by Cory Crosland

Digital business patent bully protection

Jun 21, 2016
InnovationIT LeadershipOpen Source

How to hinder proprietary software vendors looking to leverage patents against open-source software developers, distributors and users.

A digital business is not the same as doing business digitally. A digital business is a fundamentally different mindset, manner and way of approaching how your organization delivers products or services to a market. On a more granular level, it is the interaction, mix and combination of three primary pillars — market insight, a collaborative leadership team and one or more technology platforms, that support a successful digital business. From a technology perspective, a digital business will include one or more software platforms leveraging the best technology available for your business requirements.

It’s the “best technology available” pillar that we will focus on in this article.

For a bit of background, I will tell you that in the last 10 years, my consultancy has looked to design and build the most sophisticated, reliable, cost effective, innovative and future-proof digital properties for our clients.

Open source benefits for building digital businesses

In two very distinct ways, we have looked to the open source community to achieve our goals.

Our engineering team is comprised of open source project managers and experts. They are incredibly passionate about technology and innovation; have the ability to quickly determine the best course of action from a technology standpoint; collaborate very effectively and are exceptional at managing projects. For us, the open source community has been a great resource for talent.

Our firm also benefits from the open source community because we use the software exclusively in the digital businesses we create for our clients. It is enterprise-quality in terms of its reliability. It is almost always more feature-rich and innovative than what is offered by proprietary vendors. Its openness means that it is inherently future-proof. It is hard to find anything as valuable, from a technology standpoint, when building successful digital products.

Bad actors look to leverage patents to stifle open source innovation

For years, proprietary software vendors looked at open source software as a hobbyist tool at best, and at worst, as a low-level threat. Today, as proprietary software vendors lose market share to open source code, they are turning to other methods to impede open source. They are losing the battle in the marketplace to open source as the superior technology, and therefore they are turning to patents to try and stifle the innovation generated by open source. Proprietary vendors increasingly look to leverage patents against open source software developers, distributors and users.

As a small business, we don’t have the spare capital to research and acquire patents to fight back against patent bullies. So, after researching the issue, we decided to join the Open Invention Network.

Make it tough for the patent bullies

Open Invention Network is the largest patent non-aggression community to ever exist. It has significant financial backing from IBM, NEC, Sony, Philips, Red Hat, SUSE and one of our key partners, Google. It has, and continues to, purchase patents and license them for free if you agree not to sue other community members based on what they call the Linux System. OIN itself owns over 1,100 global patents and applications. Additionally, all of the other OIN community members’ Linux System patents are automatically crossed licensed. Because Linux and other core open source software is so pervasive and OIN’s community so large, this is an important IP pledge and zone of protection from patent aggression. It is difficult to pinpoint the value of the OIN cross-license, but it is substantial. We’re likely talking on the order of billions of dollars of value. And again, it is available for free.

As if that were not enough, in certain circumstances Open Invention Network has made its patents available to organizations in order to stop patent bullying. They did it for, and they have also done it for Google and Red Hat.

Joining OIN should be a no-brainer for businesses that use open source like we do. It is a great starting point for IP protection and incorporation into a broader IP management strategy, and it allows for the addition of other complementary IP strategies in the future. Flexible and open, it is truly the best IP resource for every digital business.