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Fri, 27 Feb 2009
Microsoft sues TomTom over FAT patents

Finally, it has happened in a public manner: Microsoft sues TomTom over patent violations in the Linux kernel [V]FAT implementation. Sooner or later something like this was bound to happen.

For a number of years, I have heard rumors by various companies producing Large-quantity embedded Linux products that Microsoft is claiming the Linux kernel infringes upon their software patents, and they should sign extensive patent licensing agreements with MS.

The underlying strategy is very obvious: Make those patent licenses high enough to reduce the cost advantage of a Linux based OS over Windows CE and thereby demotivate companies from using Linux in the embedded world.

This has so far happened behind closed doors, but if you google you can find a couple of strange press releases of Asian companies buying into those MS patent deals for Linux.

Now finally, one company, TomTom, has had the guts to stand up against Microsoft and fight their ridiculous claims.

The VFAT patent in question has been invalidated in some jurisdictions, since it has clear prior art: the ISO9660 Rock Ridge Extensions in 1994. Also, in light of the new software patent evaluation rules emanating from the Bilski case in the US, it seems Microsoft has a quite bad stand.

I myself, as well as numerous other people in the Free and Open Source world are asking themselves how this legal action fits into the Microsoft-proclaimed Free Software friendly strategy. As you can see now, that was nothing but vapor.

And MS goes even further. They claim that this lawsuit has no relation whatsoever to Linux, and they're only targeting TomTom's specific implementation of Linux. I have actually reviewed the TomTom kernel sources a number of times during the last couple of years as part of gpl-compliance reviews. I can tell you, there is nothing "TomTom specific" in their FAT FS code. It is the plain fat/msdos/vfat file system like in every kernel.org kernel.

I seriously hope that TomTom will keep up their spirit and be strong enough to fight this attack by Microsoft. We need to see more companies who stand up like TomTom.

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