Facebook, HP, and OpenStack join Linux patent shield

The same shield that didn't protect Android from Oracle

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Facebook, HP, and the OpenStack project have joined the Open Invention Network (OIN), a consortium of organizations intent on protecting Linux and related open-source software from legal attack.

On Wednesday, the OIN announced that in the first quarter, 74 new organizations joined its "community" as licensees, including Fujitsu, Rackspace, and Juniper as well as Facebook, HP, and OpenStack, the latter of which is an open source "build-your-own-cloud" group co-founded by Rackspace. Licensees agree not to use their Linux-related patents against each other, and they receive free access to a collection of additional patents purchased by the consortium as a whole.

The OIN was founded in 2005 by IBM, NEC, Novell, Phillips, Red Hat, and Sony. It now owns 300 Linux-related patents, and through its licenses, it has access to more than 2,000 others. The idea is to allow its members to continue to "innovate" atop Linux without worrying about the threat of patent-related lawsuits.

Google is also an OIN member. In 2007, it became the organization's first "end-user licensee", meaning it didn't sell, distribute, or develop Linux code. At the time, it only used Linux within the company. But it has since launched Linux-based products such as Android and Chrome OS.

The irony here is that Oracle is a member as well. In signing the OIN's royalty free licensing agreement, members vow not to assert their patents against what's called "the Linux System". But this didn't stop Oracle from suing Google over its use of Java in Android, which is built on the Linux kernel.

Even before Oracle's suit, patent watcher Florian Muller and others criticized the organization, saying it doesn't really provide the type of protection you might assume that it does. "I've always said that there's no evidence it has ever helped any company (the latest example is Salesforce, which apparently pays royalties to Microsoft for a variety of patents including some that rely on Linux)...The OIN doesn't truly protect all of FOSS but only an arbitrarily defined list of program files," Muller said when Oracle's suit arrived.

"Oracle's lawsuit against Google is the strongest evidence that my concerns about the Open Invention Network are well-founded. Both Oracle and Google are OIN licensees, so in theory there is a non-aggression pact in place between them, but everyone can see that Oracle sues Google anyway because the OIN's scope of protection is too narrow." ®

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