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Microsoft outlines approach to intellectual property

Enterprises will own patents and industrial design rights that result from new technology jointly developed with Microsoft, among a raft of intellectual property principles unveiled by the software giant

Microsoft has outlined its approach towards intellectual property (IP) for the technology it develops with customers, in a bid to help customers reap the benefits of joint innovation and to improve its own products.

Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, said during a media briefing in Singapore that the approach comprises seven key principles that address areas including IP ownership of new and existing technology, support for open source software and licensing rights.

For example, South Korea’s 365mc Hospital would own the IP for an artificial intelligence (AI)-assisted surgery application that it has created with Microsoft. The hospital has since deployed the app in its own business, and plans to commercialise the technology.

Microsoft will also receive licences to patents and industrial design rights for new technology that it creates from collaborations with customers, but such licences will only be used to improve current and future versions of its platform technologies, such as Azure cloud services.

But doing so does not mean Microsoft will compete with its customers. Taking a leaf out of Microsoft’s partnerships with car-makers in the automotive industry, Smith said the software giant is not, and will not be, in the business of producing cars. Instead, it wants to help car companies build software to produce better cars.

With Microsoft contributing more code to open source projects, including key ones such as the Linux operating system, Smith said its customers can also choose to contribute source codes of new technology they are licensed to use to an open source project.

Microsoft’s IP principles stem from questions raised by its customers about ownership of patents and the resulting IP in co-developed technology. In making these principles public, Smith said Microsoft is holding itself accountable, and putting a large stake in the ground that will set it apart from rivals.

Read more about intellectual property protection

  • Designers, owners and those that carry out 3D printing need to be aware of the way in which intellectual property rights will be created and protected.
  • Organisations need to implement best practices to protect their trade secrets from both internal and external threats.

Even with differing levels of maturity in IP protection regimes across countries, Smith said Microsoft is confident that its IP principles will work across the globe. “We’re comfortable with the patent systems around the world, and there are enough similarities that we know will make this work,” he said.

Dane Anderson, vice-president, research director and region manager at Forrester Research, said Microsoft’s approach will address any ambiguity about IP ownership in joint projects.

“This is an issue across the board, not just for the software providers, but also systems integrators and emerging cloud providers, such as those in China that are looking at IP ownership issues,” said Anderson.

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