Developers have always needed to deal with intellectual property and licensing issues. Open source software is simply an extension of this but it has become more important because of the impact and popularity of platforms like Linux.
The Open Invention Network (OIN) is an organization that addresses these issues. I spoke with Keith Bergelt, Chief Executive Officer of OIN, about its mission.
Wong: You believe that one of the new frontiers for patent litigation is integrated circuits (IC), can you explain why?
Bergelt: In the last decade, we have watched the adoption of open source, and Linux in particular, become the engine of innovation in the technology industry. It touches people every day – searchengines, smartphones, apps, public and private networks, trading platforms, ATM and online banking systems as well as an ever-growing group of desktop operating systems. Servers running x86 platforms and Linux are the foundation of cloud computing. It is truly pervasive.
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We have also watched organizations that either don’t understand how to leverage open source or manage the integration of open source and proprietary, attempt to use patents to unlevel the playing field in a misguided effort to slow or stall the progress of Linux and open source. As an example of this trend, even casual observers would note the extraordinary number of patent lawsuits that are taking place in the smartphone arena where suits in the application layer, largely agnostic to the underlying OS on which they run, are being used to attempt to raise total cost of ownership and encourage vendors, carriers and developers to adopt less innovative proprietary platforms.
With the integration of Linux at the IP core, and more ICs being optimized to run open source code, there may be entities seeking to use patent litigation to further raise costs by targeting this element of the open source supply chain, in an effort to further retard open competition and limit vendor, carrier and consumer choice. Given that OIN's mandate is to preserve freedom of choice and enable open and healthy competition in markets where open source and Linux are deployed, our focus on signing IC companies as licensees represents a natural evolution.
Wong: In your opinion, who is using open source effectively?
Bergelt: All companies who are competitive in technology markets are using open source effectively. Those who do not use open source and the innovative outputs of projects like Linux, Open Stack and numerous others are all suffering declining market share. While open source appears to be at odds with proprietary or “home grown” technology to many of the companies who have not come to grips with the duality inherent in this new era, if leveraged thoughtfully, open source is very synergistic and leads to unrivaled levels of innovation and growth. Google, IBM, Red Hat and Twitter, among many others, are successfully building their business by extensively leveraging the innovations generated by open source technology.
Wong: What is the Open Invention Network (OIN)?
Bergelt: There is no analog in the history of the technology industry for Open Invention Network. It is a community of patent non-aggression with more than 750 participants – financially supported by Google, IBM, NEC, Philips, Red Hat, Sony and SUSE.
We are a collaborative enterprise that enables innovation in open source, specifically Linux,by leveraging a portfolio of more than 800 strategic, worldwide patents and applications. That is paired with our unique, royalty-free license agreement. While our patent portfolio is worth a great deal - on the order of hundreds of millions of dollars - any person or company can gain access to OIN’s patents for free, as long as they agree not to sue anyone in the collection of software packages that we call the “Linux System.” A new licensee also receives royalty free access to the Linux System patents of the 750+ other licensees. In essence, a licensee is agreeing to support patent non-aggression in Linux. Even if an organization has no patents, by taking a license, they gain access to the patent portfolio and an unrestricted field of use.
Wong: Why is OIN necessary?
Bergelt: As I mentioned earlier, there are organizations that are looking to use intellectual property to stifle competition. As a result, OIN was created to enable and protect Linux developers, distributors and users from non-practicing entities (patent trolls) and companies antagonistic to Linux and open source and who instead of seeking to out-innovate platforms such as Android in the market place are seeking aggressively enforce intellectual property rights.
Wong: How does OIN make money?
Bergelt: We don’t. It is not in our charter. The OIN Board member companies I mentioned earlier have provided us the funding to operate, make patent and patent application purchases, influence policy and execute programs that look to reduce the number of “bad” patents that might affect Linux. This gives us the freedom to look at strategic intellectual property and purchase it when we deem it to be the right fit. That our Board member organizations conceptualized and continue to actively support the OIN mission demonstrates a incredible foresight and a profound commitment to Linux, open source and ultimately, to innovation.
Wong: What types of companies have become OIN licensees?
Bergelt: We have many of the technology industry stalwarts. We also have Internet companies that include Yahoo! and Mozilla; networking leaders like Juniper Networks and Cisco; social media leaders like Twitter, Dropbox and Wikimedia; Cloud companies including Rackspace, United Stack and PistonCloud, and essentially all of the major Linux distributions. That also brings us to our news today. VIA Technologies has become the first IC company to become an OIN licensee.
Wong: Why is VIA becoming and OIN licensee important?
Bergelt: VIA is a leading global provider in power efficient x86and ARMplatforms – key building blocksin the PC, mobile,cloudand embedded markets. In taking a license with OIN,VIA is demonstrating theircommitment tothe openness ofLinux andpromotinginnovation and intellectual property non-aggression. The number of sectors across the technology spectrum that they intersect is significant.
Wong: Do you envision more IC companies becoming licensees?
Bergelt: We believe VIA is the first of many key IC companies that will become OIN licensees. We are in discussions with a number of semiconductor companies that provide the microcontroller, DSP, SOC and other critical building blocks for desktop, server and mobile computing. Given the prevalence of Linux and open source in these platforms, we believe more IC companies will sign our royalty-free license and agree to patent non-aggression.
Wong: Is it complicated for an IC company to become an OIN licensee?
Bergelt: We are very transparent and the process for becoming an OIN licensee is incredibly straightforward. The license agreement is the same for everyone – from large companies to an emerging startup to an individual. It can be viewed on our website. If an organization or individual has questions, they can contact us. Also, online we have an electronic signature system that expedites and simplifies the signup process. We invite all semiconductor manufacturers to come and review our license.