Red Hat, IBM Blast Patent Litigation Hovering Over Linux


In a keynote speech at the event, Red Hat CEO Matthew Szulik drew applause when he said he and the Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) will challenge the way patents and copyrights are awarded in the United States, as well as their application from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

"We'll do our best to try to change this," Szulik said, adding that Red Hat and others will push the U.S. government to adopt a form of digital rights protection law that forces vendors to disclose intellectual property (IP) to receive protection. The federal government should "force full disclosure, so if an organization won't disclose source code, then let them file for trade secret protection," he said.

A report issued this week by the Open-Source Risk Management organization said there are no court-validated software patents infringed by the Linux kernel. However, the report said there are 283 issues that could potentially be used to support patent claims against Linux.

This week, Red Hat teamed up with Black Duck Software, a developer that helps manage intellectual property, to mitigate some of the intellectual-property risks associated with Linux. A new provision in the Red Hat Open-Source Assurance Plan, for example, will include prevention and protection, according to Red Hat.

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At the LinuxWorld Expo on Wednesday, IBM Senior Vice President Nick Donofrio defended patent law but said IBM--a big Linux backer--won't be filing any claims against Linux.

"Collaborative innovation forces people to rethink their IP models. We pledge to strike the right balance [between innovation and patents]," said Donofrio, who also received thundering applause for his comments. "It is true that IBM is the world leader in patents, but I can assure you that IBM has no intention of [applying] its portfolio of patents against the Linux kernel."

The executives' comments come amid growing industry concern that legal obstacles might trip up the advance of the Linux platform and the open-source market in general.

For example, late last week, the city of Munich, Germany, halted its 14,000-seat Windows-to-Linux migration project reportedly because of concerns about software patent legislation pending before the European Union.

In addition, some industry observers speculate that Microsoft may be mulling a legal challenge vs. Linux, especially as the Redmond, Wash., software giant builds up its massive portfolio of patents. Microsoft declined to comment on the matter.