Microsoft open-sources 60,000 patents in effort to protect Linux

11 Oct 2018

Microsoft building. Image: Observer/Depositphotos

Microsoft is joining an open source patent group, making its library of patents available to members.

Microsoft yesterday (10 October) announced it is joining the Open Invention Network (OIN). The OIN is an open source patent consortium, which provides a licence platform for Linux for around 2,600 firms. Members include IBM and Google, as well as individual developers.

This is a major change for Microsoft, a company that has been notoriously cagey about its patents. Organisations such as Samsung and Android have had to pay for infringements previously, but it looks like the company behind Windows is aiming to become more developer-friendly. ZDNet notes that as late as 2014, Microsoft made approximately $3.4bn from its Android patents.

The OIN patent licence and member cross-licences are available royalty-free to anyone who joins the organisation. In a blogpost, the company’s corporate vice-president and chief intellectual property counsel, Erich Andersen, said: “We know Microsoft’s decision to join OIN may be viewed as surprising to some; it is no secret that there has been friction in the past between Microsoft and the open source community over the issue of patents.”

A change in philosophy

In September, executive vice-president of Microsoft’s cloud and enterprise group, Scott Guthrie, said the company has undergone a “fundamental philosophical change” around open source in general. He added: “We want to protect open source projects from IP lawsuits, so we’re opening our patent portfolio to the OIN.”

The move to open source shows the firm reckons it has more to gain by sharing its 60,000 patents than it does by charging others to access them. The company recently joined LOT, a group that fights against patent trolls.

There are some exceptions to what Microsoft is making available, namely Windows desktop and desktop application code.

Keith Bergelt, CEO of OIN, discussed the deal: “This is everything Microsoft has, and it covers everything related to older open source technologies such as Android, the Linux kernel and OpenStack; newer technologies such as LF Energy and Hyperledger; and their predecessor and successor versions.”

The agreement means that developers may have fewer legal headaches, and software releases may potentially be faster due to the availability of such a large patent library.

Microsoft building. Image: Observer/Depositphotos

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects