Microsoft vows to protect Linux from future patent wars by joining the Open Invention Network

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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella stops for a chat at Microsoft Build. (GeekWire Photo / Nat Levy)

After years of waging patent war on Google’s Linux-based Android mobile operating system, Microsoft agreed Wednesday to join the Open Invention Network and cross-license its more than 60,000 patents to participating members.

The Open Invention Network was created by IBM, Red Hat, and others back in 2005 as a patent pool in which members agreed to cross-license their patents to each other in exchange for agreeing not to assert those patents against companies working on Linux-based projects. Since then, Oracle, Google, and hundreds of others have joined to create a massive pool of patents that allow members to defend themselves against patent attacks from non-members.

Microsoft’s decision to join the group is yet another sign that the company, which at one point was making more money shaking down Android device makers than from its own mobile strategy, has reversed itself when it comes to open-source technology.

“We know Microsoft’s decision to join OIN may be viewed as surprising to some, as it is no secret that there has been friction in the past between Microsoft and the open source community over the issue of patents,” wrote Erich Andersen, corporate vice president and deputy general counsel at Microsoft, in a blog post Wednesday. “For others who have followed our evolution as a company, we hope this will be viewed as the next logical step for a company that is listening to its customers and is firmly committed to Linux and other open source programs.”

Beyond the profound cultural shift that has taken place at Microsoft in just a few short years, this move also indicates that cloud computing will likely be spared the pointless and costly patent battles that emerged after the iPhone and later Android signaled the rise of the mobile computer. Enterprise cloud computing depends heavily on Linux and other open-source technologies, and any type of patent dispute involving open-source technology would send shock waves through the system.

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