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InfoQ Homepage News Microsoft Joins Open Invention Network with the Aim to Protect Linux and Open Source

Microsoft Joins Open Invention Network with the Aim to Protect Linux and Open Source

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Erich Andersen, corporate vice president and chief IP counsel at Microsoft, has announced that Microsoft is joining the Open Invention Network (OIN). This adds over 60,000 issued patents from Microsoft, aiming to help make the OIN license network even stronger for the benefit of the open source community.

The Open Invention Network (OIN) is a shared defensive patent pool, with the specific goal of protecting open source and Linux. It’s currently backed by many commercial enterprises, including Google, IBM, Philips, RedHat, Sony, SUSE and Toyota. OIN was founded due to a rise in software patent lawsuits that were specifically targetted at open source. By becoming a member, all of the organization's licenses are available royalty-free. It currently offers protection to a range of companies, which include some of the largest technology companies and individual developers.

In the years before the founding of OIN, many open source licenses explicitly covered only copyright interests and were silent about patents. OIN was designed to address this concern by creating a voluntary system of patent cross-licenses between member companies covering Linux System technologies.

Due to this move some of Microsoft's more controversial sets of patents, their Android patents, have now been made royalty free. In the past, they’ve used them to target companies such as Google and Samsung with lawsuits. Because of this, Microsoft was making money from every Android device sold. From HTC devices alone, Microsoft was at one point making $5 per device sold.

This move represents a continuing trend by Microsoft towards more involvement in the open source community. Anderson writes:

At Microsoft, we take it as a given that developers do not want a binary choice between Windows vs. Linux, or .NET vs Java – they want cloud platforms to support all technologies. They want to deploy technologies at the edge – on any device - that meet customer needs. We also learned that collaborative development through the open source process can accelerate innovation.

Following over a decade of work to make the company more open (did you know we open sourced parts of ASP.NET back in 2008?), Microsoft has become one of the largest contributors to open source in the world. Our employees contribute to over 2000 projects, we provide first-class support for all major Linux distributions on Azure, and we have open-sourced major projects such as .NET Core, TypeScript, VS Code and Powershell.

Although there has been some speculation that there are exclusions, such as Windows patents, this is not the case. Nat Friedman, VP developer services at Microsoft recently clarified this on Twitter.

It’s a stark contrast to the Microsoft of the past. In 2001 the then CEO Steve Balmer once referred to Linux as a cancer. Moves like this demonstrate a change:

We look forward to making our contributions to OIN and its members, and to working with the community to help open source developers and users protect the Linux ecosystem and encourage innovation with open source software.

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