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Open Invention Network

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Open Invention Network (OIN)'s most significant project is its patent non-aggression pact-club. They maintain a list of popular free software packages and 500+ licensees grant each other a licence to use all their patents for that list of packages.

This is useful, and joining OIN is a good idea, but the effectiveness is limited. If a company wants to use their patents against free software, they obviously won't join this club. Club members are thus mostly getting protection from companies that had no intention to attack them anyway. The benefits are that:

  • when a company joins, they can't turn aggressive later
  • some partially aggressive companies may decide to join and give up their aggressive capabilities in return for access to the patents of the other members
  • it removes uncertainty about the non-aggressive intentions of its members.

The worrying part is that OIN is greatly overrated by many software developers. This may reduce support for campaigns against software patents. And this may be one of the goals of OIN, since OIN is not against software patents[1] and is mostly owned by companies that are pro-software-patent.

Other projects are of dubious value, such as defensive publication. This project consumes the time and energy of the software development community, and may make software development more dangerous because it doesn't prevent others from patenting a thicket around the published idea, and may actually be an encouragement to do so (see Publishing information is made dangerous).

Contents

[edit] Patent non-aggression club

The core of OIN's licensee agreement is a licence grant from each licensee, allowing all other licensees to distribute the list of free software packages:[2] which OIN calls the "Linux System":

You, on behalf of yourself and your Affiliates, (a) grant to each Licensee and its Subsidiaries that are Subsidiaries as of the Eligibility Date a royalty-free, worldwide, nonexclusive, non-transferable license under Your Patents for making, having made, using, importing, and Distributing any Linux System;[3]

[edit] Only specified versions are covered

The list of packages gives a version number for each. The protection is limited to the features in that version number - some of which refer to software from 2005. Later releases also get protection, but only with regards to the functionality which was already present in the named version number. Here's the first mention of this:[4]

"Linux Environment Component" - shall mean any of the software packages whose released source code shall be identified on the OIN® website, or a Predecessor Release or Successor Release of any of such packages, including bug fixes and error corrections thereto.

And, more importantly, here's the (narrow) definition of "Successor Release":

"Successor Release" - shall mean, as to any Linux Environment Component, a later release of such component that has the same overall functionality as such component and (a) is Distributed by an open source maintainer of the component which maintainer is identified on the OIN® website, to the extent such later release contains modifications to existing functionality for: compatibility (e.g., standards compliance or porting), performance enhancements (e.g., increasing execution speed, code maintainability, security or bug resistance), usability, and localization and internationalization, but to the extent the later release contains new functionality which does not exist in such component, the portion of the later release providing such new functionality is not included as part of "Successor Release;" or (b) is Distributed by one not identified as a maintainer of the component on the OIN® website, but in the case of this clause (b) only to the extent of the same code as in such component or in a later release described in the foregoing clause (a). To the extent that any later release described in the foregoing clause (b) contains code that does not exist in such component or in a later release described in the foregoing clause (a), such code is not included as part of "Successor Release."

[edit] Members

Members have a "voting seat",[5] unlike Associate Members. OIN has five founding members, plus others that joined later:

The fees are not disclosed but are speculated to be US$20 million.[9][10]

[edit] Associate Members (no voting rights)

Canonical, Ltd joined as an "Associate Member" in June 2010.[11] TomTom (from the Microsoft case is also an Associate Member.

The OIN website doesn't seem to have any information about the difference between Members and Associate Members, but it is known that Associate Members don't have a "voting seat".

[edit] Licensees

As of June 2012, OIN has about 500 licensees.[12] Licensees with notable patent histories include Barracuda Networks,[13] Canonical, Ltd, Google, OpenMoko, openWrt, Oracle, Tom Tom, and Turbolinux.

[edit] Smaller projects

[edit] Purchasing patents

OIN purchases patents which it thinks might otherwise by used by an unfriendly entity for litigation or to spread uncertainty.

OIN's first notable patent acquisition was the "Commerce One" set of patents in November 2005.[14][15] This set of 7 patents plus 32 patent applications, focussing on XML and e-commerce, was bought by subsidiary of Novell for US$15.5 million.

In 2009, OIN's patent acquisition plan were expanded with the launching of the Distinguished Inventors Patent Acquisition.[16]

In September 2009, OIN purchased 22 patents from Microsoft (presumably the OpenGL patents). See: Microsoft sells patents to OIN, 2009.

[edit] Defensive publication

(See: Prior art database)

OIN helps developers to document their innovations on IP.com, a database used in prior art searches by the USPTO.

This could be a very minor help, or could be seen as a waste of time and a distraction.

[edit] Related pages on en.swpat.org

[edit] External links

[edit] References

  1. "A no-fly zone to protect Linux from patent trolls". http://features.blogs.fortune.cnn.com/2008/12/08/a-no-fly-zone-to-protect-linux-from-patent-trolls/. ""We're not anti-patent by any stretch of the imagination," says Bergelt. "More patents is fine with me, as long as they're high quality. Quality is the drum we beat."" 
  2. http://www.openinventionnetwork.com/pat_linuxdefpop.html
  3. http://www.openinventionnetwork.com/pat_license_agreement.php
  4. http://www.openinventionnetwork.com/pat_linuxdef.php
  5. "Google to co-head open-source patent defense alliance". http://features.blogs.fortune.cnn.com/2013/12/18/google-to-co-head-open-source-patent-defense-alliance/. "Though Google was already an OIN "associate member," the company wanted a voting seat on OIN's board, according to Chris DiBona, Google's director of open source, which only full members have." 
  6. http://www.openinventionnetwork.com/press_release11_14_06.php
  7. http://java.sys-con.com/node/275688
  8. http://www.muktware.com/2013/12/google-joins-oin-board-strengthens-commitment-open-source/17849
  9. "Google to co-head open-source patent defense alliance". http://features.blogs.fortune.cnn.com/2013/12/18/google-to-co-head-open-source-patent-defense-alliance/. "Though OIN does not disclose the capital contribution it requires of full members, the past S.E.C. filings of others suggest that it must be at least $20 million." 
  10. "Novell pumps $20M into Open Invention Network". http://www.bizjournals.com/boston/stories/2006/01/16/daily6.html. "Novell did not reveal its stake, but in a regulatory filing last week Novell valued its investment at $20 million for a 20 percent stake in OIN." 
  11. "Open Invention Network Announces Associate Member Program and Recruits Canonical As Its First Associate Member". http://www.openinventionnetwork.com/press_release06_22_10.php. 
  12. http://www.openinventionnetwork.com/licensees.php
  13. http://www.barracudanetworks.com/ns/news_and_events/index.php?nid=216
  14. http://xml.coverpages.org/ni2005-11-11-a.html
  15. http://www.openinventionnetwork.com/press_release11_05.php
  16. http://www.h-online.com/open/news/item/Open-Invention-Network-starts-buying-patents-742787.html


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