Microsoft files patent case against Linux-based TomTom

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Microsoft files patent case against Linux-based TomTom

Microsoft has filed a patent infringement notice against the Dutch manufacturers of the popular Linux-based TomTom GPS device.

Microsoft filed the action in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington and in the International Trade Commission (ITC) against Netherlands-based TomTom NV and their US subsidiary TomTom Inc. for infringement against several Microsoft patents.

The software giant is seeking an order that bans TomTom from importing and sale of its GPS devices into the United States.

The patent case will be seen by many in the open source community as an indirect assault on the Linux operating system.  

Microsoft has long claimed that Linux infringes on several of its patents and has listed several of these patents in its filing against TomTom.   

"This complaint is based on [the] unlawful and unauthorised importation into the United States... of certain portable navigation computing devices and associated computer software" relating to five patents Microsoft holds in the United States, the company said in its filing with the ITC.

The bulk of the patents Microsoft claims to have been infringed relate to technologies the software giant patented during the development of its MapPoint navigation software and its Microsoft Auto system for in-car communications and entertainment.

These include patents around an 'open platform architecture' for vehicle computing systems (the way in which an operating system controls the electronics within a car); the associated user interface of such a system; its wireless connectivity; and algorithms around generating driving directions.

Beyond these patents, Microsoft's case is based on the way in which TomTom's devices manage files.

It is within these claims of patent infringement that Microsoft might be seen to be making a precedent for patent infringement claims against the Linux community.

These patents specifically relate to the implementation of long and short file names in the same file system and around techniques for managing flash memory in devices such as mp3 players and mobile phones connected to the car system.

"The portable navigation computing devices in question run a version of the Linux Operating System, which is a general purpose operating system capable of supporting a wide variety of software applications," states the Microsoft filing.

"For example, the Linux operating system on the portable navigation computing devices executes a navigation application that uses the GPS data provided by the GPS receiver to generate driving directions."

"The Linux operating system used in the portable navigation computing devices and the software applications supported by the operating system also provides the devices with additional functionality such as file system support for long and short filenames, memory management for flash memory commonly used on such devices, and a platform for integrating and controlling various electronic components used with the portable navigation computing devices, such as other components in the vehicle," Microsoft's filing states.

Horacio Gutierrez, corporate vice president and deputy general counsel of Intellectual Property and Licensing at Microsoft said the software company tried to engage in licensing discussions with TomTom for more than a year.

"We have an established intellectual property licensing program, and the patents involved in this case, relating to innovations in car navigation technology and other computing functionality, have been licensed by many others," he said.

"In situations such as this, when a reasonable business agreement cannot be reached, we have no choice but to pursue legal action to protect our innovations and our partners who license them.

"Other companies that utilise Microsoft patents have licensed and we are asking TomTom to do the same.

"TomTom is a highly respected and important company. We remain open to quickly resolving this situation with them through an IP licensing agreement."

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