Microsoft's lawsuit against Linux-based technology vendor TomTom over alleged patent violations could signal a more aggressive stance by the software giant over intellectual property issues -- or it could be just an isolated case involving a dispute with one vendor.
The Linux Foundation is monitoring the situation, and an intellectual property attorney suggested the case might crimp open source usage. A TomTom representative said the company rejected Microsoft's claims and will vigorously defend itself.
[ In 2007, Microsoft demanded royalties from open source software companies | Microsoft could be taking a closer look at open source because Linux is the primary competition against Microsoft's Windows Server OS. ]
Microsoft has a filed a lawsuit against TomTom, a maker of automobile-based navigation systems, saying the company had violated eight Microsoft patents. TomTom's devices run a version of the Linux OS. Microsoft charges that TomTom's Linux implementation violates three of its patents.
Microsoft has sought to negotiate a licensing of its technology for a fee from TomTom but has been unable to reach an agreement, said Horacio Gutierrez, Microsoft's corporate vice president of intellectual property. Citing other intellectual property licensing agreements, such as a controversial one with Novell in 2006, Gutierrez said the company wants to license its intellectual property on reasonable terms. But some cases will arise when a "pragmatic business solution is not attainable. In those cases, we will have no choice but to pursue litigation," he said.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, follows what Gutierrez described as a good faith effort that went on for more than a year to resolve the matter. "Frankly, our hope is to be able to resolve this through a licensing agreement that makes sense for both companies," he said.
"Microsoft respects and appreciates the important role that open source software plays in our industry, and we respect and appreciate the passion and the great contributions that open source developers make in our industry," Gutierrez said. "This approach and respect is not inconsistent with our respect for intellectual property rights."
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.