TomTom Realizes Microsoft's Pointy Patent Stick Is Too Sharp... Settles Patent Dispute

from the cheaper-to-settle-than-fight dept

Well, it looks like the ongoing patent battle between TomTom and Microsoft has come to a quick end, with TomTom caving. The company is paying Microsoft to "license" its patents, while dropping its own patent lawsuits against Microsoft. This really isn't too surprising. Microsoft's obviously got plenty of money to spend on just such a legal battle (exactly what the company counts on to get companies to pay up), so at some point, the calculation on TomTom's part has to be whether it's cheaper to fight or to just pay up. In this case (like so many), the company obviously felt it was cheaper to pay up, rather than fight what it believed were highly questionable patents. That's too bad -- but shows just why the patent system is so widely abused. It's almost always cheaper to simply pay up rather than fight -- which is exactly the sort of situation that Microsoft counts on, as it hypes up it's "successful patent licensing program," failing to concede that most of that licensing is done at the end of a large and very pointy stick.

What's still unclear, however, is how this settlement deals with the questions that were raised over GPL'd software used by TomTom. As we noted, the GPL license that covers components of TomTom's software forbid it from putting any restrictions on the distribution of the software. A deal with Microsoft could violate the GPL and cause trouble for TomTom down the road. Perhaps the company is betting that any legal battle on that front would be cheaper than fighting Microsoft's patent lawyers in court.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 30th, 2009 @ 1:10pm

    3 years of discussion leads me to think theres more to this.

    I've watched Microsoft litigation for years and noticed a trend with odd, foundational-technology lawsuits like FAT32.

    Perhaps TomTom had some technology Microsoft wanted, but wouldn't license, pushing Microsoft to file a FAT32 licensing suit against TomTom. We'll probably learn more as Microsoft launches some GPS thingy in the next few months, whose main, whizbang feature is something TomTom had in 2003. Maybe downlowadable maps or something else real dumb.

     

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  2.  
    identicon
    Tgeigs, Mar 30th, 2009 @ 1:24pm

    Legal Salary Cap

    Seriously, I know this is going to sound childish, but can't we put in something like a Legal salary cap for corporate law? It worked to make the NFL a league of parody, where everyone has a relatively equal shot. Why wouldn't it work here too?

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 30th, 2009 @ 1:27pm

    Microsoft never was a big fan of interoperability.
    Lockin and forced upgrade are their claim to fame.
    Looks like their MO is not sustainable.

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    Easily Amused, Mar 30th, 2009 @ 1:39pm

    Re: Legal Salary Cap

    Best spell check error ever.... While I believe the NFL is "a league of parody" , I think the word you were looking for was 'parity'.

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    Paint42, Mar 30th, 2009 @ 1:40pm

    Re: 3 years of discussion leads me to think theres more to this.

    Yeah, wouldn't surprise me. Probably some key feature that Ballmer will introduce alongside Ford, with the veracity of a rabid dog: foamed mouth and all sweaty pits.

    Last week, he sent a little predictive programming article out where he mentioned his dad worked for Ford, and was going to sell his land rover now that the brand is no longer owned by Ford...

    So yeah some crappy feature TomTom had for years will probably be a standard feature on Ford Cars.

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    Ima Fish, Mar 30th, 2009 @ 1:41pm

    My question is why the GPL community didn't come to TomTom's aid and raise money for its defense.

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 30th, 2009 @ 1:45pm

    What's still unclear, however, is how this settlement deals with the questions that were raised over GPL'd software used by TomTom.

    According to the Ars Technica article on the subject, TomTom is maintaining GPL compliance by removing the code covered by MicroSoft's patents.

    So while they may have nominally "licensed" the patents, in reality they just paid to make the lawsuit go away.

    Source

     

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  8.  
    icon
    mike42 (profile), Mar 30th, 2009 @ 2:20pm

    Re:

    Correction: Microsoft was never a fan of interoperability WITH OTHER VENDORS. They made their own apps interoperable, which was their selling point.

    The sad part is, other vendors wouldn't even make their own apps interoperable. You had to get a 3rd party tool to get information from one app to another.

    Lockin, yes, but forced upgrade? Come on. Forced upgrade is when a company turns off an app after a certain calendar date, like Apple did with QuickTime. (Yes, it happened to me!) I have yet to see Microsoft do such a stupid thing. Not saying they didn't, I just haven't seen it.

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    Matt, Mar 30th, 2009 @ 2:22pm

    groklaw coverage

    Groklaw has some legal analysis of what is going on. It sounds kinda like the Novell cross-licensing but a lot is not being explained yet.

    http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20090330130655372

    Also, TomTom joined OIN so we will see how that affects things too.

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    Tgeigs, Mar 30th, 2009 @ 2:31pm

    Re: Re: Legal Salary Cap

    A. Yes it was an unintentional error
    and
    B. I think my original description was just as, if not more accurate

     

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  11.  
    identicon
    TW Burger, Mar 30th, 2009 @ 2:32pm

    Just Because it's Accidental..

    Just because it's accidental doesn't make it any less an excellent quip. Professional sports are often something to poke fun at on so many levels.

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    Weird Harold, Mar 30th, 2009 @ 2:48pm

    I won't even say anything about my own predictions about this not more than a few weeks ago.

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Reverend Steve to offer free exorcisms to Ford Own, Mar 30th, 2009 @ 2:49pm

    Re: Re: 3 years of discussion leads me to think theres more to this.

    MS is a company of stroked egos, not good software, otherwise they would make good software without the ego.

    Yup... Must be near "GO-time" for some crappy product launch. Whatever it is, remember to wait for SP 2 or 3.

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 30th, 2009 @ 2:51pm

    Still a GPL Violation

    From the Ars Technica article:
    TomTom intends to make the requisite changes to the FAT code within the next two years. The company's agreement with Microsoft provides a guarantee that it will not sue TomTom users in the interim.

    An agreement not to sue for 2 years won't satisfy the GPL. While MS and AT may claim that such an agreement is GPL compliant, I doubt that the FSF would agree. I bet the agreement TT has with MS also calls for MS to defend TT if the FSF sues. Basically, TT is now thumbing its nose at the FSF and the GPL with MS standing behind them daring the FSF to make something of it. Now lets see if the FSF has the balls to do it.

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    bigpicture, Mar 30th, 2009 @ 4:47pm

    Re: Re: Legal Salary Cap

    No he has got it right, when it comes to the NFL the adjective is "parody".

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    Jesse, Mar 30th, 2009 @ 4:59pm

    It's kind of like if the mafia were to say, "our extortion program is legal; just look at how many people have signed on!"

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 30th, 2009 @ 5:04pm

    Re:

    "I won't even say anything about my own predictions about this not more than a few weeks ago."

    Good, and I wont say anyhthing about how I wont say anything about what you said.

     

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  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 30th, 2009 @ 5:15pm

    Re: Re:

    1) Interoperability
    My mistake - I thought interoperability meant that different systems could operate together, regardless of who built and sold it.

    2) Forced Upgrade
    Again, my mistake - I thought lack of backward compatibility implied a forced upgrade. But then you really do not need those old docs. Hint, have you ever opened/saved an older doc in a newer version of office and then tried to open said doc in the old office? They do not turn off old stuff, they just no longer support it.

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    Andrew D. Todd, Mar 30th, 2009 @ 7:25pm

    Since Weird Harold is such an Expert on FAT32...

    I have yet to see any evidence that Weird Harold knows anything about computer programming. Quite apart from the implications of Bilski, the Microsoft FAT patents seems likely to fail the KSR v. Teleflex test-- resulting from a case which occurred after the Patent Office last ruled on Microsoft's FAT32 patents.

    Some examination questions for Weird Harold:

    1. Will Weird Harold please discuss the use of the continuation card in FORTRAN II and FORTRAN IV, using punched card program input. (ref: Paul Cress, Paul Dirkson, and J. Wesley Graham, FORTRAN with WATFOR and WATFIV, 1968, 1970).

    2. Likewise, will he please discuss the system of termination codes overlapped with index numbers for automatic array bounds used in the IBM 370's PL/I compilers, circa 1980, and the notion of spanning records, discussed in the Programmers's Guide and Execution Logic Manuals for the PL/I Optimizing Compiler.

    http://www.bitsavers.org/pdf/ibm/370/pli/
    http://www.bitsavers.org/

    [It's amazing! I typed the stock numbers from my old IBM 370 manuals into Google, and voila!, they are now freely available on the internet.]

    I would say that both references obviously bear on the way in which long records are incorporated into the FAT32 directory database. Perhaps Weird Harold could explain why not?

    3. With respect to the system of generation of short file names in FAT32, will Weird Harold please explain why the removal of illegal characters is unobvious, and why the system of assigning successive numbers to names within a category is unobvious?

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    Norm, Mar 30th, 2009 @ 9:28pm

    Patents

    I just read a few of the patents in question. Oh my. I wonder if I could patent walking while using an open source navigation device?

     

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  21.  
    identicon
    Fred Realist, Mar 31st, 2009 @ 3:53am

    Mama always said the longer the title, the bigger the bullshit artist

    When people realize that it's not useful to make a sign on Microsoft's road, will they realize that they've overvalued the roads that was created.

    So TomTom created a sign on Microsoft's Road, and was sued. In the process, when slapped, TomTom offered the other cheek.

    Hopefully "Corporate vice president and deputy general counsel of Intellectual Property and Licensing" can fix it.

     

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  22.  
    icon
    Killer_Tofu (profile), Mar 31st, 2009 @ 5:59am

    Re: Patents

    I wonder if I could patent walking while using an open source navigation device?

    With as stupid as some of the stuff our patent office allows through, I would give you a 80% chance of success on that.

     

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  23.  
    identicon
    Dave, Mar 31st, 2009 @ 6:55am

    Re:

    There was too much debate on how and if the GRL might be affected. Since this only peripherally affected the GPL (would TomTom lose it's GPL status) and was more on the lines of software patents there just wasn't enough strength to start the movement.

     

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  24.  
    identicon
    Phillip, Mar 31st, 2009 @ 11:12am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Except that you can save docs in the new office in the old format.

    Sometimes that's the best you can do to make things backwards compatible, but still move forward.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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