Current members include the likes of Google, Facebook, Amazon, Slack, GitHub, Cisco, Canon, Lenovo, Netflix, Alibaba, Crate & Barrel (yep) and most major car manufacturers, including Tesla. More than 300 organizations are now part of LOT and today, Microsoft is joining the fray.
“The way the organization works is that all of the members sign a license agreement that in essence says that they’re providing a license to each other, such that if they were ever to transfer a patent to another company, that if that company is in essentially the business of asserting patents — that’s basically what it does for business — then the rest of the members in the network would get a license for free automatically,” Microsoft’s Chief IP Counsel Erich Andersen told me. He noted that it’s a way to reduce the risk of patent assertion at a community scale.
Projects like LOT seem to have had an impact over the course of the last few years as the number of the kinds of patent lawsuits at least hasn’t increased in recent years.
Obviously, it took a while for Microsoft to join LOT. Andersen, though, noted that the company’s Azure IP Advantage already provided protection against intellectual property risks for Microsoft’s cloud customers. “One pillar of [Azure IP Advantage] was related to this,” he explained. “We basically said to our Azure customers: if we ever transfer a patent to one of these patent assertion companies, then you’ll automatically get a license from us for that patent, and you don’t need to worry about it.” Joining the LOT Network then is essentially the next step for Microsoft in that it provides similar protections not just to its own customers but anybody who signs up for the network and accepts its pledge (and startups can join for free, for example).
Andersen admits that the patent troll problem isn’t as acute today as it was only a few years ago, but he notes that it’s still a widespread issue.
By joining, Microsoft itself also gets the same kind of protections for itself. “Just as we’re giving a commitment to everybody in the LOT Network that they’ll get a license to our patents if we transfer them to a non-practicing entity [aka, a patent troll], we get the same commitment coming the other direction.”