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Nokia: Linux kernel may use our patents

Finnish company is the latest to begin offering intellectual-property protections to open-source programmers.

Nokia said Wednesday its patented technology may be freely used in the Linux kernel, making the Finnish cell phone giant the newest computing company to begin offering intellectual property protections to open-source programmers.

"Nokia believes that the investment made by so many individuals and companies in creating and developing the Linux kernel and other open-source software deserves a framework of certainty," the company said in a statement. Nokia made the announcement the same day it introduced a small Internet device based on Linux.

The Linux kernel, the software project begun by Linus Torvalds in 1991, is at the heart of an operating system that includes numerous other open-source components.

Legal scrutiny of Linux in particular and open-source software in general jumped to the foreground with the SCO Group's lawsuit against IBM involving Linux and Unix. And some have expected Microsoft to use its patents against open-source software.

Nokia isn't the first to offer protections. Linux seller Red Hat offers unfettered use of its patents in open-source software, and Novell pledged to use its patents to defend against legal attacks on open-source software.

Sun Microsystems is in the process of releasing patents associated with its OpenSolaris project and has pledged not to use them against other open-source projects. And in January, IBM published a list of 500 patents that may be freely used in any open-source project.

Nokia said in its statement that it won't assert legal claims against Linux involving its current patents, but reserved the right to exclude future patents from the agreement. It published its policy on its Web site.

Nokia isn't extending its legal protection to those who assert their own patent infringement claims against the Linux kernel. "Nokia also believes that a party should not enjoy use of Nokia's patents and at the same time threaten the development of the Linux kernel by assertion of its own patents. Therefore, Nokia's commitment shall not apply with regard to any party asserting its patents against any Linux kernel," the company said in a statement.