Microsoft Joins Open Invention Network
Written by Sue Gee   
Friday, 12 October 2018

In a move that consolidates its new relationship with open source and with Linux, Microsoft has announced that it is joining OIN - the Open Invention Network - a community dedicated to protecting Linux and other open source software programs from patent risk.

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Over recent years we have grown accustomed to Microsoft's positive disposition towards Linux and to open source software in general. It's a far cry from Steve Ballmer's famed quote equating Linux with a "malignant cancer". The Microsoft loves Linux theme was introduced by Satya Nadella in October 2014 and became prominent when Microsoft joined the Linux Foundation in 2016 followed by the launch of SQL Server 2017 on Linux.

Although we were still expressing an element of surprise when Microsoft chose Linux, rather then Windows 10 IoT Core for Azure Sphere, the operating system for its IoT initiative, it did seem realistic in view of Linux being established as the ubiquitous OS for embedded devices.

Microsoft is representing its decision to join OIN as:

the next logical step for a company that is listening to customers and developers and is firmly committed to Linux and other open source programs. 

openinventionnetworkbanner

Founded in 2005 as a:

defensive patent pool and patent non-aggression community that supports freedom of action in Linux as a key element of open source software'

OIN now has more than 2,650 members and its industry support includes backing from Google, IBM, NEC, Philips, Red Hat, Sony, SUSE, and Toyota. Enrolling Microsoft as a member is an important event fot it. The OIN press release quotes Keith Bergelt, CEO of Open Invention Network as saying:

“Microsoft’s participation in OIN adds to our strong community, which through its breadth and depth has reduced patent risk in core technologies, and unequivocally signals for all companies who are using OSS but have yet to join OIN that the litmus test for authentic behavior in the OSS community includes OIN participation.” 

By joining OIN Microsoft makes a further 60,000 patents open source and available to OIN members. Commenting on this momentous step,  Erich Andersen, Microsoft Corporate Vice President and Chief IP Counsel, said:

“Microsoft sees open source as a key innovation engine, and for the past several years we have increased our involvement in, and contributions to, the open source community. We believe the protection OIN offers the open source community helps increase global contributions to and adoption of open source technologies. We are honored to stand with OIN as an active participant in its program to protect against patent aggression in core Linux and other important OSS technologies.”

A week before joining OIN, Microsoft signed up to the LOT Network, a non-profit group with members, including Google and Amazon focused on tackling the problem of patent trolls. By doing this Microsoft pledged to provide licenses for patents for free to other members if it were to transfer them to companies that are in the business of asserting patents. Donating its patents to OIN makes this less likely to happen but joining the LOT Network can still be seen as a commitment by Microsoft to address IP risk.

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The Free Software Foundation (FSF) would like Microsoft to do even more. In a statement that concedes that joining the OIN does suggest a change of attitude to the problem of computational idea patents on the part of Microsoft, John Sullivan outlines three more steps the FSF wants Microsoft to take: 

1) Make a clear, unambiguous statement that it has ceased all patent infringement claims on the use of Linux in Android.

2) Work within OIN to expand the definition of what it calls the "Linux System" so that the list of packages protected from patents actually includes everything found in a GNU/Linux system. 

3) Use the past patent royalties extorted from free software to fund the effective abolition of all patents covering ideas in software. ... Without this, the threats can come back with a future leadership change at Microsoft, or with changes in OIN's own corporate structure and licensing arrangements. This is also the best way for Microsoft to show that it does not intend to use patents as a weapon against any free software, beyond just that free software which is part of OIN's specific list.

While this final demand does seem like a big ask on the part of FSF, it might need a gesture of this magnitude to convince doubters that Microsoft really has had a complete and sincere change of heart and mind when it comes to open source software and to the culture of enforcing patents when less than three years ago we were able to run this report outlining a senseless patent lawsuit.

msheartopensourcesq

 

More Information

Microsoft joins Open Invention Network to help protect Linux and open source

Microsoft Joins the Open Invention Network Community

FSF statement on Microsoft joining the Open Invention Network

Related Article

SQL Server on Linux, Love or Calculated Move?

Microsoft Chooses Linux for IoT

Microsoft Enforcing Slider Patent

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Last Updated ( Friday, 12 October 2018 )