I’m at a loss with how to properly begin this article because it suddenly feels like we’re living in an alternate timeline. One where the behemoth Microsoft abandons billions in patent royalties to prove its love for Linux, open source software and the development community. All of which are sentiments Microsoft previously expressed; ones met with a mixture of tepid optimism and cynical doubt for. But yes, after triple-checking and slapping myself across the face a few times, I can confirm that this is reality.
Erich Andersen, Microsoft Corporate Vice President and Deputy General Counsel, just announced that Microsoft has joined the Open Invention Network (OIN) and in the process of doing so has made 60,000 of its patents open source. This move does more than potentially silencing skeptics; it should result in a healthy ripple effect across Linux and the entire open source community. Not only that, it will serve to further protect the Linux development community from patent infringement lawsuits.
The announcement blog opens by addressing what is certainly on the minds of anyone reading it:
“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,” Andersen writes. “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.”
Since its inception in 2005, the mission of Open Inventors Network has been crystal clear: to enable Linux, to increase innovation through open source culture, and to defend the open source community from aggressive legal action. In its own words, OIN aims “to promote Linux by using patents to create a collaborative environment.”
OIN is comprised of more than 2600 members including SpaceX, Sony, Google, IBM, SUSE, Canonical and Ford. With the addition of Microsoft, OIN members gain access to a staggering 60,000 of Microsoft’s patents, many of which center on the Android ecosystem. For example, Samsung pays a royalty to Microsoft for every single phone it ships in exchange for using its exFAT file system. And there are hundreds more just in that space. From now, this considerable stack of IP becomes available royalty-free, with an unrestricted license.
Microsoft’s Erich Andersen also had this to say of the company’s decision to join OIN:
“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.”
While it’s difficult to gauge the long term impact this will have, ZDNet published this quote from OIN CEO Keith Bergelt: “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.”
So it definitely eases the financial burden of Android OEMs and developers, but also affects a huge part of the Linux landscape including software and services built with Linux — and the Linux kernel itself.
One has to wonder how Microsoft shareholders will react to this. As of 2015, the company had already raked in $6bn just from Android patent royalties. Aside from that, it’s a wholly refreshing decision.
I can’t help but hear Steve Balmer’s ridiculously awkward but memorable chant: “Developers Developers Developers!” In 2018 its the entirety of Microsoft bellowing that phrase, and apparently meaning it this time.
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