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27 February 2009, 13:09

The Linux Foundations opinion on Microsoft versus TomTom

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Linux Foundation Executive Director Jim Zemlin said in his blog yesterday (26th February) that the Microsoft patent infringement suite against TomTom, at least at present, does not appear to be a covert attack on Linux. Microsoft have made assurances that their dispute is solely with TomTom and Zemlin says there is no reason to doubt that is the case, or to suspect a move against the Linux ecosystem.

Microsoft say that TomTom infringe on eight Microsoft held patents. Three of those patents concern methods of organising data filing systems and relate to the FAT system. It's this which may cause some concern among the Linux community because Linux does provide support for the FAT filing system. TomTom use an embedded version of Linux inside their portable SatNav devices.

Zemlin says that if the case does result in a threat to Linux then the Foundation is well prepared to defend Linux and that the "Linux ecosystem has enormously sophisticated resources available" for its defence.

The Linux community is perhaps understandably nervous when a possible threat appears, due to the long standing SCO Group lawsuits. Originally, in 2003, the SCO Group filed suit against IBM, claiming that Linux incorporated large segments of code that was proprietary to SCO UNIX. At one point in the legal battle Microsoft appeared to fund the SCO Group by buying licensing for SCO UNIX and by arranging funding from other sources, it was assumed in the hope of seriously damaging Linux. Fortunately for the future of Linux, things did not go at all well for the SCO Group and it has recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection mainly due to the costs of its anti-Linux legal battles.

As Linux grows in influence and market share it is increasingly likely that it will come under patent related attack. However there is growing concern that many patent suits within the computer industry in general, are either strategic or made by patent trolls, purely for commercial gain and are not genuine patent challenges. It seems there will be legislation and patent law reform to curb such attacks.


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