Microsoft appears to have made peace with open source software (OSS) after this week joining the Open Invention Network (OIN), a shared “defensive patent pool” with the mission to protect Linux.
Since its launch in 2005, the OIN has amassed more than 2,650 members, including numerous Fortune 500 companies and Microsoft’s competitors such as IBM and Google.
By joining OIN, Microsoft agrees to cross-licensing of Linux patents on a royalty-free basis with other members. Patents can also be licensed on this basis to any organisation that commits to not asserting its patents against Linux.
Linux, and other OSS software, is made collaboratively by developers globally and costs nothing, unlike Microsoft’s proprietary software.
“Now, as we join OIN, we believe Microsoft will be able to do more than ever to help protect Linux and other important open source workloads from patent assertions. We bring a valuable and deep portfolio of over 60,000 issued patents to OIN,” said Erich Andersen, corporate vice president and chief IP counsel at Microsoft, in a blog post.
The move should put an end to any lawsuits between Microsoft and those using Linux or other OSS software.
In the early 2000s, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer called Linux a “cancer that attaches itself in an IP sense to everything it touches”.
But since then, Microsoft and its former CEO seem to have come around.
In 2016, Reuters reported that Ballmer said his position on Linux was right for the time, but the threat from Linux was now “in the rearview mirror”.
“The company made a ton of money by fighting that battle very well,” he said, adding that “it’s been incredibly important to the company’s revenue stream” to maintain its position with its own Windows operating system.
Keith Bergelt, CEO of OIN, said: “Through its participation in OIN, Microsoft is explicitly acknowledging the importance of open source software to its future growth.”
He added that Microsoft’s participation “unequivocally signals for all companies who are using OSS but have yet to join OIN that the litmus test for authentic behaviour in the OSS community includes OIN participation”.
For Andersen, open source is a key innovation engine and the company has been increasing its involvement in, and contribution to, the open source community over the past several years.
“We believe the protection OIN offers the open source community helps increase global contributions to and adoption of open source technologies. We are honoured to stand with OIN as an active participant in its programme to protect against patent aggression in core Linux and other important OSS technologies,” he added.
Jenny Pierce, a partner at Charles Russell Speechlys’ London office, said that “freedom to operate has always been extremely important—rather more so than patent protection in many cases”.
She added: “Patent pools have existed for a very long time, but in recent years they have become far more transparent and this is just one example.”
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Microsoft, Open Invention Network, open source software, technology, patents, innovation, OSS, Linux
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