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Microsoft Calls a Truce in the Linux Patent Wars

Microsoft is asking for a truce in the patent struggle. This week the firm stated it is going to enable greater than 2,600 different firms, together with conventional rivals like Google and IBM, to make use of the expertise behind 60,000 Microsoft patents for their very own Linux associated open supply initiatives.

That might be excellent news for “Internet of Things” units makers. Linux powers every part from connected cars to Amazon Echo units, however Microsoft has lengthy claimed that varied Linux associated applied sciences infringe on its patents and has a historical past of suing the alleged violators. For instance, in 2009 it sued GPS navigation device maker TomTom, arguing the firm’s Linux-based merchandise violated a patent associated to how working techniques deal with file storage.

Microsoft stated it is going to be part of the Open Invention Network (OIN), which was based in 2005 and describes itself as a “patent non-aggression community.” Members, which vary from Linux firms like Red Hat to automakers like Toyota and General Motors, agree to not file patent fits in opposition to each other associated to Linux initiatives. Members additionally get entry to patents that OIN itself owns.

Some facets of the transfer stay unclear, together with simply which Microsoft patents are included, notably patents licensed by Android system makers like Samsung. A spokesperson says Microsoft is licensing all its patents which are related to the “Linux System,” which OIN defines as software program code launched below an open supply license and “Distributed with, or to be used with, the Linux Kernel.” Microsoft is not open sourcing any new code as a part of the announcement, and isn’t transferring possession of any patents to OIN. It additionally didn’t decide to licensing future patents to OIN.

But by becoming a member of the group, Microsoft is basically giving the Linux neighborhood permission to make use of 60,000 patents freed from cost with out worry of lawsuits. That may imply that if an OIN member, corresponding to Google, provides performance patented by Microsoft to the Linux kernel, others can use that open supply code, no matter whether or not they’re members of OIN, with out worry of lawsuits from Microsoft.

“We know Microsoft’s determination to hitch OIN could also be seen as shocking to some,” Microsoft deputy common counsel Erich Andersen wrote in the blog post saying the determination. “It is not any secret that there was friction in the previous between Microsoft and the open supply neighborhood over the problem of patents.”

That’s placing it mildly. As lately as the early 2000s, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer openly disparaged Linux, calling it a cancer solely fit for Communists. In 2007, Microsoft threatened to sue Linux firms like Red Hat over patent violations. It in the end backed down, however did file swimsuit in opposition to TomTom and different firms.

But as Linux and open supply have grow to be more and more necessary elements of software program improvement for firms giant and small, Microsoft has labored to reform its picture and grow to be a good open supply citizen. Earlier this decade, it ensured that popular open source software like Hadoop, Git, and Node.js may run on Windows, and supported Linux on its Azure cloud service. More lately it’s open sourced some choices, corresponding to the core of the .NET software development platform and key parts of its Edge web browser, launched a Linux version of its SQL Server software, and even started using Linux to run parts of Azure.

But even because it labored to restore its repute with the open supply neighborhood, the firm pursued an aggressive patent litigation agenda. It pressured smartphone makers like Samsung into patent licensing agreements over their use of Google’s Android, which is predicated on the Linux kernel. In 2012, Microsoft, Apple, and others began a consortium referred to as Rockstar, which purchased greater than four,000 patents from Nortel and sued Google and demanded funds from different smartphone firms for violating these patents.

Two years later, nonetheless, Rockstar sold its patents to a company called RPX, which vowed to make use of them solely to defend the tech business from litigation. And as Microsoft explores new markets, it is going to now have assurance that it gained’t be sued by different OIN members.

Microsoft’s transfer is a part of a broader shift in the tech business away from aggressive and probably expensive patent litigation. When Elon Musk announced in 2014 that Tesla would not sue firms that needed to make use of its expertise, he downplayed the significance of imposing patents and pointed to the futility of the long legal battle between Apple and Samsung. “You marvel who’s actually benefiting there,” he said during a conference call at the time. “And it looks as if neither one. It does not seem to be it is truly serving shareholders.”

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