Toyota Joins Board of Linux Patent Defense Group

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By Joseph Marks

July 13 — Toyota Motor Corp. is the newest board member of the patent non-aggression group supporting the open source Linux operating system, the group announced July 13.

Toyota is the first new member since Google Inc. joined the 11-year-old Open Invention Network’s six founding members in 2013. It’s also the first auto company on the board.

Board members fund OIN’s operations, which include buying Linux-related patents and defending Linux developers accused of infringement.

The network also passed 2,000 licensee members, according to a July 13 release. Those members have full access to OIN-owned patents in exchange for a pledge not to litigate over them but don’t fund network operations.

OIN owns over 1,100 global patents and patent applications and also has cross-licenses agreements for Linux-related patents with its members.

Innovation Up the Stack

The basic credo of Linux and other open source projects is that software will develop faster and better if companies and individuals cooperate on its development, instead of competing. Companies that embrace Linux tend to wager that they can benefit from cooperation on the basic structure of software and then differentiate themselves with proprietary add-ons that aren’t Linux-based, Keith Bergelt, CEO of the Open Invention Network, told Bloomberg BNA.

Toyota’s decision to join the OIN board may be a watershed, spurring other auto companies to make the same wager, Bergelt said. If the connected car market relies more on open source tools, that could produce faster developments and lower costs for consumers, he said.

“They’re not focused on the low end of the stack. They’re focused on the high end, and that’s where innovation ought to be,” he said.

Toyota’s move comes as vehicles become increasingly reliant on connected technology, much of it based on Linux and cooperatively developed through the Automotive Grade Linux project. The project is managed by the Linux Foundation, which supports the open source tool. Toyota is a “platinum” level project member, along with Mazda Motor Corp., Panasonic Corp., Renesas Electronics Corp., and Denso Corp., a top supplier of automotive components.

Entering the Digital DNA

Linux’s role in connected cars is now largely relegated to entertainment systems, but the open source software could ultimately manage “the digital DNA of vehicles,” Bergelt said, partly spurred by Toyota’s decision to join the OIN board.

“You get companies’ attention when open source technology becomes relevant,” he said. “Automotive Grade Linux is reaching a point of basic maturity where it’s now relevant. There’s a kind of inevitability about adoption.”

A similar development occurred among app developers working in Google’s Android operating system after Google became an OIN board member in 2013, he said.

Overall, the network has doubled its membership during the past 18 months.

OIN already counts numerous auto companies among its nonpaying licensee members, including Ford Motor Co., Kia Motors Corp. and Hyundai Motor Co., as well as several of those companies’ major suppliers.

Bergelt speculated that financial services and telecommunications may be the next industries that veer toward open source.

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