Friday, May 1, 2009

Open Source Group Challenges Microsoft Patents

The Open Invention Network, an industry organization that protects Linux by acquiring and licensing open-source patents, is taking Microsoft to task over three patents related to its now-settled lawsuit against in car GPS device maker TomTom.

Microsoft sued TomTom in February for allegedly infringing on eight of its patents, three of which pertained to TomTom's implementation of the Linux kernel. At the time, Microsoft officials said the suit wasn't the start of a patent enforcement campaign against Linux, but didn't rule out further lawsuits.

OIN this week posted details on the three patents -- U.S. patents 5579517, 5758352 and 6256642 -- to a section of its Linux Defenders website in an attempt to get community members searching for prior art that could prevent Microsoft from wielding them in future lawsuits.

Microsoft has been known to get defendants to sign non-disclosure agreements and then coerce them into settlements. Since Microsoft refuses to offer specifics on which of its patents Linux specifically violates, industry experts have speculated that the software giant's claims might not hold up in court.

TomTom ended up paying Microsoft an unspecified amount for coverage related to the patents. As has been the case with past Microsoft lawsuit targets, TomTom decided to pay up rather than fight a lengthly legal battle.

Not surprisingly, Microsoft has a different view of what transpired. Microsoft says it has only used legal means to enforce its patents on two other occasions: In an August 2006 suit against Belkin, and in a July 2008 suit against Taiwan-based Primax Electronics.

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