Feeds

Did TomTom test Microsoft's Linux patent lock-down?

No choice but to kill open source

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Microsoft's prosecution of TomTom over alleged violation of patents is looking increasingly like a failure in its long-running policy of tying down Linux users through cross licensing of its IP.

Computerworld has dredged up an email exchange with Microsoft's IP and licensing legal chief that explains Microsoft's got a long history of licensing its File Allocation Table/Long File Name (FAT LFN) with companies in the car navigation space and that have specifically been using Linux and open source.

Microsoft's corporate vice president and deputy general counsel of intellectual property and licensing Horacio Gutierrez said 18 companies had signed up, including Kenwood, Alpine, and Pioneer.

According to Computerworld:

"When asked specifically if "there are companies using Linux and open-source software, which have signed FAT patent cross-licensing agreements, such as the ones, which TomTom has refused to agree to?" Gutierrez replied, "Yes, other companies have signed FAT patent licenses, both in the context of patent cross licensing agreements and other licensing arrangements."

Microsoft in earlier statements has insisted the case is not about Linux and Gutierrez denied this was the first step in a series of suits over a claimed 235 cases of Microsoft patents being violated by free and open-source software. It's worth noting that Gutierrez was one of the Microsoft legal eagles who claimed in 2007 that free and open-source software infringes those 200-plus patents. TomTom US has refused to comment on the case.

Contrary to what Microsoft may state about this not being about Linux, tying up companies that use Linux and open source in patent licensing agreements cuts to the very core of one of the things that's kept Linux and open-source alive: free distribution of the kernel and code.

Samba maintainer Jeremy Allison pointed out in a recent blog posting by writer Glyn Moody that companies who sign up to Microsoft's licensing cannot continue to distribute their code under GPLv2.

Section seven of GPLv2 - called the "Liberty or Death" clause - states that you cannot distribute code if outside restrictions have been imposed.

"What people are missing about this is the either/or choice that Microsoft is giving TomTom," Alison posted.

"It isn't a case of cross-license and everything is ok. If TomTom or any other company cross licenses patents then by section 7 of GPLv2 (for the Linux kernel). they lose the rights to redistribute the kernel *at all*."

In other words, Microsoft is eroding Linux and open source and slowing their development. A deal with Microsoft prevents GPL'd code from returning to the ecosystem whence it came, with any improvements or updates, as companies that do patent licensing deals with Microsoft must keep it in-house.

This is particularly damaging for Linux, given consumer electronics companies such as those Microsoft is tying up are making heavy use of Linux in devices from in-car systems to TVs and DVD players and could potentially return their improvements to the kernel to the market.

One reason these companies have turned to Linux and open source rather than use Windows is because of the simple expense of licensing Windows, and the fact the code is not open so they cannot make changes needed to run gadgets and devices.

"Make no mistake, this is intended to force TomTom to violate the GPL, or change to Microsoft embedded software," Allison wrote. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
UNIX greybeards threaten Debian fork over systemd plan
'Veteran Unix Admins' fear desktop emphasis is betraying open source
Netscape Navigator - the browser that started it all - turns 20
It was 20 years ago today, Marc Andreeesen taught the band to play
Redmond top man Satya Nadella: 'Microsoft LOVES Linux'
Open-source 'love' fairly runneth over at cloud event
Chrome 38's new HTML tag support makes fatties FIT and SKINNIER
First browser to protect networks' bandwith using official spec
Admins! Never mind POODLE, there're NEW OpenSSL bugs to splat
Four new patches for open-source crypto libraries
Torvalds CONFESSES: 'I'm pretty good at alienating devs'
Admits to 'a metric ****load' of mistakes during work with Linux collaborators
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.