Yandex has joined the protection of Linux and the IT-industry from patent trolling

    We believe that the lives of millions of users change for the better only when an idea turns into a finished product and not used for blackmail and restrictions. Therefore, Yandex joined the Open Invention Network and LOT Network alliances, bringing together thousands of developers for joint protection against patent law abuses.

    In this article we will explain why Yandex patents its development. You will learn why to patent open source technologies and what the essence of the alliances we are entering into. And we invite all Habr's readers in comments to discuss the merits and demerits of the modern patent system.

    Already in the XV century, there were predecessors of modern patents. So, in 1474 the term of the patent of 10 years was fixed in Venice. In fact, it was a social contract, according to which the inventors disclosed the essence of their creation, and in exchange received a temporary exclusive right to it. Patents contributed to spreading, not hiding knowledge. Patent owners were able to safely recoup their research and capitalize on their results. Competitors instead of re-inventing "bikes" were able to focus on finding new, more efficient solutions. Society has benefited from this.

    Now in the world there are millions of valid patents in various fields of human activity. And as in any large-scale and popular system, it was not without controversial situations.

    Trolling problem

    The patent system was conceived as a way of motivating inventors who spent time and money on finding new solutions. But now companies and developer communities are often confronted with a different application of patents. There is a whole industry of companies whose main business model is the purchase of patents (sometimes with the broadest possible wording) and the subsequent fanning of lawsuits. Even if the developer is confident that his product does not violate anything, it will be necessary to prove this in court. For example, in the United States such litigation can last for years and cost companies millions of dollars. It is cheaper and faster to buy a license from the attacker for thousands of dollars, and not to seek justice. This problem, by the way, is well shown in one of the series "Silicon Valley".

    How to resist this? In a non-profit organization LOT (License on Transfer) Network , which was created by the largest players in the IT industry to protect against patent trolling, drew attention to one simple fact. 80% of all patents used for trolling, previously belonged to the usual IT-companies that develop services and products. These patents have been sold. It would seem, stop selling what they can use against the industry, but this is hard to refuse. Patents require a renewal every few years, so many companies regularly sell the most useless to save and recoup some of the money spent on patenting. LOT Network found another, more elegant solution to the problem.

    Each member of the organization transfers licenses to all its patents to other members. But with the condition. The license comes into force only if the patent is sold to a company specializing in trolling. There is even a formal definition of such a company.

    Yandex also creates unique technologies. We have more than 650 patents and applications that affect machine learning, voice, search and cloud technologies, drones and even the weather. Moreover, patents do not prevent us from spreading technologies in  open-source . For example, patents on ML-technology  CatBoost  will protect not only us, but also all who decide to use it in their products.

    For us, patents are a shield that protects our services and their users. There was not a single case where our patents would be used for an attack. And we would like it to continue.

    Therefore, Yandex enters the LOT Network.

    Linux kernel problem

    Linux is a fundamental technology used in many devices around us. From smartphones and watches to woodworking machines and onboard systems in transport. We even can not guess which ones. Linux allows thousands of companies in the world to create useful and popular products using a common core and developing it together.

    Is it worth to patent algorithms and software, especially affecting the fundamental components for the industry? Where is the line between public interest and the desire to limit innovation and competition? There is no consensus, therefore such patents exist. And many of them affect the Linux kernel. This means that any developer using the Linux community experience in their products could potentially suffer from owners of such patents.

    Yandex loves Linux. We use it, commit to it. We advocate the creation of a secure zone around the Linux kernel, free from patent wars. The same goals are pursued by the organization  Open Invention Network , which unites thousands of companies around the world.

    Members of the OIN alliance grant each other licenses for all their patents affecting the Linux kernel, and these licenses take effect immediately, without conditions. Each member declares a waiver of judicial wars in the field of Linux.

    Yandex supports the OIN initiative and joins it.

    Instead of conclusion

    We believe that the patent system motivates developers and helps technologies grow faster. But the ultimate goal should be a finished product that meets the needs of people, and patents should not be turned into an instrument to limit innovation in the industry.

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