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Oracle bands with open-source patent group

Database giant agrees not to sue over patents in Linux and associated open-source software--including open-source databases.

Oracle has licensed patents of the Open Invention Network, a group seeking to give open-source allies some clout in an intellectual property realm that favors the incumbent proprietary software powers.

The network's patents are available royalty-free to any party that agrees not to file infringement suits involving its own patents "against the Linux environment." Under the network's terms, that environment includes not just the kernel at the heart of the open-source operating system, but also higher-level components including the open-source MySQL and PostgreSQL databases that compete with Oracle's own core products.

"We believe licensing Open Invention Network's patents provides assurance to anyone working to make Linux better, including Oracle," Edward Screven, Oracle's chief corporate architect, said in a statement from the network. The group plans to announce Oracle's participation on Tuesday.

The network, founded in November 2005 by IBM, Red Hat, Novell, Philips and Sony, has amassed more than 100 strategic patents enforceable worldwide, the group said. The group hopes to collect patents that can balance the portfolio that traditional computing companies have assembled over the years.

Patents and open-source software have proved an awkward combination. Patents grant inventors exclusive technology rights for a period of time, but the open-source movement is founded on the idea of sharing technology freely. Oracle, while contributing to some open-source projects and even distributing a clone of Red Hat's Linux, generates the bulk of its revenue by selling proprietary software.