Flying free

Microsoft joins Open Invention Network: New age of open source for the tech giant?

Sarah Schlothauer
open source
© Shutterstock / Gts

Stop the presses. Microsoft open sourced 60,000 patents and joined the Open Invention Network. Is this a natural progression of open source? Has the infamous company changed their song and tune? Time to focus on the positives: open source is here to stay.

Do you remember the infamous quote by former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer about open source? Back in 2001 Ballmer said unfavorable things about Linux and the concept of open source, calling it a “cancer”. (However, it is worth noting that the tides changed in 2016 when Ballmer reconsidered his position and came out in support of Linux.)

Since the early 2000’s, this controversial stance changed. The ubiquitous company occasionally dipped its toe into open source.

But now it’s official: Microsoft joined the Open Invention Network (OIN).

SEE ALSO: Securing the future of open source

Adding to the open source pool

A massive 60,000 Microsoft-owned patents are now open source. The CEO of the Open Invention Network made a statement about this event. “This is everything Microsoft has, and it covers everything related to older open-source technologies such as Android, the Linux kernel, and OpenStack; newer technologies such as LF Energy and HyperLedger, and their predecessor and successor versions.”

Welcome to the community Microsoft! OIN is a “shared defensive patent pool with the mission to protect Linux”. Several thousand of other organizations are also committed to their OIN membership, including big names such as Sony, Red Hat, Google, and IBM to name just a few.

From their website’s “about us” page:

Open source software has been one of the greatest sources of innovation.  Open source developers have built excellent software solutions for business, education and personal use. Free and open source programs give companies, schools, governments and users more choices, ensuring that they are getting the best possible technology for their needs. Unfortunately, the last decade has seen an enormous rise in software patent suits. Open source developers aren’t any more immune to this threat than other software vendors.  However, the culture and innovation modality of open source software, based on engagement and sharing, made it natural to build a collective defensive solution to protect and enable it.


A change of heart?

Of course, no move by Microsoft is without its criticism and speculation as to whether or not this is a sincere move is up to the reader.

Money talks: Yahoo! Finance reports that in 2013, Microsoft made an estimated $2 billion a year from Android patent royalties. The loss of that money is nothing to take lightly.

On the announcement blog, Erich Andersen admits that bad blood in the past may create skepticism:

We know Microsoft’s decision to join OIN may be viewed as surprising to some; it is no secret that there has been friction in the past between Microsoft and the open source community over the issue of patents. For others who have followed our evolution, we hope this announcement will be viewed as the next logical step for a company that is listening to customers and developers and is firmly committed to Linux and other open source programs.

Erich Andersen

However, Andersen is also positive about the future and evolution of the company and the landscape of software as a whole. Collaboration is key, even between major rivals such as Microsoft and Google or just frameworks and programming languages.

SEE ALSO: Know your history — Containers aren’t just a flash in the pan

Here at JAXenter we are avid supporters of open source and take a stance of cautious optimism. These 60,000 patents are a cause for celebration. (Might this also finally put some worries to rest about Microsoft’s GitHub acquisition?)

Let us momentarily put aside our conflicting feelings about the tech giant. Microsoft joining OIN is hopefully a sign of more to come.

One thing is for certain: open source is here to stay.

Sarah Schlothauer

Sarah Schlothauer

All Posts by Sarah Schlothauer

Sarah Schlothauer is the editor for She received her Bachelor's degree from Monmouth University, West Long Branch, New Jersey. She currently lives in Frankfurt, Germany with her husband and cat where she enjoys reading, writing, and medieval reenactment. She is also the editor for Conditio Humana, an online magazine about ethics, AI, and technology.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments