Why Did Microsoft Sell Off 22 'Linux-Related' Patents?

The Open Invention Network acquires 22 patents that purportedly relate to Linux from AST, which had acquired them from Microsoft. OIN questions Microsoft's motive in selling off the patents elsewhere.

What was Microsoft's motive in selling off 22 patents purportedly relating to Linux?

The Open Invention Network Sept. 8 confirmed its acquisition of 22 patents formerly held by Microsoft that it described as "Linux-focused." OIN acquired the patents from the Allied Security Trust, which acquired them from Microsoft in a private auction sale in July. Microsoft itself acquired the patents in a deal with Silicon Graphics.

In an interview with eWEEK, Keith Bergelt, CEO of OIN, said he could not speak for Microsoft but he wonders whether the company had ulterior motives in selling the patents to AST rather than an organization such as OIN.

Both AST and OIN were founded with the goal of protecting Linux and open-source software users from potential lawsuits filed by "non-practicing entities" or "patent trolls" that could seek remedies based on the alleged violation of patents that relate to Linux. However, because AST has a "catch and release" clause to its efforts, after a year, any patents acquired by AST and adopted by its members must then be sold or transitioned back out into the wild, as it were. Bergelt said he wonders whether Microsoft's motives may have been to see those 22 patents find their way into the hands of litigious entities.

Bergelt said of Microsoft, "They are a profitable business, so there's got to be a motivation to monetize the technology they have. My concern is, if you're selling widgets, why not go the biggest buyer in the market? I don't know what their motivation was [in selling to AST], but we're one of the biggest purchasers [of Linux-related patents] on the market. If you had other motives you wouldn't come to us. It's possible they had ulterior motives."

In a statement about its sale of the patents, Microsoft did not address motives. Microsoft spokesperson Michael Marinello said:

"We sold 22 patents to AST in July 2009. The terms were confidential. We acquired these patents several years ago as part of a larger business agreement with SGI.We are constantly evaluating our patent portfolio-which recently received top ranking in the software industry-to ensure its makeup fits into the business goals of the organization. These patents were deemed to be non-core to our business and non-essential for our IP portfolio. When an interested buyer for this technology was identified, after discussing it both internally and with the potential buyer, we felt this was the right direction to go in relating to these specific patents."