Microsoft goes after TomTom -- and Linux

The Linux community has a message to Microsoft: Back off

But if Microsoft wants to push the matter, "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," he said. "For now, we are closely watching the situation and will remain ready to mount a Linux defense, should the need arise."

Jay Lyman, an analyst at The 451 Group, thinks that the lawsuit isn't really about open source. "I think it's interesting that Microsoft is going out of its way to say that this is not aimed at open source," he said. "It also stressed that it is 'TomTom's implementation of the Linux kernel' that's the focus of the infringement suit. Think back to when Microsoft announced its agreement with Novell and there were subtle indications about the value of IP protection from Microsoft for Linux users. That has largely died down and now the company is going to great lengths to minimize the focus or even mention of Linux and open source, not only in its response to me and others, but in its press release and court filings."

So what is Microsoft up to then? "I've been hearing about vigorous competition in both the automotive IT and GPS spaces, so perhaps this has more to do with staking out some ground there, as well as continuing the company's IP licensing strategy and business."

Said Updegrove: "The only reason to maybe have some concern is Linux-based netbooks and mobile devices -- that is a real concern to Microsoft, especially after their last quarter's numbers. That could be a reason why they might want to fire a load of FUD across the bows of the marketplace, particularly since many of the device makers are smaller companies that presumably don't have the kinds of in-place cross licenses that a Dell or HP would have in place with them."

Stephen O'Grady, a RedMonk analyst, is more cautious. He doesn't think "this is the long-awaited patent offensive against Linux that it's being made out to be in some quarters. That said, I strongly suspect that the circumstances around the litigation are anything but accidental. ... Microsoft understands well that it is walking a fine line between compelling respect for its patent portfolio and triggering a massive legal battle."

Gutierrez insists that the case is just about TomTom. "Our intention is to enter an [intellectual property] licensing agreement with TomTom. As we have said before, we are committed to licensing our IP on reasonable terms. But in the most exceptional cases, when a pragmatic business solution is not attainable, we will pursue litigation to protect both our innovations and the partner companies who license these innovations from us."

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