Microsoft vows to let partner companies keep their patents

The company wants to reassure its customers it won't steal their ideas.


Microsoft has launched a new policy that means its tech customers will keep hold of any patent rights that come out of its partnerships. In a blog post, Microsoft president Brad Smith explained that the Shared Innovation Initiative is designed to reassure customers that the company won't use the knowledge gleaned from joint ventures to "enter their customer's market and compete against them."

Instead, Smith says the company wants to "strike a healthy balance that will both help our customers grow their business through technology and enable Microsoft to continue to improve its platform products."

Microsoft cited a hospital in South Korea as an example of the policy in action. The facility co-created a motion-tracking AI application that uses sensors to collect data on a surgeon's movements during operations, in order to identify errors or particularly beneficial techniques. While the technology was developed with Microsoft, the patent and intellectual property (IP) rights remain with the hospital, which plans to now sell the software to other hospitals, creating a new line of business and revenue stream.

As collaborations between tech companies and customers increase, so will the gray area around patent ownership and IP. By having a reassuring policy in writing, it seems that Microsoft is trying to differentiate itself from rival companies (many of which have been plagued by patent litigation), while, of course, encouraging big business to keep using its products.