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FSF statement on Microsoft joining the Open Invention Network

by John Sullivan Contributions Published on Oct 10, 2018 09:12 PM
For many years, the Free Software Foundation (FSF) has called on Microsoft to cease its use of computational idea patents to aggressively intimidate free software developers, distributors, and users. Today, these calls have met with some tentative success.

Microsoft's announcements on October 4th and 10th, that it has joined both LOT and the Open Invention Network (OIN), are significant steps in the right direction, potentially providing respite from Microsoft's well-known extortion of billions of dollars from free software redistributors.

These steps, though, do not by themselves fully address the problem of computational idea patents, or even Microsoft's specific infringement claims. They do not mean that Microsoft has dismantled or freely licensed its entire patent portfolio. The agreements for both LOT and OIN have substantial limitations and exclusions. LOT only deals with the problem of patent trolling by non-practicing entities. OIN's nonaggression agreement only covers a defined list of free software packages, and any OIN member, including Microsoft, can withdraw completely with thirty days notice.

With these limitations in mind, FSF welcomes the announcements, and calls on Microsoft to take additional steps to continue the momentum toward a complete resolution:

1) Make a clear, unambiguous statement that it has ceased all patent infringement claims on the use of Linux in Android.

2) Work within OIN to expand the definition of what it calls the "Linux System" so that the list of packages protected from patents actually includes everything found in a GNU/Linux system. This means, for example, removing the current arbitrary and very intentional exclusions for packages in the area of multimedia -- one of the primary patent minefields for free software. We suggest that this definition include every package in Debian's default public package repository.

3) Use the past patent royalties extorted from free software to fund the effective abolition of all patents covering ideas in software. This can be done by supporting grassroots efforts like the FSF's End Software Patents campaign, or by Microsoft directly urging the US Congress to pass legislation excluding software from the effects of patents, or both. Without this, the threats can come back with a future leadership change at Microsoft, or with changes in OIN's own corporate structure and licensing arrangements. This is also the best way for Microsoft to show that it does not intend to use patents as a weapon against any free software, beyond just that free software which is part of OIN's specific list.

The FSF appreciates what Microsoft joining OIN seems to signal about its changing attitude toward computational idea patents. Taking these three additional steps would remove all doubt and any potential for backsliding. We look forward to future collaboration on fully addressing the threat of patents to free software development and computer user freedom.

The FSF will also continue to monitor the situation, for any signs that Microsoft intends to still continue patent aggression, in ways permitted by the terms of LOT and OIN. We encourage anyone who is a target of such patent aggression by Microsoft to contact us at campaigns@fsf.org.

Media Contact

John Sullivan
Executive Director
+1 (617) 542-5942
campaigns@fsf.org

About the Free Software Foundation

The Free Software Foundation, founded in 1985, is dedicated to promoting computer users' right to use, study, copy, modify, and redistribute computer programs. The FSF promotes the development and use of free (as in freedom) software -- particularly the GNU operating system and its GNU/Linux variants -- and free documentation for free software. The FSF also helps to spread awareness of the ethical and political issues of freedom in the use of software, and its Web sites, located at https://fsf.org and https://gnu.org, are an important source of information about GNU/Linux. Donations to support the FSF's work can be made at https://donate.fsf.org. Its headquarters are in Boston, MA, USA.

More information about the FSF, as well as important information for journalists and publishers, is at https://www.fsf.org/press.

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