News reports today indicate that Microsoft and GPS manufacturer, TomTom have settled a patent dispute the two had been battling in court.
A few years back, Microsoft claimed that Linux violated 235 of its patents, something that has caused considerable stress in the open source community ever since. While Microsoft had yet to make significant movement on the claim, there has always been an underlying concern that the Redmond giant would go on a legal rampage based on the alleged infringements. In February, Microsoft filed a patent infringement lawsuit against TomTom, claiming the company’s products infringe on patents related to Microsoft's FAT32 file system. Five of the patents in dispute related to in-car navigation technologies, while the other three involve file-management techniques.
Despite the fact that TomTom rejected the claims and vowed to “vigorously defend itself," the two companies this week announced that they had settled their dispute. TomTom paid an undisclosed amount to Microsoft and is letting MS license four of its navigation patents for free. The Associated Press reports that TomTom has also agreed to remove certain functionality from its PNDs within two years.
While the speed of this suit, from start to finish, is refreshing when you consider other suits in the tech industry have been going on for nearly an age, it seems a little too close for comfort. The fact that TomTom went from defending itself vigorously to slinking away, all tails between legs, suggests that Microsoft may actually have had a case. Not good news for the open source community.
When last month’s suit was filed and Microsoft Deputy General of Intellectual Property and Licensing, Horacio Gutierrez was asked if this was the start of a broader legal campaign over the alleged Linux violations, Gutierrez said it was not. Nothing to do but bide out time and see how this one turns out.