Microsoft joins Open Invention Network in open source U-turn

The Redmond firm has made 60,000 patents available to OIN members

Microsoft has joined the Open Invention Network (OIN), an open source patent group aimed at helping protect Linux from patent legal troubles.

The move will see Redmond make its portfolio of over 60,000 patents open source and available to other OIN members. OIN comprises nearly 2,700 companies and includes firms such as Sony, Red Hat, Google and IBM.

All members gain access to OIN-owned patents as well as cross-licensing patents between its members. The group expects members to not assert patents against those in the Linux community.

In a blog post, Erich Andersen, corporate Vice President and deputy general counsel at Microsoft, said that the decision by Microsoft 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," he said.

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Microsoft has traditionally been highly protective of its own patents, with the likes of Samsung and other Android providers having to hand over billions for patent infringements.

Microsoft has also been traditionally hostile to the Linux platform. Former CEO Steve Ballmer famously once described Linux as a "cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches".

Andersen said that joining OIN reflects Microsoft's patent practice evolving in lock-step with the company's views on Linux and open source more generally.

"We began this journey over two years ago through programs like Azure IP Advantage, which extended Microsoft's indemnification pledge to open source software powering Azure services," he said.

Keith Bergelt, CEO of Open Invention Network, said that 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 behaviour in the OSS community includes OIN participation."

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