New Microsoft patent-infringement case involves Linux

New Microsoft patent-infringement case involves Linux

Summary: Microsoft has filed a patent infringement case against a GPS-navigation system company. What makes the case interesting is its Linux connection.


Microsoft has filed a patent infringement case against a GPS-navigation system company. What makes the case interesting is its Linux connection.

MIcrosoft filed the action on February 25 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, as well as with the International Trade Commission, according to the company. It names TomTom NV and TomTom Inc. for infringing on Microsoft patents. According to Microsoft's statement, "We have taken this action after attempting for more than a year to engage in licensing discussions with TomTom."

On TechFlash, blogger Todd Bishop is reporting that Linux figures into Microsoft's patent case. Microsoft is suing over eight patents, "including three that relate to TomTom's implementation of the Linux kernel."

From Bishop's post:

"It's believed to be the first time Microsoft has filed a patent suit over Linux, after claiming for years that elements of the open-source operating system violate its patents. However, Microsoft says open-source software is not the intended focal point of the action. Five of the alleged patent violations relate to proprietary software."

Microsoft's statement on the case quotes Horacio Gutierrez, corporate vice president and deputy general counsel of Intellectual Property and Licensing. Gutierrez is the Microsoft official who set off a renewed war between Microsoft and many in the open source community when he claimed a couple of yeas ago that free software and open source violated 235 of Microsoft's patents.

Microsoft provided me with the same statement they gave Bishop when I asked about the open source connection in the new infringement case. A spokesperson said:

"(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."

Focal point or not, the case should be an interesting one for anyone interested in the Microsoft saber-rattling over Linux patents....

Update: Bishop has copies of the two complaints (the one filed in Washington state and the one with the ITC). Neither complaint includes the word "Linux," but they do itemize what is in the patents upon which Microsoft claims TomTom is infringing.

Topics: Operating Systems, Legal, Linux, Microsoft, Open Source, Software


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • You point out the linux part but then leave out any usefull info.

    more info please.

    BTW: linux can be customized, so the linux part could just be a customized set of code that uses the kernel.
    • more info

      That's all we have so far. TomTom is declining to comment and Microsoft also is unwilling to say more. If/when there's more info, I'll update the post. MJ
      Mary Jo Foley
      • Hmmm

        So this is news about no news as you don't have complete information to really report anything. Interesting.
      • Death to Microsoft.

        It's long overdue and the WHOLE WORLD needs something to party about right now.
        • Hate to spoil the party....

          but hate them or not... MS plays an important roll in the IT ecosystem.

          Not to mention the people that work there, and the fact that unemplyment is already skyrocketing.

          But on a cheeful note, our new treasury department is well versed in dodging taxes and doctoring books... maybe they can pull an Enron long enough to get us back on our feet.
        • Somehow the world will mange to spit them out

          but not without suffering a lot with them kicking and screaming while being pushed.
          InAction Man
  • Must be April First

    We have it on excellent authority (notably the NBM camp here on ZD Talkback) that Microsoft would never, ever, ever be stupid enough to sue Linux users.
    Yagotta B. Kidding
    • As I recall the NBM camp also claims MS would never use patents for evil.

      Hmm, going after a GPS manufacturer because that mfr. decided against MS software seems rather evil. And did you see what MS patented? Since when have they been in open source OR GPS hardware?

      Guess Garmin and Magellan are next?

      Microsoft - we lie, cheat and steal so you don't have to!


      Patent '789 discloses and claims a vehicle computer system with an open computing platform capable of integrating and controlling various electronic components in the vehicle.

      Patent '745 dislocses and claims methods for generating clear and concise driving directions for use by, for example, navigation systems
      No More Microsoft Software Ever!
      • "745 - methods for generating clear and concise driving directions"


        Now what? will they sue the map makers too?

        It's just too absurd...
  • The Linux connection.

    The Linux connection is TomTom's implementation of the Linux file system. Which one? And is it the Linux part that Microsoft says it owns or is it TomTom's implementation that has Microsoft's undies in a bunch?

    This is going to get very interesting.
    • Nothing to do with linux, just the VFAT one MS hit every USB flash mfg with

      To label this as anything to do with linux filesystems is a misrepresentation.
      • Still, the VFAT implementation is part of the kernel, GPL code.

        • But it doesn't have to be used

          Lessons here for companies using MS technologies for interoperability,
          clearly not for technical merit (better alternatives in the kernel available).

          The file-system patents are trivial at best, indicative of the money MS
          spends and the state of the US patent system.

          Mono users should be concerned.
          Richard Flude
          • True, but, they want to use VFAT so that they can read/write usb sticks

            that Windows users insert. Really, there are a lot better file systems than VFAT, but, they use it to help Microsoft customers. Microsoft should be thankful that we put up with their junk file system to help THEIR customers!!!

            I would hope that they are not using VFAT for anything other than external storage like SD cards and USB stick.

            I personally use VFAT on my USB stick so I can transfer files to Windows users. They should sue me too!!!!

            But, we should come up with a better file system for SD cards and USB sticks, and then make a Windows driver for it. Of course the problem is that MS would refuse to support it, and customers would have to download a driver and that would cause problems.
          • All that will happen is that VFAT will be removed from US distros

            just like the exporting munitions rubbish around encryption.
            US Users will be able to download a .deb or .rpm from EU/RoW to fix this.
            And in the end, Microsoft gains nothing, while looking like the worst form of pariah.
  • there is no linux connection, this is FUD. the brief reveals a poor case

    Microsoft's claims are basically:
    1. A PDA with icons
    2. a car computer.
    3. a car computer with a wireless connection.
    4. a program that gives you directions.
    5. The VFAT file system
    6. VFAT file system use on a Flash drive.

    This is unbelievably poor. It shows that
    (1) microsoft have no ideas worth a damn
    (2) the patent system in America is fundamentally broken.

    The filing also points out the "fact" that microsoft has a long history of innovation (without giving any examples - the above aren't).
    And of course it doesn't fail to point out that the corporation they are attacking (despite having a US presence) are in fact from Europe, whereas they employ 20,000 people in Seattle.

    Cheap nasty, just shows microsoft hasn't learnt, hasn't moved on.
    • i concur with the patent system and

      the european/american presence.

      How if i patent the wheel? Everybody in the world would owe me a lot of money big time!

      The American patent system has the credibility of a homeless drunk going for a mortgage in a 5 million dollar+ range at any bank.
  • Good luck Linux distro's now rule

    Routers/Switches/Spam-Firewall devices use some form of a Linux distro.

    Windows or MS days of Data Center chicanery are over, only thing they can do now is sue.

    Pretty pathetic...
    • I know it's pretty pathetic.

      The NBM crowd here on ZDNET were stating just recently that Opera
      should just try to get by on it's own merit, instead of crying foul to the
      EU courts. Doesn't that sound familiar Microsoft? To the NBM crowd
      doesn't that sound familiar? Now stop crying and start innovating
      Redmond. I forgot Microsoft had their Xerox copiers on all day, I
      wonder what they were looking at? I wonder how much they have
      learned? If anything it's no good to them because Intertwine Exploder
      does not use WebKit. Then again Microsoft is probably going to try to
      emulate Webkit, thus slowing down Intertwine Exploder, they are
      going to try and steal some more code again. Intertwine Exploder will
      probably need a high system requirement. I wonder how much more
      Microsoft & PC makers will charge for all this innovation. Nothing new
      here, move along folks, just move along,,,

      "In a world without walls & fences, who needs windows and gates."
  • RE: New Microsoft patent-infringement case involves Linux

    I don't see what the story is here. Microsoft said they are not suing because of linux, no linux distros are involved, all the weight is on how TomTom is doing things. Don't get me wrong, I'd love to see Microsoft sue linux out of existence, but this blog entry makes it look like MS is suing because of linux when that simply is not the case. This is another one of those great zdnet quality stories that are turning nothing into something. You know would would really improve this story? Facts!
    Loverock Davidson