The Microsoft-TomTom patent case is proof that Microsoft's patent-licensing policies are untenable for open-source software vendors.
That's the conclusion my ZDNet blogging colleague Jason Perlow came to in his must-read post this week on theTomTom case.
Perlow and a growing number of other bloggers and reporters have looked more deeply into the particulars of the eight Microsoft patents upon which Redmond claimed last week (via two lawsuits) TomTom's GPS system infringes. Three of those patents involve Linux and FAT, the file-allocation table technology for which Microsoft holds a patent.
Lots of different consumer-electronics vendors have incorporated FAT into the operating systems that power their devices and SD cards. Microsoft has managed to get a handful of them -- including other GPS-system makers Alpine, Kenwood and Pioneer -- to sign (and pay for) FAT patent licenses. But TomTom has declined so far to follow suit.
Perlow surfaced a blog comment by open-source champion and Samba principal Jeremy Allison in which Allison noted the damned if they do/damned if they don't choice that companies like TomTom are facing:
"It isn’t a case of cross-license and everything is ok. If Tom Tom 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*.
"Microsoft has been going around and doing these patent cross licensing deals with companies under NDA’s so they never come to light for *years*."
Indeed, Microsoft and its patent cross-licensing partners -- of which there are hundreds of companies of all sizes and in both consumer and business segments -- seldom call out which patents are involved, the dollar-size or particulars of those deals. But it's looking more and more like the open sourcers are right and TomTom is the canary in the Linux-patent coal mine.
What's your prediction as to what will happen next in the Microsoft-TomTom case?