Open Invention Network Buys Microsoft Linux Patents

Sep 09, 2009

The Open Invention Network (OIN) through a trust company has bought 22 Microsoft patents related to Linux.

OIN is an intellectual property company promoting Linux and open source for a "collaborative ecosystem," as they say on their website. Members include Red Hat, Novell, IBM and Sony. Among its main supporters are the Linux Foundation and Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC). Business partner in the 22-patent purchase deal was not Microsoft itself but the non-profit Allied Security Trust (AST) out of Delaware, an international statutory trust "to obtain cost-effective software licenses" to spare companies from costly patent wars. AST currently has 15 participating organizations that underwrite the costs of patent purchases.

As the OIN press release indicates, AST wanted to "ensure the patents did not fall into the hands of non-practicing entities" (read: patent trollers), which would be guaranteed by its resale to OIN. Patent trollers are companies that don't develop software themselves, but exploit others' patents for business reasons and collect or sue for royalties. OIN CEO Keith Bergelt was pleased by the purchase: "The prospect of these patents being placed in the hands of non-practicing entities was a threat that has been averted with these purchases, irrespective of patent quality and whether or not the patents truly read on Linux."

The Groklaw law platform suspects a method behind the sale. One bit of evidence is that Microsoft never considered OIN a possible buyer, as OIN's Bergelt mentioned in an interview. Groklaw feels rather that Microsoft didn't want to dirty its fingers itself with patent claims against Linux, but have the patent trolls worry about them instead. A few reasons: "Antitrust annoyances, counterclaims, and PR and all that." Without being specific about the terms of the sale, Microsoft spokesman Michael Marinello characterized it as, "These patents were deemed to be non-core to our business and non-essential for our IP portfolio."

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