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Microsoft trades goodwill for TomTom Linux satisfaction

Skeptics' 'told-you-so' moment arrives

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Analysis It looks like Microsoft finally did it. It has filed a lawsuit over alleged infringement of its US patents by Linux and open source.

Today, the company filed suit against in-car, voice-activated navigation specialist TomTom NV and Tom Tom, Inc. And according to TechFlash, three of the eight patents Microsoft has contested relate to TomTom’s implementation of the Linux kernel. The other five relate to Microsoft’s own software. TomTom uses its own OS Linux, under GPL and LGPL.

Never mind that TomTom was running Windows and GPL code. It seems Microsoft took exception to the way TomTom had actually built its GPL’d Linux code.

Microsoft said it has turned to the courts having attempted to “engage in licensing discussions” with TomTom for “more than a year.”

In a clear sign of how much flak Microsoft knows it’s in for, Microsoft carefully steered clear of any mention of Linux in its press announcement of the action.

A statement from Horacio Gutierrez, corporate vice president and deputy general counsel of intellectual property and licensing, made no mention of open source or Linux. He focused on IP.

Only later did Microsoft’s spokespeople mention open source, saying this was nothing personal against open source. According to a well-groomed statement on TechFlash and All About Microsoft:

“(O)pen source software is not the focal point of this action. The case against TomTom, a global commercial manufacturer and seller of proprietary embedded hardware devices, involves infringement of Microsoft patents by TomTom devices that employ both proprietary and open-source software code.”

Open source might not be the focal point, but that won’t matter to the open-source community. Further, this statement shows just how Microsoft thinks it can separate the world of IP statements from the world of its day-to-day dealings with open source — and just how wrong it is.

For those in the open-source community long skeptical of Microsoft’s increasing out reach, TomTom is their “told you so” moment.

Bradley Kuhn, Software Freedom Law Center policy analyst, told The Reg Wednesday evening: “It’s a good moment for people to take a step back and re-think how friendly Microsoft is to open source.”

To Kuhn, people should remember that whereas patents in software are antithetical to free and open source, they’re the bread and butter of Microsoft’s business model — a model that’s not changed.

Kuhn said he’s been “very troubled” by how much people in the free and open-source world have become accepting of Microsoft just because it’s given money to organizations like Apache Software Foundation (ASF), when just two years back chief executive Steve Ballmer threatened Linux over unspecified Microsoft patents in Linux and open source.

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