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Pro-Linux group nabs Microsoft patents

The Open Invention Network has acquired 22 patents sold recently by Microsoft, aiming to help Linux-based companies avoid becoming targets for more legal action.

A pro-open-source group said on Tuesday that it has acquired 22 patents recently sold by Microsoft--patents that the group said could have been used against Linux.

The Open Invention Network said that the patents were purchased from Microsoft by an entity known as the Allied Security Trust. OIN said it has now acquired the patents from AST, although it wouldn't say how much it paid.

"Today's announcement evidences OIN's continued commitment to acquire patents that may be relevant to Linux," OIN CEO Keith Bergelt said in a statement. "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."

Allied Security Trust said it was pleased that OIN had bought the patents. "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," AST Chief Executive Dan McCurdy said in a statement.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that OIN was close to acquiring the former Microsoft patents.

In an interview, Bergelt said that his organization was not invited by Microsoft to directly participate in the bidding for the patents, raising the specter that Microsoft was more interested in selling to someone that might have targeted Linux as opposed to just maximizing the sales price for the patents.

"We were not offered an opportunity to participate in the bidding for this portfolio that Microsoft was selling," Bergelt said.

For its part, Microsoft confirmed that it sold the patents to AST in July, but declined to comment on the terms of the deal. Microsoft said that the patents were indeed ones that it had acquired several years ago in a deal with SGI.

"These patents were deemed to be non-core to our business and non-essential for our IP portfolio," Microsoft spokesman Michael Marinello said in a statement. "When an interested buyer for this technology was identified, after discussing it both internally and with the potential buyer, we felt this was the right direction to go in relating to these specific patents."

OIN began in 2005 and includes IBM, Sony, Red Hat and Google among its members. TomTom joined OIN earlier this year, during its now-settled patent spat with Microsoft.

Microsoft has long asserted that various implementations of Linux infringe on a number of its patents, however, until its suit against TomTom, Microsoft had never litigated any of those contentions. Linux-related claims were part of Microsoft's suit against TomTom.

Bergelt said OIN acquired the patents to try to help Linux-based companies avoid becoming targets for more legal action. "In this case it's not that we saw these patents as so fundamental that Linux was at risk," Bergelt said. "Our goal is to reduce the potential challenges that are associated with patents."