves.”

Nokia, however, has come out and said that not only would it not litigate against the current Linux kernel, it would extend that protection against future versions of the operating system building block.

“While Nokia welcomes the recent announcements in the industry where companies have stated express non-assertions with regard to some of their patents, it also believes that the situation would substantially improve, if more supporters of the Linux kernel and other open source software would take a clear public position on this issue,” a statement by the company read.

If the company creates new software functionality that falls outside the scope of the patent pledge, officials said, they will notify the open source community in advance.

The company also added a poison pill of sorts, with officials saying the Nokia patent pledge doesn’t apply to any person or organization asserting its own patents against the Linux kernel.

Nokia officials are currently reviewing whether to extend its largesse to other open source projects in which they are participating.

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