Microsoft announced this week it is joining the Open Invention Network (OIN), a community dedicated to protecting Linux and other open source software programs from patent risks. The company will be bringing more than 60,000 issued patents to OIN. But what does that mean to you as a developer?
Before the announcement, I wasn’t aware of OIN, which is not surprising given my roots in the Microsoft space. Launched in 2005, OIN is a “shared defensive patent pool with the mission to protect Linux.” It boasts more than 2,650 members including Google, IBM, NEC, Philips, Red Hat, Sony, Toyota, SpaceX and more and it owns more than 1,300 global patents and applications. The OIN patent license and member cross-licenses are available royalty-free to any party that joins the OIN community.
While Microsoft itself says the move might be surprising to some, if you were reading the proverbial tea leaves (in this case, their Azure offerings and .NET Core) you might not be all that shocked.
In the corporate blog post announcing the move, Microsoft said it believes that developers do not want a binary choice between Windows and Linux or .NET and Java. They believe that developers want a cloud platform (in this case, Azure) that supports all technologies. .NET Core, an open source development platform maintained by Microsoft and the .NET community on GitHub, is the cross-platform framework that developers can use to build for Windows, macOS and Linux and deploy to devices, the cloud or embedded/IoT scenarios. Put the two together and it makes sense that Microsoft would want to be part of a group that practices patent non-aggression in core open source technologies by cross-licensing Linux System patents to one another on a royalty-free basis.
My understanding is that Microsoft’s 60,000+ patents - many of which are centered around the Android ecosystem - will fall under the member cross-license utilization agreement. What this means is that Microsoft is forgoing potentially massive amounts of revenue in royalties. An example that Jason Evangelho used in his article with Forbes is Samsung. Currently Samsung pays a royalty to Microsoft for every phone it ships (think about that for a second) in exchange for using Microsoft’s exFAT file system. That’s just one example, extrapolate from here and imagine the potential money involved.
As a developer, if you are creating or want to create applications to run on Linux, you suddenly have a massive amount of IP that is at your disposal, royalty-free and with an unrestricted license.
Microsoft has said it (and I’ve quoted this before) – “it’s definitely not your grandpa/grandma’s Microsoft”. They are backing up that assertion time and time again with their commitment to open source not just in words but with actions.
What are your thoughts? Was this a good move? How do you see it impacting the developer space? Share your thoughts in the comments below. And if you want to learn more about our own open source offerings, don't forget you can check them out right here.