TomTom fights Microsoft to protect GPL?

In a special IT Blogwatch Extra, Richi Jennings watches the growing disquiet over Microsoft's TomTom patent lawsuit. Not to mention what Darth Vader finds disturbing...

Previously in IT Blogwatch: Microsoft "recalculating route" of Linux patents

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols digs in for a fight:

TomTom logo
Microsoft is suing TomTom in part because the guys from Redmond claim that TomTom's use of Linux in its navigation devices has violated three of its file-system related patents. One reason why Microsoft feels it can do this is that it already has patent cross-licensing agreements covering these patents with other Linux-using companies.

I dug this up during an e-mail discussion with Horacio Gutierrez, Microsoft's [bigwig] of intellectual property and licensing ... Why haven't you heard of this before? It's because Microsoft and the companies that have put these licenses under NDA ... there are at least 18 FAT LFN [File Allocation Table/Long File Name] licensees, we still don't know which companies have signed such deals.


[But] any company doing a patent cross license without covering its downstream recipients, i.e. users, is a direct violation of [the GPL] ... Microsoft has essentially been giving companies a choice: pay us under the covers, and violate the GPL, or don't pay and risk a lawsuit.

Jeremy Allison agrees, channeled by Glyn Moody:

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


TomTom are the first company to publicly refuse to engage in this ugly little protection racket, and so they got sued.

Jason Perlow sees a parallel with Unisys and GIF:

All of these ... back-door, secret cross-licensing agreements ... have occurred without the knowledge of the Free Software Foundation (FSF) which originates the GPL2 license. Although such a scenario has never been tested, were the FSF to become aware of such a secret agreement, they would immediately prohibit the vendor from using the Linux kernel in any of their products.


Good for TomTom for not violating the GPL2, but now that this has all become public, if TomTom is forced into licensing the FAT32 patents as a result of Microsoft’s legal action, it could forfeit the use of Linux in their products in the future. Which may be exactly what Microsoft wants, as it covets entry into the automotive technology industry.

MarkvW pontificates on collateral estoppel and issue preclusion:

If Microsoft wins, it sucks for Tom Tom and it creates FUD. That's bad, but not too bad. Microsoft still has to sue everybody violating its software patent. But if Microsoft loses because the Court rejects the concept of software patents a'la Bilski, then Microsoft is royally screwed because if it sues anybody else over a software patent, that defendant can argue that Microsoft can't argue software patents anymore because they already fully fairly and finally litigated the issue against Tom Tom and they lost.


You can see why this is HUGE for Microsoft ... Tom Tom is really vulnerable because the GPS market is slammed in this economy. I suspect that Microsoft is betting that they'll give up. The Linux community ought to prop up Tom Tom with legal and technical support--at least on the software patent theory. Microsoft's invasion should be defended at the beaches. They should be thrown back into the sea before they create more FUD!

Meanwhile, this Anonymous Coward accuses, albeit with references:

Companies like Microsoft have a history of stealing BSD code, making minor changes, and then patenting their implementation.

This is why Ted Tso' said he would use the GPL for Kerberos instead of the BSD license if he had it to do over again.

Pamela Jones waves her cluestick:

Here's the problem with taking Microsoft money, whether for conferences or for employment or in patent peace deals: once you do it, you have to justify it. Worse, it blunts what you used to know as clear as a bell, namely that Microsoft is what it is.


It's so sad to watch, but that is not at all the final chapter ... After you take the money and dance around to try to justify it, you end up road kill by the side of the road, because Microsoft was never your friend.

And finally...

Previously in IT Blogwatch:

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Richi Jennings is an independent analyst/adviser/consultant, specializing in blogging, email, and spam. A 23 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. You can follow him on Twitter, pretend to be Richi's friend on Facebook, or just use boring old email:

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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