Defend your business from patent attacks

The big companies have armed themselves for the patent wars. Now ordinary businesses have their own defense with the Open Invention Network

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"Linux system" is a specialized term here. It refers to a comprehensive list, not just of the files comprising the Linux kernel, but also the files from the GNU Project and other essential user tools, plus an ever-expanding tally of applications and infrastructure hosted on top of GNU/Linux. Thus, the patent pool and non-aggression pact have significant effects, due both to the expanding pool of patents owned by OIN and to the increasing community of licensees.

OIN recognizes that obtaining patents that are effective globally is a complex and costly exercise beyond the resources of most open source developers. Thus, it has helped establish a third defense. Patent actions can be neutralized by identifying "prior art" -- publication or public use of techniques dating from before the patent application. Identifying prior art that was not declared in the patent application often invalidates a patent grant. Indeed, this was how Google virtually eliminated Oracle's attack against Android, and it's the first line of defense against Nokia's attack on the VP8 video format.

To help build a wall of prior art around the Linux system, OIN coordinates Linux Defenders, an initiative to encourage publication of innovation by software developers in places easily discovered by patent examiners and by companies defending themselves against patent aggression. Defensive publication means taking the ideas around which patents would have been written and formally publishing them instead. Doing so is far easier -- and cheaper -- than filing for a patent. While filing for a patent creates another bullet to be sold with your company when you exit (or shut down), publishing just creates prior art and robs future trolls of easy pickings in fire sales.

Should your company join OIN? I always recommend it to my clients, and I just added my own new company as a licensee. It's true that patent self-defense is a rich man's game, but it costs nothing to join, adds you to a long list of companies committed to defense rather than aggression (more than 500 now), and one day could prove to be the crucial support you need. If you have no plans to attack the Linux system, what do you have to lose? Tell them I sent you!

This article, "Defend your business from patent attacks," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of the Open Sources blog and follow the latest developments in open source at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, followInfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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