Microsoft Sues TomTom; Orange Alert For Linux Backers - InformationWeek

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2/26/2009
05:24 PM
Charles Babcock
Charles Babcock
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Microsoft Sues TomTom; Orange Alert For Linux Backers

Microsoft has filed suit against a software maker whose GPS navigation system uses Linux. Microsoft claims TomTom infringes eight of its patents. Linux backers are keeping a wary eye on the case, but so far consider this to be a dispute over GPS mapping software.

Microsoft has filed suit against a software maker whose GPS navigation system uses Linux. Microsoft claims TomTom infringes eight of its patents. Linux backers are keeping a wary eye on the case, but so far consider this to be a dispute over GPS mapping software.Andrew Updegrove, partner in Gesmer Updegrove in Boston, a technology business law firm, said as far as he's concerned, Microsoft's Horacio Gutierrez, newly appointed deputy general counsel of IP and licensing, is "letting the market know that they better not take him for granted."

IBM and other companies make money by licensing patents from an extensive patent portfolio. In the downturn, Microsoft would like to make more money from its patents also. Microsoft has been negotiating with TomTom for more than a year, and TomTom has declined to reach a technology licensing agreement.

"When a reasonable business agreement cannot be reached, we have no choice but to pursue legal action to protect our innovations," Gutierrez said in a statement.

Microsoft would like to sell more licenses to netbook manufacturers and other Linux-based network devices. Gutierrez may be seeking to "beef up the credibility of the licensing folks that will be knocking on the doors of the smaller mobile device and netbook vendors in the months ahead," Updegrove noted in a statement on the suit.

He currently serves as legal counsel to the Linux Foundation. Several netbook vendors use Linux as a fast-start system for checking e-mail, while supplying Windows XP for more complex desktop tasks.

The Linux Foundation's executive director, Jim Zemlin, said now is not the right time for the alarm to be sounded. For those who think the suit might be aimed at Linux, Zemlin said in a statement, "Gutierrez has specifically stated that it isn't."

"It is our sincere hope that Microsoft will realize that cases like these only burden the software industry and do not server their customers' best interests," Zemlin said. Instead of suing, software companies might instead "focus on building innovative products," he added.

Still, Microsoft is one of those companies that finds a way to use the gray areas of the law to further its own business, whenever it can. Ever since it tried to alter Java to produce a version that was specific to Windows, I have been skeptical that it will honor the spirit of the law or the rights of other firms to propagate their own technology. It will, that is, until a competitive technology trespasses too heavily on the Microsoft business plan.

Linux remains a thorn in Microsoft's side, and the irritant is getting larger. If Microsoft found an opening in a suit on GPS software that allowed it to attack Linux legally, it would do so soon after such a decision was handed down. Let's hope a decision in the TomTom case opens no such Pandora's box.

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