Microsoft Sues Over Patent Violations Involving Linux Kernel

Dennis Faas's picture

Microsoft's newest lawsuit is the first on record to involve patent infringement based on usage of the Linux kernel -- proving that open source software is becoming the biggest fox in Microsoft's henhouse.

Microsoft filed District Court charges and International Trade Commission charges Tuesday against in-car GPS navigation company TomTom Inc., claiming that TomTom is violating eight Microsoft patents. While Linux is not specifically mentioned as the focus of the charges, three out of eight alleged patent violations relate to TomTom's usage of the Linux kernel. (Source:

The case is considered a last resort for the software giant, who claims to have failed to reach an agreement with TomTom after pursuing the issue for over a year. MS Corporate VP Horacio Gutierrez stated that "In exceptional cases such as this one, when a pragmatic business agreement cannot be reached, we feel that we really have no choice but to pursue legal action to protect our innovations and our partners who license them." (Source:

The case may do more than prove an intellectual-property point -- it could fan the flames and increase the heat between Microsoft and the open source community. Gutierrez is the same MS official who had previously claimed that open source software violated 235 Microsoft patents, statements that aggravated a number of open source proponents. (Source:

Gutierrez has indicated that these legal proceedings are not setting the precendent for more actions against open source software in general, and that they focus directly on the patent violations and not open source code, regardless of the Linux connection.

"Microsoft respects and appreciates the important role that open-source software plays in our industry and we respect and appreciate the passion and the great contribution that open-source developers make in our industry…[which is] not inconsistent with our respect for intellectual-property rights."(Source:

This is the third instance of a patent violation proceeding initiated by Microsoft against vehicle GPS companies, and both of the previous actions were settled out of court by arranging licensing agreements for the software in question. It's likely that TomTom will be able to come to some sort of settlement as well, quickly resolving the matter. What won't be as easy to resolve is the lingering sensation that we are at the tip of the iceberg -- as Linux gets more press and pomp for it's advantages over MS, it seems likely that legal spats like this one will be a lot more common.

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