Ravicher's research did not examine the risk posed to parts of standard Linux distributions that reside outside of the kernel -- things like the K Desktop Environment, or the Samba file sharing software -- but OSRM intends to study the risks posed to other open source products, a company spokeswoman said.
The topic of open source patent risks was raised earlier this month when a two year-old HP memo urging company executives to develop a strategy to protect HP from Microsoft patent lawsuits against open-source technologies was published on the NewsForge.com Web site.
"Basically Microsoft is going to use the legal system to shut down open source software," wrote Gary Campbell, who was HP's vice president of strategic architecture at the time. "We don't have to exit selling to the open source market, but we need to plan smartly where to reduce our exposure."
Both Ravicher and OSRM declined to identify the specific patents identified in the study. Publishing the names of the patents could make it easier for a Linux customer to be sued for "willful infringement," which could then lead to increased damages in the event of a successful lawsuit, said an OSRM spokeswoman.
Ravicher's study found no patents held by The SCO Group, Inc. that could pose a threat to the Linux kernel. SCO, which has been at the center of a number of prominent lawsuits against Linux companies and users, claims that Linux contains code that violates its intellectual property.
Jeffrey Norman was skeptical about the effectiveness of such a study, given the vastness of the code in the Linux kernel and the large amount of software patents that have been issued. "I don't think that you could identify all of the patents that were possibly relevant to the Linux kernel," he said. "The only way you could do it was if you were a kernel developer."