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24 September 2009, 15:19

Patently Opaque

What were those 22 "open source" patents?

by Dj Walker-Morgan

Patently Opaque
Source: Image by nomine from original by Tomomarusan (

There have been many claims over the purchase of 22 patents by the Open Invention Network. Some have lauded the cunning of OIN in snatching the patents away from patent trolls. Others suggest the OIN have acquired useful defensive patents. The trouble is that the process of acquiring the patents is relatively opaque. The H decided to talk to the organisation in the middle of the deal, Allied Security Trust, and its CEO, Daniel McCurdy and to the OIN's CEO, Keith Bergelt, to find out exactly what happened, and what it means in practice for open source.

Allied Security Trust is an organisation set up by Ericsson, Phillips, RIM, Avaya, Motorola, Verizon, HP, and other undisclosed corporations to address the problematic issue of patents for its members. It works by purchasing patents that come onto the market on behalf of particular members who fund the purchase. Then, the trust issues royalty free, non-exclusive licenses to the members who participated in the purchase. Finally, the trust releases the patent back onto the market through brokers. The licenses already granted persist after the sale. This is called the "catch and release model".

The patents in this case, though, went through a different process. Microsoft offered a number of lots of patents to several companies. McCurdy says "we elected to place a bid on several lots of patents, including the lot that was described in news articles as the "open source lot" and we were successful in purchasing that lot". He wouldn't say, because of confidentiality agreements with Microsoft, how the lot in question was described, but said the lot was described by AST as "a lot that may be applicable to open source".

What was in this lot of 22 patents that would specifically worry the Linux community? The OIN supplied The H with a list of the patents:

It is worth bearing in mind that these patents were filed in between 1995 and 2000, although one patent, 7448062, stands out for only being published in 2008. None of the patents have a focus specifically on Linux, the kernel or operating system, but they could well have been infringed by open source companies and projects in the ecosystem around Linux.

Next: OIN's involvement

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