​Microsoft: We'll help customers create patents but we get a license to use them

Microsoft embraces open source in its new "shared innovation" intellectual property (IP) model.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

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Microsoft has outlined a new intellectual-property policy for co-developed technology that embraces open source and seeks to assure customers it won't run off with their innovations.

The shared innovation principles build on its Azure IP Advantage program for helping customers combat patent trolls.

The new principles for co-developed innovation cover ownership of existing technology, customer ownership of new patents, support for open source, licensing new IP back to Microsoft, software portability, transparency, and learning.

Microsoft president Brad Smith says the principles aim to assuage customers' fears that Microsoft may end up using co-developed technology to rival them.

An example could be 365c Hospital in South Korea, where Microsoft helped build an AI system that assists surgeons during operations. The hospital now plans to sell the software to other hospitals.

"As collaboration like this between tech companies and their customers increases, so will the questions regarding who owns the patents and resulting intellectual property," explains Smith.

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"There is growing concern that without an approach that ensures customers' own key patents to their new solutions, tech companies will use the knowledge to enter their customers' market and compete against them -- perhaps even using the IP that customers helped create."

Smith says Microsoft vows to "cooperate in the filing of any patent applications resulting from the new invention work" and assign all rights to the customer.

In return, Microsoft gets to license back any of the patents in the new technology but promises to limit their use to improving its own platform technologies, such as Azure, Azure AI services, Office 365, Windows, Xbox, and HoloLens.

It also reserves the right to use "code and tools developed by or on behalf of Microsoft that are intended to provide technical assistance to customers in their respective businesses".

Microsoft's open-source commitment guarantees that it will work with customers "to contribute to an open-source project any code the customer is licensed to use". Smith points out that Microsoft has contributed code to the Linux kernel and helped advanced the programming language R.

Additionally, Microsoft promises not to contractually lock in customers to its platforms, allowing them the freedom to port a system to any alternative product in future.

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