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Report: Rivals eye Microsoft's former Linux patents

A group of Microsoft rivals is trying to buy a set of patents to protect Linux from patent trolls, according to The Wall Street Journal. The patents were sold by Microsoft to another group earlier this year.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
2 min read

Microsoft has at times alleged patent infringement in its attempts to stifle certain Linux-based applications. But one group is hoping to fight back by using Microsoft's own former patents.

The Open Invention Network (OIN), a group made up of Microsoft competitors and Linux advocates,said it's close an agreement to buy 22 patents that Microsoft sold to another organization earlier this year. According to Tuesday's Wall Street Journal, the patents may relate to Linux.

The OIN believes that getting these patents is critical to protecting Linux developers from costly lawsuits, according to the Journal. The concern is that otherwise the patents could be grabbed by patent trolls, which will then try to make money from patent-infringement lawsuits.

The group that currently owns the patents, Allied Security Trust, buys them to protect its members from lawsuits. Composed of such companies as Google, Hewlett-Packard, Verizon Communications, and Cisco Systems, Allied Security Trust bought the patents in a private auction held by Microsoft. The Journal reports that Microsoft presented the patents to potential bidders as relating to Linux.

Microsoft has said that it holds more than 50,000 patents, according to the Journal, and that it believes 200 of those are violated by Linux applications.

Over the past few years, Microsoft has signed deals with several open-source companies in which they pay Microsoft money to protect themselves from intellectual property claims.

The OIN's goal is to promote and protect Linux by using patents that allow for free and open collaboration. The group says its patents are available to any company or individual that agrees not to assert those patents against Linux. The idea is to help developers use Linux without having to worry about violating existing patents.

The OIN is trying to use such cases as the recent lawsuit between Microsoft and GPS-maker Tom Tom to prevent similar actions against Linux-based apps. Although Tom Tom settled with Microsoft, the OIN is concerned that the case may establish a precedent.

Started in 2005, the OIN counts among its members IBM, Sony, and Red Hat. Over the years, other powerhouses have joined, including Oracle, Google, and most recently Tom Tom.