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Membership has its privileges

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LinuxWorld For all its talk of openness, just a quarter of the code in the LiMo Foundation's mobile platform is open source, making it a minefield to navigate in terms of protected patents - 300,000 patents to be precise.

That's one hell of a disincentive to any ISV that might be interested in building for LiMo but is unwilling to get reamed by a bunch of patent attorneys used to swarming at the merest hint of blood.

LiMo has therefore promised a LinuxWorld crowd that it will clean up its act by making "substantially more than half" of its mobile platform open source with version four.

The first catch: there's no date yet for version four. We're still waiting version two, due by the end of the year. The other catch: "open source" does not necessarily equate to "patent free".

Little wonder then that LiMo executive director Morgan Gillis also used LinuxWorld to flag up the foundation's promise not to assert patent claims against fellow LiMo members. LiMo pools some 300,000 patents, versus an estimated 50,000 owned by Nokia and 30,000 by Microsoft on mobile technology.

And little wonder LinuxWorld attendees attending Gillis' session immediately pounced at the end of his presentation, to find out more about how far protection extended.

The cut off point seems to be technologies inside the LiMo platform, which are protected, versus those running on top that aren't.

"This has been one of the attractive parts of becoming a LiMo member," Gillis claimed. The group's membership currently stands at 52, up from the original six in 2007 with 11 added this week. "None of the LiMo members will assert their patents against you," he promised. And in the case that a member is litigated by a non-member then "LiMo would do the heavy lifting to defend."

Squeezed further, Gillis said the foundation has "specific plans" to share its code with non-members, but the non-members would not get patent protection or a protective shield from outside attack. "The challenge is just protecting the IP... we have no philosophical problem" sharing code, he said. Gillis was unable to say when code would be shared outside of LiMo.

He added the patent pledge is designed to provide "safe passage into the mobile industry for smaller members and ISVs, because the mobile industry can be a hostile place."

The executive director did not break out the parts of LiMo that are still shielded by patents. On the open source side, though, the platform features a Linux kernel and uses Gnome Mobile featuring GTK+ Gstreamer, SQLite and Webkit. Others using Gnome Mobile include Openmoko, One Laptop Per Child, Nokia's N800 and - soon - Intel's Moblin. The LiMo platform also includes frameworks for the user interface, security, telephony, networking, messaging, multimedia and digital rights management among other APIs.

Gillis said LiMo is on track to release the second version of its platform by the end of the year, with the software development kits (SDKs) for Native, Webkit and Java coming in the fourth quarter. A compliance program is planned for SDKs to ensure that applications written using the toolkits can be ported across different handsets, although there's no date for this yet.®

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