Microsoft, which has spent decades building its intellectual property war chest, says it will give ownership of patent and industrial design rights to its customers when the companies develop technology together.
Under new guidelines issued Wednesday night, the Redmond tech giant will reserve the right to license back the patent rights for jointly developed technologies from its customers, but says it will limit its use of the licenses in those cases to improving its own platform, not using them to offer competing products.
The new principles, part of what the company calls its “Shared Innovation Initiative,” were announced by Brad Smith, the company’s president and chief legal officer.
It’s the latest example of the company’s pragmatic approach under CEO Satya Nadella, seeking to use intellectual property as a selling point for customers rather than a weapon against open-source projects and other competing technologies. Microsoft competes against rivals including Amazon Web Services, Oracle, Salesforce, Google and many others for big corporate and institutional customers.
As part of the new initiative, the company said it would also support the contribution of source code that it creates with a customer to an open-source project, if that’s what the customer wants.
These types of projects with customers are becoming more common, Smith wrote in a post, citing the example of a South Korean hospital that has worked with Microsoft on a motion-tracking AI technology for surgeons.
“As collaboration like this between tech companies and its customers increases, so will the questions regarding who owns the patents and resulting intellectual property,” Smith wrote. “There is growing concern that without an approach that ensures that customers own key patents to their new solutions, tech companies will use the knowledge to enter their customer’s market and compete against them – perhaps even using the IP that customers helped create.”
Microsoft last year announced an Azure IP Advantage program will allow customers to use the company’s patents, free of charge, for lawsuits against their services that run on top of Azure.