More on the Microsoft vs. TomTom Suit

As discussed here, there’s been a settlement in the Microsoft vs. TomTom patent suit. Here’s the story. TomTom fought back against Microsoft by joining the Open Invention Network, “an intellectual property company formed to promote Linux by using patents to create a collaborative ecosystem,” and filing a countersuit against Microsoft. OIN includes companies such as Sony, RedHat, Novell, and IBM. With the support of OIN and the Software Freedom Law Center, TomTom argued that MS had violated four of its patentss. In a settlement with MS, TomTom paid MS some money and agreed to remove two functions from its product over the next two years. So ends this particular skirmish. But according to a statement by the SFLC, the battle will continue:

Today’s settlement between Microsoft and TomTom ends one phase of the community’s response to Microsoft patent aggression, and begins another. On the basis of the information we have, we have no reason to believe that TomTom’s settlement agreement with Microsoft violates the license on the kernel, Linux, or any other free software used in its products. The settlement neither implies that Microsoft patents are valid nor that TomTom’s products were or are infringing.

The FAT filesystem patents on which Microsoft sued are now and have always been invalid patents in our professional opinion. SFLC remains committed to protecting the interests of our clients and the community. We will act forcefully to protect all users and developers of free software against further intimidation or interference from these patents.

SFLC, working with the Open Invention Network and the Linux Foundation, is pleased to participate in a coordinated, carefully graduated response on behalf of all the community’s members to ongoing anti-competitive Microsoft conduct. We believe in strength through unity, and we think our community’s unity in the face of these threats has helped to bring about Microsoft’s quick settlement on all issues with TomTom.

Microsoft acknowledged that there are numerous simple technical alternatives to the FAT files ystem software in question. And Jim Zemlin, Executive Director of the Linux Foundation, said that maybe it’s time to remove FAT from Linux systems.

Bruce Peren’s take on the settlement puts a pox on all houses (Microsoft, TomTom, OIN):

There’s nothing in the press release about the settlement to contradict the notion that TomTom might have settled for one dollar. The terms of settlements are generally sealed by the court, with penalties for disclosure. Sometimes we can find out about them in later financial filings of the companies involved, but this isn’t always the case. What Microsoft really wants from TomTom isn’t money, it’s support in building fear about Linux in other companies, especially the makers of mobile and wireless devices just like TomTom’s own product. Microsoft wants you to believe you need a Microsoft license to deploy Open Source software. This settlement is likely to deter some of those companies from using Linux at all

The only solution, according to Perens, is to abolish software patents.

All open source parties seem to agree that this latest episode once again shows that MS’s new found commitment to more openness should be greeted with a healthy dose of skepticism.

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