52°North was founded in 2004 by the Institute for Geoinformatics of the University of Muenster (ifgi) and its spin-off company con terra GmbH (Muenster) as an informal initiative for free and open source geospatial software. The basic idea was to enhance the existing cooperation and to acquire further partners from research and industry by developing an appropriate business model and organizational model. The core element of this model was to publish results from the collaborative software development process under an open source license.
In 2005, the International Institute for Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation (ITC, University of Twente) joined the initiative. The Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc (ESRI) became the fourth partner in 2006.
On September 21, 2006, representatives of these four organizations established the 52°North Initiative for Geospatial Open Source Software GmbH. The foundation of a company was a logical step to strengthen the joint R&D activities and to ensure sustainability. As a legal entity, 52°North is able to manage IPR, to join R&D projects and to provide legal security for developers and users of 52°North software.
In 2008, the Austrian Institute of Technology and the German Federal Agency for Waterways' Serivce Center for Information Technology (DLZ-IT) both joined the initiatve. Kisters AG signed in as a partner organization in 2009. The Hochschule Bochum's (Bochum University of Applied Sciences) Department of Surveying and Geoinformatics joined the partner network at the beginning of 2011. At the end of 2011, the Technische Universität Dresden joined as a partner organization.
52°North communities, contributors and joint projects have increased since the beginning. Over time, 52°North has become a trusted and well established entity in the Geoinformatics arena. 52°North software is widely used in operational IT environments, research labs and education.
And, what has also increased is the number of ideas about future innovative developments in Geo IT!