Microsoft sues Linux-based TomTom over patents

The legal action against TomTom could signal a more aggressive stance regarding open source by the software giant

This particular case relates to TomTom's specific implementation of the Linux kernel, said Gutierrez. Asked if the lawsuit would signal other similar litigation to follow, he responded, "We can't speculate about that. We have a strong track record of licensing, which evidences our commitment to that approach and that will continue to be the focus of efforts going forward."

Microsoft only has filed three patent litigations in its history, and this is the first one involving Linux, Gutierrez said. He stressed that open source "is not the focal point of this action," Rather, the litigation is over patents Microsoft said TomTom is using in proprietary software. TomTom, said Gutierrez, develops products based on a mix of proprietary and open source code.

The Linux Foundation, meanwhile, emphasized a readiness for any claims against Linux.

"The Linux Foundation is working closely with our partner the Open Invention Network and our members, and is well prepared for any claims against Linux," said foundation Executive Director Jim Zemlin in a statement. "We have great confidence in the foundation they have laid. Unfortunately, claims like these are a by-product of our business and legal system today. For now, we are closely watching the situation and will remain ready to mount a Linux's defense, should the need arise."

Zemlin described the case as a private dispute between Microsoft and TomTom. "We do not feel assumptions should be made about the scope or facts of this case and its inclusion, if any, of Linux related technology," he said.

"It is our sincere hope that Microsoft will realize that cases like these only burden the software industry and do not serve their customers' best interests. Instead of litigating, we believe customers prefer software companies to focus on building innovative products," said Zemlin.

Recently, Microsoft has made overtures to the open source community, such as becoming a sponsor of the Apache Software Foundation and offering its Web Sandbox project for securing Web content via open source. But in the past, the company has irked open source proponents by claiming that open source technologies, including some in Linux, violate 235 Microsoft patents.

Microsoft's move against TomTom could put a damper on commercial use of open source software, an IP attorney said. "I think it certainly has the potential to do so, and whether that has any long-lasting effect is another question," said Jason Haislmaier, of Holme Roberts & Owen.

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Paul Krill

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