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Ubuntu creator Canonical has upgraded its membership in a Linux patent protection group – without any clear reason for the change.

Canonical has become the Open Invention Network's first – and so far only – associate member, a newly created category of OIN membership. Previously, Canonical was just an OIN licensee.

But it's far from clear what Canonical will do as an associate member.

"Associate Members make a commitment to the Linux Community by virtue of their commitments to and membership in OIN and help to ensure that patent issues do not impair Linux's growth," says the OIN's site.

Canonical wasn't exactly forthcoming, either. Chief executive Jane Silber said in a statement: "By becoming an OIN associate member, we are supporting the broad OIN mission and its commitment to enable and protect Linux's advancement."

The OIN was founded by IBM, Sony, NEC, Philips, Red Hat, and Novell to buy patents that it makes available on a royalty-free basis.

Canonical is a partner of IBM, which is a huge supporter of Linux for its server and services business but has a patchier reputation on patents. IBM is the industry's single largest patents owner.

And while Canonical might be a Linux company, that hasn't stopped it playing for the other team. The company licenses the royalty-encumbered H.264 media codec, backed by an MPEG-LA patent pool that includes Microsoft, Apple, and others.

Patents activist Florian Mueller questioned both the OIN's power and the new category of associate member. Mueller, founder and former director of the NoSoftwarePatents campaign and critic of the OIN in the past, said he was "fairly optimistic" about the University of California, Berkeley's, Defensive Patent License, an OSI alternative offering a "much more helpful, reliable, transparent and company independent approach" of patent defense.

Bootnote

The recently announced Ubuntu Light for fast boot and quick internet access and featuring the simplified Unity interface has been demonstrated on a new Dell Inspiron 14R laptop. The laptop features dual-boot, offering you a choice between Ubuntu Light and Windows 7. Dual-boot is Ubuntu creator Mark Shuttleworth's big bet for getting Canonical in front of more ordinary PC users running Windows on a new PC. You can see the video here. ®

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