Microsoft Calls a Truce within the Linux Patent Wars

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Microsoft desires to make peace with Linux, saying this week that it’s going to enable greater than 2,600 different firms, together with longtime rivals like Google and IBM, to make use of the know-how behind 60,000 Microsoft patents for their very own Linux-related open supply tasks.

That could possibly be excellent news for makers of “web of Issues” gadgets. Linux powers every little thing from related vehicles to Amazon Echo hardware, however Microsoft has lengthy claimed that varied Linux-related applied sciences infringe on its patents and has a historical past of suing the alleged violators. For instance, in 2009 it sued GPS navigation system maker TomTom, arguing that the corporate’s Linux-based merchandise violated a patent associated to how working methods deal with file storage.

Microsoft stated it can be a part of the Open Invention Community, which was based in 2005 and describes itself as a “patent nonaggression group.” Members, which vary from Linux firms like Purple Hat to automakers like Toyota and Basic Motors, agree to not file patent fits involving Linux tasks in opposition to each other. Members additionally get entry to patents that OIN itself owns.

Some elements of the transfer stay unclear, together with simply which Microsoft patents are included, significantly patents licensed by Android system makers like Samsung. A spokesperson says Microsoft is licensing all its patents which can be related to the “Linux System,” which OIN defines as software program code launched underneath 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.

However by becoming a member of the group, Microsoft is actually giving the Linux group permission to make use of 60,000 patents freed from cost with out concern of lawsuits. That might imply that if an OIN member, reminiscent of 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 concern of lawsuits from Microsoft.

“We all know Microsoft’s choice to affix OIN could also be considered as shocking to some,” Microsoft deputy common counsel Erich Andersen wrote within the weblog publish asserting the choice. “It’s no secret that there was friction prior to now between Microsoft and the open supply group over the problem of patents.”

That is placing it mildly. As not too long ago because the early 2000s, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer brazenly disparaged Linux, calling it a most cancers solely match for communists. In 2007, Microsoft threatened to sue Linux firms like Purple Hat over patent violations. It finally backed down, however did file go well with in opposition to TomTom and different firms.

However as Linux and open supply more and more have turn into essential to software program growth for firms massive and small, Microsoft has labored to reform its picture and turn into a very good open supply citizen. Earlier this decade, it ensured that in style open supply software program like Hadoop, Git, and Node.js might run on Home windows, and supported Linux on its Azure cloud service. Extra not too long ago, it’s open sourced some choices, such because the core of the .NET software program growth platform and key elements of its Edge internet browser, launched a Linux model of its SQL Server software program, and even began utilizing Linux to run elements of Azure.

Even because it labored to restore its popularity with the open supply group, although, the corporate pursued an aggressive course in patent litigation. It pressured smartphone makers like Samsung into patent licensing agreements over their use of Google’s Android, which relies on the Linux kernel. In 2012, Microsoft, Apple, and others began a consortium known 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 offered its patents to an organization known as RPX, which vowed to make use of them solely to defend the tech trade from litigation. And as Microsoft explores new markets, it can now have assurance that it gained’t be sued by different OIN members.

Microsoft’s transfer is a part of a broader shift within the tech trade away from aggressive and doubtlessly pricey patent litigation. When Elon Musk introduced in 2014 that Tesla would not sue firms that wished to make use of its know-how, he downplayed the significance of implementing patents and pointed to the futility of the lengthy authorized battle between Apple and Samsung. “You marvel who’s actually benefiting there,” he stated throughout a convention name on the time. “And it looks like neither one. It would not appear to be it is truly serving shareholders.”

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