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OIN is Still a Distraction Unless We Want GNU/Linux to Coexist With Software Patents (Rather Than Eliminate Those)

Open Invention Network (OIN): the 'solution' of companies that love (to exploit) GNU/Linux and also love software patents

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Summary: Another wave of media coverage by/for the Open Invention Network (OIN) necessitates a reminder of what OIN stands for and why it is not tackling the biggest problems which Free/Open Source software (FOSS) faces

THE notion that OIN can "protect" GNU/Linux from software patents may be a convenient one, but OIN never opposed software patents and it rarely offered any substantiative protection. With the USPTO de-emphasising patents on software (in no way owing to OIN) we might find some reprieve. With PTAB eliminating many such patents (already granted by the USPTO) we might feel safer.



"OIN is, in our assessment, somewhat of a distraction."The latest OIN PR, however, has managed to entice at least a couple of GNU/Linux-centric writers. OIN is, in our assessment, somewhat of a distraction. It's not at all useful against patent trolls and it never opposes software patents. It's actually supportive of FOSS and software patents at same time, as contradictory as that concept can be (FOSS and software patents are inherently incompatible). SJVN wrote 'for' OIN that "everyone and their uncle -- yes, even Microsoft-- use Linux and open-source. A decade ago, Linux was under attack by SCO for imaginary copyright violations, and then Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was claiming that Linux violated more than 200 of Microsoft's patents. So Open Invention Network (OIN) patent consortium was formed to defend Linux against intellectual property (IP) attacks. The stakes may not be so high today, but Linux and open-source software is still under attack from patent trolls and other attackers. That's where the Open Invention Network (OIN) steps up by expanding its patent non-aggression coverage through an update to its definition of the Linux System."

Well, notice that they never even mention GNU. It's not a coincidence, it's intentional. They certainly know all about GNU, but the brand "Linux" represents a friendlier (to them) philosophy. Published around the same time by Christine Hall was the following article, suggestive of a media outreach by OIN. It says: [via]

On Thursday, the Linux System got a lot larger. This is good news, and means that anyone using Linux and other other software often used with it, can sleep better nights, knowing that the Open Invention Network (OIN) is now watching their back on the patent front more than ever.

That's what OIN does. It seeks to protect enterprise Linux and open source users against patent infringement claims, which is seen as open source's greatest intellectual property vulnerability. It does so primarily with an ever growing portfolio of patents it offers to license free-of-charge to any person or organization that agrees to not enforce its own patents against core components of Linux and other key open source projects, which it calls the "Linux System." It's a carrot and stick approach, using a lot of carrot and going easy with the stick.


OIN is well-meaning (in its own mind), but it won't tackle software patents and patent trolls that use them. As Benjamin Henrion put it, it's "useless against trolls. But that's not in the PR." (press release).

"It claims to be trying to thwart sales of patents that would later be used to sue GNU/Linux vendors, but rarely have we seen a real example of that (they claimed this only once, more than half a decade ago)."We, ourselves, stopped engaging with OIN. It proved to be a waste of time, especially when we spent a long time communicating online with patent trolls who had approached us, then trying to get OIN involved (it was toothless and uninterested).

Right now, just to use a new example, the Microsoft-connected Acacia (Microsoft connections and history of suing GNU/Linux vendors) gets mentioned for former executives netting ZTE patents. "ZTE [is] revealed as vendor of Chinese patents sold to NPE set up by ex-Acacia executives," says the headline and here is the relevant part from IAM (trolls' proponent):

Longhorn – founded last year by former Acacia Research executives Christian Dubuc and Khaled Fekih-Romdhane – announced back in February that its Ox Mobile subsidiary had acquired “assets related to 4G/LTE with worldwide coverage, as well as Chinese assets related to smartphone implementation” from an unnamed Chinese company.


What could OIN possibly do here? Nothing. It claims to be trying to thwart sales of patents that would later be used to sue GNU/Linux vendors, but rarely have we seen a real example of that (they claimed this only once, more than half a decade ago). OIN can, at times, look like a placebo. It gives an illusion of safety and thus false comfort.

"It's the 'solution' as envisioned by companies like IBM, which (as we shall show later today) spearhead a big push for software patents everywhere."To clarify, OIN are not the "bad guys"; far from it...

OIN just isn't the solution to our problems. It's the 'solution' as envisioned by companies like IBM, which (as we shall show later today) spearhead a big push for software patents everywhere. If OIN took some concrete action, e.g. submitting an amicus brief against software patents or sending a letter against IBM's latest plot -- a ludicrous concept as OIN virtually came from IBM -- we would possibly change our minds and reconsider this position.

Having just visited the front page of OIN's Web site, it now seems abundantly clear that they collaborate with IAM (even pay IAM), proponents of software patents, patent trolls, and patent maximalism. If OIN tries to make itself look even worse, then it's certainly doing a fine job.

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