Silver Lining in Microsoft/TomTom Settlement: TomTom Didn't Stand Alone

by Ostatic Staff - Mar. 31, 2009

Jim Zemlin at the Linux Foundation has a good reaction piece up today to the news of TomTom's settlement with Microsoft in their patent fight. We covered TomTom's countersuit against Microsoft, and the fundamental issues here. Dana Blankenhorn's take on the settlement was that "it seems pretty clear the company [TomTom] has surrendered," and Paula Rooney at ZDNet characterizing the settlement as David losing to Goliath. Zemlin sees the result of this dispute as evidence that Microsoft's new "openness" is not necessarily so open, but there is a silver lining.

In February, Microsoft filed suit against TomTom, claiming that the portable GPS manufacturer had violated eight of its patents. Three of the patents in question dealt in some manner with TomTom's implementation of the Linux kernel. TomTom then filed a countersuit, which encouraged many people in the Linux community. Yesterday, a settlement was quietly announced, with the few details available summarized here.

Here are some of Zemlin's thoughts:

"Despite Microsoft’s protestations to the contrary, the press release [from Microsoft] makes it clear that the motivation behind this case was the fear, uncertainty and doubt Microsoft hoped the suit would create around the use of Linux...When it counts, it appears that Microsoft still actively seeks to undermine those technologies or standards that are truly open, especially when those technologies pose a significant threat to their business."

I agree with the conclusion that Zemlin forms here, regarding a silver lining, though:

"We read the outcome of this case as a testament to the power of a concerted and well-coordinated effort by the Linux industry and organizations such as the Open Invention Network, the SFLC and the Linux Foundation. This was not merely a typical David vs. Goliath story. This time David aligned itself with the multiple slingshots of the Linux community. Microsoft relented as soon as TomTom showed they were aligned with that community and ready to fight. The system is working."

I have no doubt that absent federated opposition to Microsoft's position in this legal battle, and the substantial amount of attention this case got in the mainstream press and the blogosphere, the case would have become much messier. It was all getting to be bad PR for Microsoft. The Linux Foundation, the Open Invention Network, the Software Freedom Law Center and many other organizations are getting better every day at protecting open standards and the rights of Linux project leaders and commercial companies.

Some feel that TomTom folded "like a house of cards" in this dispute, but it is still notable that prior to the settlement, there was substantial federated opposition to Microsoft's position. There will be many future instances where such federated responses are necessary.