Five of the biggest names in technology have funded a new venture called the Open Invention Network that will acquire patents and offer them royalty free to promote Linux.

Formed with undisclosed investments from IBM, Novell, Philips, Sony and Red Hat, the Open Invention Network will be headed by Jerry Rosenthal, most recently vice president of IBM’s Intellectual Property and Licensing business.

When the OIN acquires patents they will be available to any company, institution or individual that agrees not to assert its patents against the Linux OS or certain Linux-related applications. Among its initial patent holdings will be a set of business-to-business e-commerce patents that were purchased from Commerce One by a Novell subsidiary.

The company is the latest of several similar moves by companies and organisations in open-source.

In January, IBM opened 500 of its software patents to open-source developers. Two weeks later, Sun followed the lead by releasing 1,670 patents, many related to Solaris. In August, Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) launched its Patent Commons initiative that seeks to collect software licences and patents pledged to the open-source community in a central repository.

These different initiatives are being spurred by a shared desire to reduce the threat of patent infringement lawsuits on developers and users of open-source software - demonstrated most clearly by the SCO Group's ongoing lawsuit against IBM and Red Hat.