A body formed by technology companies seeking to defend open source software against patent attacks has bought 22 patents until recently owned by proprietary software giant Microsoft.
The Open Invention Network (OIN) is funded by companies such as IBM, Novell, Philips and Sony and was formed to build up a collection of patents that in other hands might form the basis of litigation against open source operating system Linux.
OIN says that it has added new patents to its collection that were recently owned by Microsoft. The 22 patents were auctioned by Microsoft and bought by Allied Security Trust, which has now sold them to OIN.
"We are pleased to have purchased these patents and view this as a model of successful collaboration among defensive patent organizations that share a common goal of creating freedom of action for practicing entities across Linux and the broader technology sector," said OIN chief executive Keith Bergelt. "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."
By owning the patents, OIN has defended itself against shell companies known as 'patent trolls' which only exist to earn licence fees and litigation payouts from bought patents. It has also prevented Linux being sued by companies which seek to undermine the open source software model.
Microsoft has been an OIN target in the past. Earlier this year OIN asked members and supporters to help it to invalidate patents that Microsoft was seeking to assert against navigation device maker TomTom.
Microsoft attempted to assert patent rights over parts of TomTom's system, reportedly the parts that used Linux. Microsoft has said in the past that it believes Linux infringes 235 of its patents.
TomTom and Microsoft have settled their patent dispute.
"OIN's purchase ensures that these important patents will not be used by patent trolls or others seeking to disrupt Linux and the many companies and individuals advancing this important technology," said Dan McCurdy, chief executive of Allied Security Trust (AST). AST is a non-profit patent holding body that buys patents and does not use them to litigate against other companies.
Bergelt told technology law podcast OUT-LAW Radio earlier this year that OIN aimed to protect Linux against the ravages of an imperfect patent system.
"From my view what I do is make the world safe for Linux and the democratisation of innovation," said Bergelt. "We all can appreciate there are a lot of patents that should have never been granted, but instead of just railing against the system now there's the capacity for the community to actually become involved in remaking the future and affecting the past if we can get contribution to help invalidate some of these poor quality patents."