Linux group seeks to discredit Microsoft patents in TomTom case

Open Innovation Network asks users to submit prior art that could invalidate patents

A Linux group is hoping to discredit three Microsoft Corp. patents that were at the heart of the software vendor's recent lawsuit against GPS device maker TomTom NV.

The Open Innovation Network is asking people to examine three patents and submit any so-called "prior art" that might call into question the validity of the patents. Prior art is information that describes similar technology and was published before the patent was issued.

The patents were at the heart of a lawsuit Microsoft filed against Amsterdam-based TomTom. As part of a settlement, TomTom agreed to pay Microsoft to license the patents for technologies in its car navigation and file management system.

The settlement worried the Linux community because the patents involve technologies found in the Linux operating system that TomTom uses in its portable devices. While Microsoft has recently seemed to ease up on its threats against Linux, it has in the past claimed that Linux violates hundreds of its patents. The TomTom dispute raised fears that Microsoft might pursue other companies using similar technology or start more aggressive action against other Linux users.

At the time it filed the suit against TomTom, Microsoft said open-source technology wasn't the focal point of its complaint. The case was about TomTom's specific implementation of the Linux kernel, Microsoft said.

Microsoft today issued a statement saying that it believes the patents are strong enough to withstand scrutiny. Two have both been affirmed twice by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and have been licensed to 18 other companies, Horacio Gutierrez, the software vendor's deputy general counsel, said as part of the statement. All three "have been validated through licensing agreements and highly scrutinized for validity by patent offices," he added.

The Open Innovation Network has posted the patents relevant to the TomTom case online and has invited anyone to submit information about the patents on its Web site.

TomTom declined to comment on the Open Innovation Network's campaign.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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