"They Started It!" -- TomTom Countersues Microsoft

by Ostatic Staff - Mar. 20, 2009

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.

While Microsoft's Horacio Gutierrez stated the lawsuit is between TomTom and Microsoft, and not an attack on the Linux kernel as whole, many in the open source world are wary. The Linux Foundation's Executive Director, Jim Zemlin, has said that it would be prudent to keep an eye on the situation, but there was no reason to get overly excited, yet.

TomTom has made the next move, lending some credence to the Gutierrez's "it's just between the two of us" claims. On Monday, TomTom filed a countersuit in the US Court District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. TomTom alleges that Microsoft violated its intellectual property (though sources vary on the number of patents involved) in its Streets and Trips products.

What does this mean for the Linux community? I'd have to say, at this point, Jim Zemlin's watchful waiting remains the wisest course of action. TomTom's move this week leads me to believe that Microsoft's original lawsuit is simply the product of a deal gone bad. TomTom has declined to tell the media whether Microsoft approached the company about a possible acquisition, but it certainly feels as though Microsoft is retaliating over some kind of spurned offer. The patents dealing with TomTom's Linux implementation could very well be entirely incidental.

The fact that TomTom is fighting back (and the way it is doing so) is encouraging. There are likely many months (or even years) of reading between the lines ahead before the public knows exactly what transpired, what prompted Microsoft to file the patent claims against TomTom at that particular point in time. TomTom's response seems to indicate it really is a disagreement between the two companies. Its refusal to quietly settle will, eventually, show what the intentions behind the original lawsuit were.