Google ups Linux support as OIN licensee

China Martens
PC World
Tuesday, August 7, 2007; 11:19 AM

Google Inc. has increased its support for the open-source Linux operating system by becoming Open Invention Network's first end-user licensee. Set up in 2005, OIN is an intellectual property company focused on acquiring and pooling patents to protect Linux against patent infringement attacks.

Google and OIN made the announcement Tuesday at the LinuxWorld conference taking place this week in San Francisco.

OIN hopes Google becoming a licensee will result in many other end-user organizations, both large and small, following its lead, according to Jerry Rosenthal, CEO of OIN. "Google clearly wants to see Linux succeed," he added. "They've become much more vocal about their support of Linux."

In ablog postingon its Web site, Chris DiBona, open-source programs manager at Google, stressed how much the search giant relies on Linux. "Ever since Google got its start, Linux has given us the power and flexibility we need to serve millions of users around the world," he wrote. Being an OIN licensee enables companies like Google to focus less on patent issues and more on developing software and is therefore "the legal equivalent of taking a long, deep, relaxing breath," DiBona added. "We believe that Linux innovation moves fastest when developers can share their knowledge with full peace of mind."

OIN makes the patents it acquires available royalty-free to companies and individuals provided they agree not to assert their patents against the Linux operating system. Its financial backers include IBM Corp., NEC Corp., Novell Inc., Koninklijke Philips Electronics NV, Red Hat Inc. and Sony Corp.

The possibility that Linux could come under attack came to the fore in May when an article about Microsoft Corp. was published in Fortune magazine. In the piece, Microsoft executives asserted that Linux and other open-source software infringe on 235 of the vendor's patents and that the company was keen to resolve intellectual property claims through licensing agreements rather than filing lawsuits.

Not surprisingly, the Fortune article resulted in a high level of interest in OIN and its Linux patent portfolio. "From my position, it was a great article," Rosenthal quipped. However, like many in the open-source community, he wonders if Microsoft's primary objective was to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) since the vendor has yet to produce the patents in question. "Once the patent is out there, you know what the problem is," he said. "If you don't know what it is, it's FUD, pure and simple."

Rosenthal also questioned where Microsoft gained the patents that relate to the open-source operating system in particular. "Linux's genesis is Unix, which predates Windows," he said. "So what can Microsoft really have?"

So far, OIN has acquired more than 100 strategic, global patent and patent applications, details of which can be seen on itsWeb site. The patents cover a wide range of technologies including operating systems, electronic commerce and databases. The company's first purchase was spending over US$15 million on e-commerce vendor CommerceOne's patent portfolio, Rosenthal said. OIN's backers have funded him "to buy patents ad infinitum" and the amount he's spent so far hasn't even put a dent in the amount of money he has been provided with, he added.

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