Microsoft has made billions from its extensive library of software patents. A number of Android vendors, including Samsung, pay the company a royalty on each phone they ship to license patents such as the ones covering the exFAT file system. But that situation may be coming to an end with the announcement today that Microsoft is joining the Open Invention Network (OIN).
The Open Invention Network is a group of about 2,400 companies around the world that have agreed to cross-license their patents on a royalty-free basis for use by the “Linux System,” a collection of projects including the Linux kernel, many tools and utilities built on top of Linux, and large parts of Android. Member companies also promise not to assert their patents against the Linux Community.
This move should put an end to the lingering threat of patent lawsuits from Microsoft that many Linux and Android companies have faced. With that threat gone, it should also put an end to the royalties that the company was collecting from Android vendors.
Microsoft says that the move was a response to customer demands, and the company has positioned the move as the next logical step in its increasing embrace of Linux (Linux is widely used by Azure customers, for example, and the company recently made SQL Server available for Linux in addition to its native Windows). More broadly, Microsoft has become more open to open source development (with projects such as TypeScript, Visual Studio Code, and .NET Core all being significant).
In spite of this, the use of patents to extract royalties was one of the major sticking points within the open source community, used as evidence that Microsoft was not genuine in its commitment to open source principles. By joining OIN, the company may be able to convince even the most ardent skeptics that it really does love Linux and open source.