A decade ago, Microsoft typified the closed and aggressively protective technology company. Just a few years ago, the company was profiting heavily from the success of Android, so extensive was its patents. In 2013, for example, it’s thought that Microsoft received a royalty payment from Samsung exceeding $1 billion.
However, things are different now – by joining the Open Invention Network, as was revealed today, Microsoft is taking another big step towards embracing open source software and open source culture.
With more than 2,000 OIN members, including Google, IBM, Sony, and Red Hat, Microsoft certainly isn’t blazing a new trail. It’s more a case of the company finally joining the club.
What is the Open Invention Network?
The Open Invention Network describes itself as “a shared defensive patent pool with the mission to protect Linux.” In essence, it’s an organization that was set up in 2005 to protect the open source world from increasing patents – a culture that, at the time, Microsoft would have been guilty of driving.
Members of OIN have access to the patents of other members, royalty-free. This is what a ‘patent non-aggression community’ (a phrase the OIN likes to use) looks like in practice. Prior to Microsoft joining, the OIN owned more than 1,300 patents and licenses. Remarkably, Microsoft will add another 60,000 to that number. That should give you an indication of how important patents were to Microsoft over the last decade or so.
Why has Microsoft joined the Open Invention Network?
The news the Microsoft is joining the OIN is really just another step in a transformation of the company’s culture and mission. From Steve Ballmer calling open source a ‘cancer’ back in 2001, to the acquisition of GitHub this year, the company seems to have done a complete u-turn when it comes to open source software.
To further emphasize this trend you only have to look back a couple of days, when Microsoft open sourced its machine learning framework Infer.NET.
“Microsoft sees open source as a key innovation engine, and for the past several years we have increased our involvement in, and contributions to, the open source community,” said Microsoft’s Corporate VP Erich Andersen in the OIN’s press release. “The protection OIN offers the open source community helps increase global contributions to and adoption of open source technologies. We are honored to stand with OIN as an active participant in its program to protect against patent aggression in core Linux and other important OSS technologies.”