Google deepens involvement in open-source patent effort

The company now is a board member of the Open Invention Network, which offers companies free access to patents as long as they don't sue others for using Linux.

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Chris DiBona
Chris DiBona Stephen Shankland/CNET

Expanding its involvement in an open-source legal defense effort, Google has joined the board of the Open Invention Network, an organization that cross-licenses patents to try to reduce the risk of lawsuits against those using Linux and another open-source software projects.

Google previously was an Open Invention Network associate member but now joins Sony, Red Hat, Novell, IBM, Phillips, and NEC with the higher level of involvement.

"Linux now powers nearly all the world's supercomputers, runs the International Space Station, and forms the core of Android. But as open source has proliferated, so have the threats against it, particularly using patents," Chris DiBona, director of open source at Google, said in a blog post Wednesday. "That's why we're expanding our participation in Open Invention Network, becoming the organization's first new full board member since 2007."

The Open Invention Network tries to provide an incentive not to sue companies using Linux. It grants royalty-free access to a group of patents to anybody who agrees not to take legal action against others using Linux. If a company sues, it loses access to those patents.

There are still some legal obstacles to using Linux. Many companies using Linux pay Microsoft patent royalties for its operating system intellectual property.

The Open Invention Network began in 2005, when Linux was a relative novelty. Since then a storm of lawsuits has swept across the computing industry, mostly involving mobile technology. Although Google has railed against stifling effects of patent litigation, it also has taken an aggressive position with lawsuits involving Motorola Mobility, the Android handset maker that Google acquired in part for its patent portfolio.

Google is a voracious consumer of open-source software. But it also contributes countless lines of code back to the open-source community through projects such as Android, Chrome, and Dart.