Is Microsoft’s suit filed against GPS device maker TomTom the first shot in a larger Linux war? That was the question being asked yesterday after news spread that Microsoft had filed a patent-infringement suit in US District Court for the Western District of Washington against TomTom NV and Tom Tom Inc. The Linux community went into a tizzy in 2007 over Microsoft’s patent tirade, which indicated that open source software violated 235 of the company’s patents. At the time, experts explained that this move by Microsoft could just be some arm twisting to create more Novell-like deals. Yesterday’s announcement reignited some of that concern, but left some scratching their heads after what appeared to be a series of recent moves by Microsoft to work with the open-source community. These include last week’s announcement of a Microsoft interoperability agreement with Red Hat, sans patent pledges.
So what gives? According to Horacio Gutierrez, Microsoft’s corporate vice president deputy general counsel for intellectual property, this case is not about open-source, specifically. In an interview with Todd Bishop at TechFlash, he explained:
… open-source software is not the focal point of this action. The case against TomTom involves infringement of Microsoft patents by TomTom devices that employ both proprietary and open-source, and as I said, out of the eight patents, five of them relate to proprietary software infringement.
Some cool-headed folks within the Linux community also spoke out yesterday, urging others to “calm down.” One of these was the executive director of the Linux Foundation, Jim Zemlin, who posted a blog post that began with just that phrase. Other open-source leaders were leery, as was indicated in a CNET news piece on the suit.
It’s too early to tell, but from what I have seen, all the Linux community can do is watch and learn, and as Zemlin says, “hope for the best, and prepare for the worst.”