Google Joins Linux and Open-Source Patent-Protection Group

Google becomes the first new board member of the Open Invention Network, a consortium of open-source user companies, since 2007.


Google has joined the Open Invention Network (OIN), which was created in 2005 as an intellectual-property company that works to promote, protect and openly share Linux patents among its members and the open-source community.

Google's move to join the OIN was announced by Chris DiBona, Google's director of open source, in a Dec. 18 post on the Google Open Source Blog.

"As readers of this blog will know, open-source software like Linux has spurred huge innovation in cloud computing, the mobile Web, and the Internet in general," wrote DiBona. "Linux now powers nearly all the world's supercomputers, runs the International Space Station, and forms the core of Android. But as open source has proliferated, so have the threats against it, particularly using patents. That's why we're expanding our participation in Open Invention Network (OIN), becoming the organization's first new full board member since 2007."

The other members of the OIN are IBM, NEC, Philips, Red Hat, Sony, and SUSE, a business unit of Novell. Canonical and TomTom are associate members of the group.

"OIN protects the open-source community through a patent cross-license for Linux and related open-source technologies," wrote DiBona. "The license is free and available to companies, organizations, and individual developers if they agree not to assert their own patents against Linux. OIN also defends against anti-open-source patent aggression through education, reform efforts, and its own defensive patent portfolio."

Because Google is a large user and producer of open-source software, the move to join the OIN was a good fit and will benefit the company and the organization, DiBona wrote. "Over nearly three decades, what is now known as open-source software has benefited consumers all over the world by delivering innovative products and services. We're committed to helping protect that innovation and are happy to expand our role in OIN."

Google had previously become involved with the OIN in 2007 as an "end-user licensee," according to the OIN.

Keith Bergelt, OIN CEO, said in a Dec. 18 statement that he is pleased to have Google join the organization. "Linux is one of the most innovative platforms ever invented," said Bergelt. "It has helped to spark unprecedented levels of mobile, networking, and computing capabilities while dramatically lowering costs. For many years, Google has recognized the value and power of Linux. By advancing its relationship with OIN from associate member to full member, Google is once again demonstrating its leadership and commitment to Linux and open source."

According to the OIN, the company acquires patents to be used for cross-licensing purposes to defend Linux from patent claims, while making the patents available on a royalty-free basis. The OIN was formed "to ensure that individual programmers, independent software vendors, distributors and businesses have open access to intellectual property related to the Linux System," the group states. "This will continue to fuel software innovation that leads to increased sales, productivity, flexibility and profits."

In exchange for making Linux patents available royalty-free, the OIN asks that licensees agree not to assert their patents against Linux.

When it was formed in November 2005, the original members of the OIN were IBM, Sony, Philips and Linux distributors Red Hat and Novell. The creation of the group was inspired because impediments to collaboration on the Linux operating system seriously jeopardized innovation, according to an eWEEK report at that time.

In December 2010, KDE and The Document Foundation—which created LibreOffice (a fork of Oracle's Open Office)—also joined the OIN.