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Microsoft wins big on PND patent lawsuit

Mar 30, 2009 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 5 views

Microsoft was the big winner as TomTom settled yesterday over a patent lawsuit regarding its Linux-based personal navigation devices (PNDs), says an eWEEK story. TomTom paid Microsoft to license its claimed patents, while Microsoft licensed four TomTom patents for free, says the eWEEK story.

(Click for larger view of the TomTom Go 940 Live)

Microsoft's late February lawsuit gained considerable attention, as it was the first time Microsoft directly targeted open-source Linux components in a lawsuit. The company listed eight patent violations found in TomTom's Linux-based PNDs, three involving the device's use of the FAT filesystem. In yesterday's five-year settlement deal, TomTom also agreed to remove some file management capabilities from its products within two years, writes Joe Wilcox in “Microsoft Bangs TomTom to Submission.”

Like the other leading consumer PND manufacturer, Garmin, TomTom uses embedded Linux in its navigation devices, including the latest Go 940 Live model shown above. The devices incorporate a mix of proprietary and open source technologies.

Microsoft has previously sued companies that have made heavy use of embedded Linux. However, the previous suits targeted proprietary components running atop Linux. By contrast, three of the eight TomTom counts specifically cover open-source Linux technology.

Two of the Linux-related patents cover long filenames (Joliet extensions), while the other applies to a flash file system management algorithm. Microsoft appeared to be alleging that the GPL-protected Linux VFAT filesystem borrows too heavily from Windows technology for handling long filenames. This battle over FAT has been an ongoing concern of Microsoft's. (For more on the original lawsuit, the targeted FAT technology, and background on previous Microsoft patent battles, see our previous in-depth coverage, here.)

Microsoft vs. Linux heats up

The settlement is a huge victory for Microsoft, writes Wilcox, pointing out that Redmond was wary of getting involved in a costly legal battle. In particular, the company did not want to further antagonize a European Union court that might not take kindly to Microsoft picking on a weakened Netherlands-based TomTom. “The EU's Competition Commission has two open Microsoft antitrust investigations, one of which is close to conclusion,” writes Wilcox. He added, however, that financially struggling TomTom was even less capable of fighting in court. “TomTom couldn't afford a protracted legal battle, particularly during a global recession,” he wrote.

The settlement will likely result in even more anger among Linux developers, says the story. This is especially so since many legal scholars in the open-source community confidently predicted that Microsoft's Linux patent claims regarding FAT would not hold up in court. Now, we may never find out, as Microsoft may be reticent to sue a company with more resources to take on Microsoft. TomTom's quick cave-in “adds some legitimacy to the patent claims,” writes Wilcox, and “ends a dispute regarding the widely used FAT. The file system is intellectual property for which Microsoft expects to be paid.”

The story concludes that the bad blood the settlement might engender among the open source and embedded development communities is overshadowed by the huge sums Microsoft might earn through IP licensing and lawsuits. Meanwhile, Linuxers who like to motivate themselves by hating Microsoft have more reason than ever to lash back. “For all the talk about interoperability, Microsoft still treats Linux as the enemy,” adds Wilcox.


Joe Wilcox's story on the TomTom settlement, in our sister publication eWEEK, may be found here.

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