by Swapnil Bhartiya

Microsoft ends patent disputes with Google

Sep 30, 2015
AndroidLinuxOpen Source

Can we safely assume that this, indeed, is a new Microsoft?

It turns out that Microsoft’s newly found love for Linux, under the leadership of Satya Nadella, is more than infatuation. In an unbelievable move, Microsoft and Google are settling their patent disputes which entrains everything from smartphones to video game consoles. The two companies have agreed to drop over 20 lawsuits they filed in the US and Germany.

The two companies released a joint statement stating:

Microsoft and Google are pleased to announce an agreement on patent issues. As part of the agreement, the companies will dismiss all pending patent infringement litigation between them, including cases related to Motorola Mobility. Separately, Google and Microsoft have agreed to collaborate on certain patent matters and anticipate working together in other areas in the future to benefit our customers.

Embrace, extend, and extinguish

Every time I covered a story about Microsoft opening up their arms to embrace Linux and other open source technologies, the comments from the readers were not very positive. Such concerns are not unfounded: On one hand Microsoft was ‘embracing’ Linux and open source technologies and on the other hand its legal arm was using patents against those players who were using Linux-based technologies such as Android and Chrome OS.

We haven’t forgotten Microsoft’s “Embrace, extend, and extinguish” policy. I had my own suspicion because Microsoft’s love for Linux was more about its own survival in a Linux-dominated world than it was about altruism.

I strongly believed that if the change of heart was real, the most concrete indication would be an end of all patent wars Microsoft has waged against companies using Linux. I once wrote , “The Linux community would assume that the new lover would end all legal threats of patent infringement. We would not be seeing Brad Smith bragging about yet another patent deal with some Linux player, instead we would see him blogging about Linux Defenders.

That’s what just happened.

End of skepticism?

We are not talking about a Microsoft that is embracing Linux to destroy it; we are witnessing a Microsoft that is building its own solutions on top of Linux. It created a Linux-based operating system for data center networking; it started offering a big data solution running Linux. Why would Microsoft conspire to destroy the very technology powering their products? On the contrary, in this changed dynamic, It makes more sense for Microsoft to make Linux better, to protect it.

I won’t be surprised if Microsoft soon becomes a Linux Foundation member. The company received praises from the foundation’s executive director, Jim Zemlin.

In a recent interview, I asked Zemlin about the possibility of Microsoft joining the foundation. His reply: “Certainly, we are open to it. Microsoft has been a terrific collaborator with us on a variety of projects. They are working with us on security issues and with our core infrastructure initiative. We work with them on the AllSeen Alliance, which is an IoT initiative. We work with them on the node.js project. We work with one Cloud Native Foundation and a whole bunch of other efforts. And we have found them to be smart, humble, embracing open source in a way that works for them. And it’s been a refreshing and welcome change from the past to work with them. And we like it.”

It’s not over yet

While we have started to see some positive changes, I don’t assume that Microsoft will immediately give up all their patents. They may still continue to sign patent deals. The real change will happen when they join the Open Innovation Network, a shared defensive patent pool to protect Linux, and agree to not use their patents against the Linux based products and projects.

Will Satya Nadella’s Microsoft surprise us again? Time will tell. I, for one, am ready for such a pleasant surprise.