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Microsoft Finally Comes Around to the Idea of Open Source Patents

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In a recent move that is somewhat surprising – Microsoft announced that they are joining the Open Invention Network (OIN).  For those of you who don’t know, OIN is an open source patent consortium, which means Microsoft will be making its entire portfolio of patents open source.  More specifically, OIN will add nearly 60,000 patents to OIN, which will make their existing pool of 1,300 patents much larger.  This is a big move for Microsoft, and even more surprising for others.  Why?  There has been some tension between Microsoft and the open source community over the issue of patents, so it seems like Microsoft saw the light.

Microsoft’s corporate VP, Erich Anderson made the following statement in a blog post:

“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. For others who have followed our evolution, we hope this announcement will be viewed 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.”

The main reason for OIN is to protect Linux from patent lawsuits by having members like Google, RedHat, and IBM on board.  The group’s CEO Keith Bergelt said that apart from older Linux Kernel and Android patents, Microsoft’s patent library also includes coming technologies like LF Energy and HyperLedger.  LF Energy is an open source initiative for the power sector and HyperLedger is an open source blockchain initiative.  While it may have been advantageous for Microsoft to keep their patents behind closed doors – that’s not the way of the future, and I think they have to be able to adapt.

That said, they’re not making patents like Windows’s desktop and desktop application code available to everyone.  And you can’t really blame them for that one, can you?  That’s been their bread and butter for so many years, and to open it up would undercut their business. That said, they aren’t the only company who has Android products/technology, so by pooling with others, the world will benefit.  That’s the bleeding heart liberal coming out.  It sounds socialist, but my view is that the more people that we can help, the better.  Sure, further developing Android technology might not seem like it’s a big deal, but it can lead to some big technological improvements for people in the area of health etc.

Last year, Microsoft announced the Azure Advantage IP program to protect its cloud users against lawsuits.  A few days ago, they also joined the anti-patent troll group LOT, which has more than 300 members onboard.  Microsoft is playing a lot of attention towards the open source community with GitHub’s acquisition this year being its most notable move.  In general, these are beneficial moves on behalf of Microsoft, and I can only see it getting better in the future.  This is the way of the future, so I’m happy to see Microsoft on board.