Google has announced its latest patent initiative, the Android Networked Cross-License to “promote patent peace within the Android ecosystem.” This royalty-free community patent licensing pact, nicknamed PAX (a Latin nod to its harmonious objective) applies to Android and Google Applications pre-installed on qualified Android-compatible smartphones and devices. Android itself is a free open-source operating system (the AOSP), the source code for which is maintained by Google.
PAX currently has nine founding members: Google, Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., LG Electronics Inc., HTC Corp., Foxconn Technology Group, Coolpad, BQ, HMD Global and Allview. According to a statement from Google’s VP of Business and Operations, these companies together own more than 230,000 global patents. PAX membership is free of charge, and open to anyone, but the PAX license agreement terms are still confidential to members and prospective members only.
Those familiar with open source and Linux will recognize this is not the first community-based effort to create a patent commons for an open source operating system. Open Invention Network (OIN), was formed in 2005 by major players such as IBM, Sony, Phillips, Red Hat, and Novell, to protect Linux from patent suits, and since then has grown into the best known and most influential such effort. Android, of course, describes a large stack of software that includes the Linux kernel, as does the subject matter of OIN. The two efforts are complementary and undoubtedly cover some overlapping subject matter. Like OIN, PAX seeks to protect the Android ecosystem through patent cross-licenses among its members. OIN also engages in various activities and policies to achieve the community objective of defending Linux. PAX has not announced any plans for such additional activities as this point.
Patent pools, of course, have inherently limited ability to manage patent claims. Patent pools are only as effective as their ability to include the relevant patent holders. They do not help to reduce the claims of patent trolls, who have no incentive to participate, and do not address the aggression of large patent holders such as Microsoft, which famously levies patent royalties on most Android devices.