Microsoft's Battle with TomTom: Shape of Things to Come?

Feb 27, 2009

Microsoft's current patent suit against navigation software maker TomTom has caused quite a stir in the Open Source arena and might turn into a wave of MS attacks on Linux.

Three of the five patents challenged by Microsoft concern Linux technology, as we covered in a recent article. In the past, Microsoft has got the Open Source community's dander up by claiming that Open Source had violated as many as 235 of its patents. No doubt this claim comprises a part of Microsoft's cooperative agreements with Novell, Xandros and others. No wonder that Microsoft's actions, despite their recent cozying up, has led to to some worry in the community.

Linux Foundation CE Jim Zemlin wants things to calm down. In his blog, he continues, "hope for the best, plan for the worst." He takes the stand that Microsoft's claim against TomTom is currently limited to "a private dispute between those entities concerning GPS mapping software." He goes on, "We do not feel assumptions should be made about the scope or facts of this case and its inclusion, if any, of Linux-related technology." Microsoft corporate VP Horacio Gutierrez, responsible for licensing, allegedly concurs with Zemlin that the lawsuit doesn't specifically target Linux. Furthermore, it is Zemlin's "sincere hope that Microsoft will realize that cases like these only burden the software industry and do not serve their customers’ best interests."

Should the lawsuit take a different turn, Zemlin sees the Linux Foundation as well prepared in that it is "working closely with our partner the Open Invention Network, and our members, and is well prepared for any claims against Linux."

Pamela Jones, editor of the Groklaw website, adds, "I'll restrict myself for now to two quick words: Think Bilski." The landmark Bilski case was handed down by a U.S. court of appeals in the fall of 2008 as a safeguard against frivolous patents. Jones sees the Microsoft lawsuit as a chance to clear up the patent situation once and for all. She writes, "Are Microsoft's FAT patents *hardware* patents? No? Then what makes you assume they are valid in the post-Bilski world?" Unlike the Linux Foundation's Zemlin, she wouldn't give Microsoft so much of the benefit of the doubt: "And to all those who insist that Microsoft has improved, and they should be treated just like anybody else, and included in Linux conferences and all that blah blah blah,... ask yourself: Have I lost my cotton-pickin' mind?"

Despite Microsoft's overtures to Open Source and promises for cooperation, probably the best witness is Steve Ballmer himself. At a recent Microsoft investors meeting he clearly indicated that Linux has become one of its strongest competitors.

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  • battle

    If M$oft decides to actively deploy this strategy against linux, then I'm sure the EU would become involved.
    Many of its members have committed to open source & this would be seen as a threat to free trade in information sharing.
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