Microsoft and TomTom have settled their patent dispute, including claims related to the FAT file system and Linux. But the rest of the open-source world, which could be affected, isn't ready to lie down and accept Linux's possibly besmirched reputation.
Red Hat, for its part, declares that "without a judicial decision, the settlement does not demonstrate that the claims of Microsoft were valid." And Pamela Jones of Groklaw, a highly influential open-source legal blog, deprecates Microsoft's claims ("What? You thought Microsoft's spin on things was always gospel?"), citing the Software Freedom Law Center's commitment to sticking up for Linux, even if TomTom quickly caved.
The settlement neither implies that Microsoft patents are valid nor that TomTom's products were or are infringing...The FAT file system patents on which Microsoft sued are now, and have always been, invalid patents, in our professional opinion.
SFLC remains committed to protecting the interests of our clients and the community. We will act forcefully to protect all users and developers of free software against further intimidation or interference from these patents.
SFLC, working with the Open Invention Network and the Linux Foundation, is pleased to participate in a coordinated, carefully graduated response on behalf of all the community's members to ongoing anticompetitive Microsoft conduct. We believe in strength through unity, and we think our community's unity in the face of these threats has helped to bring about Microsoft's quick settlement on all issues with TomTom.
This is good news because I admit I read the settlement as an implication that TomTom caved. As ZDNet's Larry Dignan suggests, however, "the settlement doesn't seem to answer a lot." For Microsoft, this may well be a good thing: FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) is as good as a court judgment against Linux.
This was Microsoft's tactic in its Novell patent deal. Every press release about interoperability included verbiage about patents and Linux. I talked with Novell's press team repeatedly during this time and was always told, "Microsoft insisted on including that language. We wanted to focus on interoperability, which is what customers actually care about."
Microsoft may or may not have been trying to sully Linux's reputation with the TomTom lawsuit, and this settlement doesn't clarify things at all. Fortunately, the SFLC is on the case. It's a more than ample counterbalance to Microsoft's worst intentions.
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