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When a group of major corporations within the same industry get together and agree not to target each other legally, it’s usually cause for... Changing The Role Of Software Patents, Licenses

When a group of major corporations within the same industry get together and agree not to target each other legally, it’s usually cause for alarm. The government–and consumers, if we’re being honest–starts to raise its collective eyebrows over fears of price fixing, monopoly, and more. But in the case of the Open Invention Network, or OIN, the goal of such a group is far more noble.

Butterfly network


Originally formed ten years ago with some powerhouse names like IBM and Sony, the purpose of the group was to buy up patents that were crucial to the work being done in computing, then license those patents to the members of the OIN without cost. Who would do such a thing? Anyone who wanted to see more collaboration and less litigation in the technology world.

As it stands, practically every time a new touchscreen device reaches the market, one company files a lawsuit with the claim that they hold the patent for capacitive touchscreens and that this new device will hurt their bottom line. There’s no telling how much Apple has been sued for since the company filed the patent in 2008. Interestingly, suing over patent use isn’t always a malicious event; many times, it’s par for the course with the launch of a new product or concept. The lawyers will just meet and decide how much the one company has to pay the other company in order to use their patented idea or design without actually having to buy the license.

That’s a pretty inefficient way to operate, and it costs a lot of money in legal fees. Therefore, the OIN invites its member companies to create without fear of patent litigation. Even more interesting, OIN has actually purchased patents and licensed them to smaller companies that were in danger of being sued. That’s kind of like watching a cop about to issue a speeding ticket to a hapless motorist, so you get the speed limit changed and hang up a new sign on the side of the road before the ticket happens.

What would be the purpose in such an investment? A better way to build open source software. Without the fear of patent litigation hanging over their heads–now that the member companies agree not to sue one another for use of patents that OIN licenses to all its members, some 2000 patents to date according to PC World–companies are free to develop better software.

Unfortunately, this air of cooperation isn’t the norm in the world of software. Just as news about OIN’s important work was released, another article appeared from BackBytes that outlined the struggles companies are now facing through software audits thanks to the ease of cloud computing and the shift in the way software is being developed. Accusations abound that some software companies are “squeezing” their business clients for everything they can get, and that some companies are even sneaking in new terms to the license whenever companies install an update, just so they can slap them with a fine for violating the terms.