Open source patent law panhandling

Open source patent law panhandling

Summary: TomTom lacks the financial resources to defend itself. Stand-alone GPS systems aren't that great a business, the real potential here being GPS as a technology platform, enabling other functions. All of which means that, if the SFLC chooses to make a fight of this they have to do more than hire a lawyer. They have to come up with the cash to do this case pro bono.

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The Software Freedom Law Center is moving closer to joining the defense of TomTom, having posted a want ad for a patent attorney at its blog yesterday. (Picture from Atlanta Progressive News.)

At the same time skepticism is growing over whether this is the right legal fight for open source, with Matt Asay all but accusing TomTom of high tech panhandling.

Microsoft fanboy Rob Enderle also taunts Linux on his ITBusiness Edge blog, calling it the tech equivalent of Rush Limbaugh.

"Linux has always seemed strongest when being attacked by Microsoft, and it clearly is missing that strength this year," he writes. Interest in Linux "seems to be waning" and a good court fight is thus needed to stir up the juices.

Enderle is right on one point. This argument is over navigation technology, not Linux itself. But its success could do in the auto market what DRM did in the content market, effectively lock Linux out of growth through a legal monopoly Linux cannot break.

Come to think of it Enderle is actually right on a second point as well.

TomTom lacks the financial resources to defend itself. Stand-alone GPS systems aren't that great a business, the real potential here being GPS as a technology platform, enabling other functions.

All of which means that, if the SFLC chooses to make a fight of this they have to do more than hire a lawyer. They have to come up with the cash to do this case pro bono.

Topics: Linux, Hardware, Mobility, Open Source, Operating Systems, Software

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16 comments
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  • then someone should help then

    IBM should step up and provide aid just the step up to MS ..

    you Wanna war punk ill give you one and push it until the case is done prove it one and for all .... prepare the way for MS anti-trust
    Quebec-french
    • Good idea

      IBM has the largest patent portfolio of any company anywhere. Chances are, if you're a software or hardware company, you're infinging on one or more IBM patents.

      Thankfully, big blue had the common sense a long time ago to decide that enforcing their patents was bad for business and bad for innovation. Enforcemnt of their patents has generally been avoided for the aforementioned reasons unless someone challenged them with a lawsuit (i.e IBM vs SCO Unix).

      Since IBM is such a strong supporter of Open Source it would be nice to see them step up to the plate and counter sue M$ on TomTom's behalf. IBM certainly can play that game if they want to and they are capable of putting M$ in it's place.
      putty.master
    • First things first ...

      Most, if not all, of these patents being used against TomTom can be invalidated in court. That would be the best medicine for Microsoft. IF that doesn't happen, perhaps it will be time for a patent war.
      George Mitchell
  • Microsoft is betting the farm on this case ...

    and they are very likely to lose the farm or at least a good part of it. I am not referring to their Windows franchise, I am referring to their "precious" IP portfolio.

    It is no secret that Microsoft was a prime mover behind the SCO attack that ended up being a fiasco. I remember Enderle predicting back then that SCO was going to bring down Linux and salivating over the prospect. But the combined effort of all of Microsoft's competitors and an army of energized open source zealots overwhelmed SCO and left them a smoking pile of dung in a bankruptcy court.

    Microsoft's IP collection is a formidable stick that it uses to bludgeon its competitors into submission. But it is largely untested in court. Now that appears about to change. Microsoft groupies like to brag that just one enforceable patent can bring down a competitor and bring Linux to ruin. I would point out that if MS ends up with even two enforceable patents out of the ones they are using against TomTom, they will have suffered grievously because competitors locked out of whole markets out of fear of those patents will move aggressively. The risks in this case of unintended consequences are every bit as real as in the SCO case. But this time MS won't be able to write it off to legal incompetence on the part of SCO. This time, the pile of stinking dung won't be on their doorstep, it will be in their parlor. So Enderle and his pals had better enjoy this now. It could, and probably will, turn ugly for them before its over.
    George Mitchell
  • M$ does not get it!

    Legal scolars have already told us that the patent theory can not be applied to Linux and OSS because it is free and public domain.
    What M$ hopes, is to find some ignorant judge, who doesn't know much about patents, tech and OSS and issue a bad sentence that favours M$.
    Any intelligent judge will throw away this baseless frivolous lawsuit.
    Linux Geek
    • They're looking for the same judge

      that declared Microsoft a monopoly. This is how it should have played out:

      Intelligent Judge: "Could you have at any point bought a Mac or downloaded a free unix distro to run on your PC?"

      Anti-Microsoft Hack Attorney: "Yes"

      Intelligent Judge: "Then there was no monopoly. Fuck off and die you worthless piece of worm ridden filth."

      If there is Karma, Microsoft will find a moron judge, and you nutjobs will be on the receiving end of this stupidity.
      jackbond
    • Legal Scholars my....

      ... @rse. Court is where lawsuits are settled not schools. Microsoft has passed the first hurdle in that the patent office issued the patents. More over, this is Microsoft going after TomTom not Linux. TomTom sells there products. They don't give them away for free.
      ShadeTree
      • Patents can be ruled invalid.

        The fact that the patents were issued prior to Bilski does not mean that they are valid now.
        Letophoro
      • Not going after Linux???

        ...when part of the claim is over the FAT portion of Linux that apparently TomTom has not modified?

        You can't be serious can you?
        storm14k
  • I believe this case is about setting a precedent.

    This is not a direct attack on Open Source and Linux. No, that would galvanize too many players. It's just enough though to establish a link between Linux and Microsoft's IP. It's the case after this one or possibly the one after that, that will use the previous one/s as stepping stones to the real attack on Linux.

    Tom Tom needs to be supported on this otherwise fending off Microsoft's advances will be much more difficult later on.
    kozmcrae
  • RE: Open source patent law panhandling

    Toyota just signed a deal with TomTom for next-generation, semi-embedded GPS units (specifically adopted for smaller cars). Microsoft saw an opportunity here to inflate its "[b]Brand[/b]" value by demonstrating they had substantial patent portfolio through its action against TOM2. TomTom was a target of convenience. TomTom runs Linux, and Linux is what Microsoft fears most. How do you compete with FREE and come out on top?

    The proverbial experts say 90% of the value of many 'Brand' companies can be attributed to 'Brand' alone, and 10% to tangible assets. Attacking TomTom, with these laughable claims was intended to raise Microsoft's prestige. God knows, Windows 7 was not getting traction. I hear that Windows 7 will be stable, safe and simply super silly and such.

    But Octoshaft underestimated the tenacity of the common nerd { Nemo Fossor }, and the plenitude of prior-art. A certain penguin-person whispered a rumor in my ear. I know rumors are not polite or positive or provable, but they are often plausible.

    Octoshaft wants TomTom to pay royalties, $1 per annum, for the rights to the 'patents', and to sign a 'standard' NDA. Gutsy little TomTom is giving Octoshaft the finger!

    Once the market realized the the octo-bluff, the little octo-bubble burst. Octopus will shortly respond with their own GPS unit. It will be known as Octopus T++, after the Octo-yacht Octopus. It will be powered by Octopus L++, eh?
    pppaulll
    • It works only if someone picks up the legal bill

      From what I understand TomTom can't afford its
      legal defense. Unless someone picks up that
      bill, at least in the near term, their next
      chapter could be 11, unless they knuckle under.
      Yet the Toyota contract would seem to have the
      potential of getting them back on track.
      Hmmmmm.....
      DanaBlankenhorn
      • Yes, no, maybe

        Well, TomTom may just stop doing business in the US, after all they make GPS units for any car - also those in Europe and Asia.
        I don't see them preferring going under than merely having their products forbidden in the US.
        Now, the legal bill for the whole case is one thing; defending against the 3 Linux-affecting patents could be covered by the FSF - they do have a team of patent lawyers available here.

        Now, TomTom may lose the case - as long as the 3 patents that attack Linux aren't counted into it, and validated in court, then the Linux world doesn't care.

        This would suck for other GPS makers, having to pay royalties to Microsoft for ideas like 'onboard navigational computer'. Let's say, a friend of mine used a PC in 1989 to display a crude map on his dashboard! That's prior art, right?
        Mitch 74
  • This is *so* about Linux

    Three (3) out of the eight (8) patents cited or about the Linux implementation of FAT and Long File Name implementation on FAT. These are horribly weak patents (one of the has already been revoked once on grounds of prior art, but Microsoft somehow managed to get that re-established on grounds of "novelty and non-obviousness" (but the Microsoft appeal was not open to outsider participation; smells like fish to me).

    The non-Linux patents are even shakier (Seriously, patenting WiFi-connected computer in an automotive vehicle!?). This case is making SCO's suit against IBM look reasonable.
    bswiss
  • It is all about FUD

    This fight has NO VALUE as a patent fight, because EVERYONE knows that MS will lose and the patent will fall. I see it working on two fronts.

    1. Burn TomTom's money, then buy the shell that is left
    2. FUD Linux while scaring a few people over to MS Mobile

    Now that SCO is all but dead, and useless as a COPYRIGHT FUD machine, time fire up the PATENT FUD!

    Brent R Brian
  • It's about desperation...

    The comments by Jeremy Allison of the SAMBA Project would suggest the intention is to force TomTom off embedded Linux by putting them into a no-win situation re: the GPL. Given the resounding thud of Vista, the lack of enthusiasm about Win 7, the surge in Mac market share, and the uptake in netbooks and smartphones running non-Windows code, I suppose they're trying to get their foot in the door wherever they can, even when their own dev partners are publicly skewering Ballmer about WinMobile (http://www.techflash.com/Ballmer_Microsoft_needs_to_make_faster_Windows_Mobile_advances.html)
    rkhalloran