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Microsoft: We're Not Launching Linux Patent Witch Hunt

The software giant, for the first time, is suing another company for using Linux in a way that violates its patents. But Microsoft insists that this isn't part of a Linux patent infringement blitzkrieg.

GPS

However, Horacio Gutierrez, corporate vice president and deputy general counsel of intellectual property and licensing at Microsoft, says the TomTom case doesn't represent the start of a Linux patent enforcement campaign.

In a Thursday Q&A with Todd Bishop, co-founder and managing editor of the Seattle-based blog TechFlash, Gutierrez acknowledged-- with some prodding--that this is the first time Microsoft has filed suit against a company for using Linux in a way that violates its patents.

In the Q&A, Gutierrez downplayed the Linux angle and emphasized that Microsoft's suit involves TomTom products that use a mix of proprietary and open-source code. In the past, Microsoft has convinced Samsung, LG Electronics, Fuji Xerox, Brother and Kyocera Mita--companies that also use this code mix--to sign licensing agreements, Gutierrez noted.

While some pundits see this case as evidence that Microsoft is sharpening its knives against Linux, some open-source community figures aren't quite convinced.

In a Thursday blog post, Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, advised against a rush to judgment on the case, which he characterized as "a private dispute" between Microsoft and TomTom.

"We do not feel assumptions should be made about the scope or facts of this case and its inclusion, if any, of Linux-related technology," Zemlin wrote.

Microsoft filed the case in a federal court for the Western District of Washington in the U.S. as well as with the United States International Trade Commission, the latter of which has the power to block sales of TomTom's products.

TomTom doesn't appear to be cowed by Microsoft's legal challenge. A TomTom spokesperson told Dow Jones Newswires Thursday that the company rejects Microsoft's claims and plans to defend itself.

Likewise, Zemlin noted in his blog post that the Linux ecosystem has "enormously sophisticated resources" at hand to help defend any claims made against Linux. "Unfortunately, claims like these are a byproduct of our business and legal system today," Zemlin wrote.

What's really ironic is that Microsoft has been moving steadily toward a more cordial relationship with the open-source community. At the Stanford Accel Symposium Wednesday, Bob Muglia, president of Microsoft's Server and Tools Business, reportedly told attendees that at some point, all of Microsoft's products will include open-source elements.

John Locke, principal consultant at Freelock Computing, a Seattle-based open-source consultancy, says the TomTom suit could damage these recent gains.

"Microsoft has been making some headway in repairing their brand in the rest of the software industry, participating in conferences, joining the Apache Foundation, releasing open-source software itself. In one swift move, they've scuttled this rebranding effort and shown their true colors," Locke said.

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