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Keep the IoT Free (Patent Battles Not Welcome)

In order for the creativity and inventive capacities of the hundreds of thousands of people developing around open-source projects or platforms to be realized, it is vital that patent non-aggression be safeguarded.
By Keith Bergelt
Apr 15, 2018

As the next wave of internet usage, the Internet of Things (IoT) will transform industries and provide new opportunities for technological advances. The IoT can be viewed as a means to connect objects, machines and humans in large-scale communication networks. Gartner estimates that there will be 20.4 billion IoT-connected components worldwide by 2020, and more than half of major new business systems and processes will include a IoT component.

Furthermore, according to a 2017 Boston Consulting Group report, the market for IoT products and services is expected to reach $267 billion by 2020. The report predicts that by 2020, 50 percent of all IoT spending will be driven by discrete manufacturing, transportation, logistics and utilities—critical areas of businesses and community infrastructure.

The great prospects for the IoT have already led to growing patent litigation in the space. For example, Unified Patents studied district court patent litigation in the IoT in the United States from 2012 to 2015, and found that IoT patent litigation increased by 80 percent during those four years. Extrapolating from this data, there is the potential for aggressive patent behavior, whether via patent litigation or other tactics, to accelerate going forward as the size of the IoT market grows.

Open Source and IoT: Connected
The proliferation of IoT devices and embedded parts is growing at a pace in lock-step with that of open-source software adoption. This makes sense, given that Linux and embedded Linux are the de facto operating systems for the vast majority of IoT-based systems and components.

Open-source software development and usage is an irreversible trend. Today, open-source code is so effective and cost-efficient that it is used in more than 90 percent of all software. In fact, it is impossible to catalog all of the daily touch points the average person has with an open-source-powered product or service. The Linux Foundation estimates that more than 31 billion lines of code have been committed to open-source software repositories. Open-source is a leading technology in smart cars (Automotive Grade Linux), blockchain (Hyperledger) and, of course, IoT platforms and devices.

While it has experienced nearly exponential growth, the successful adoption and use of open-source by banking networks, mobile phone manufacturers, telecom networks, smart cars, cloud computing and blockchain platforms, among numerous others, was not a foregone conclusion. In 2003, there was an IP-based attack on Linux, the most prevalent open-source software project.

While the claims underlying the litigation ultimately were found to be without merit in the court proceeding, it was a wake-up call to several IP-savvy companies as to the potential negative impact of patent aggression on the growth of Linux and open source software projects. IBM, Red Hat and SUSE (then Novell) coordinated an effort with Sony, Philips and NEC to conceptualize and implement a solution designed to create a patent no-fly zone around the core of Linux.

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