The Linux community is up in arms over Microsoft's filing a patent infringement suit against TomTom, the Dutch navigational unit manufacturer, determined to convey this as an opening move in the debate about what patents Linux does or doesn't infringe. This suit is very likely NOT about Linux. Let's look at the patents. From the complaint, Microsoft patents in the case (collectively, “the Microsoft patents-in-suit”):
- 6,175,789 (16 January, 2001) Vehicle computer system with open platform architecture
- 7,054,745 (30 May, 2006) Method and system for generating driving directions
- 6,704,032 (9 March, 2004) Methods and arrangements for interacting with controllable objects within a graphical user interface environment using various input mechanisms
- 7,117,286 (3 October, 2006) Portable computing device-integrated appliance
- 6,202,008 (13 March, 2001) Vehicle computer system with wireless internet connectivity
- 5,579,517 (26 November, 1996) Common name space for long and short filenames
- 5,758,352 (26 May, 1998) Common name space for long and short filenames
- 6,256,642 (3 July, 2001) Method and system for file system management using a flash-erasable, programmable, read-only memory
Also from the complaint, we have this statement (line 15):
6. Upon information and belief, Defendants are in the business of developing, manufacturing, and selling portable navigation computing devices and software for use on those devices, personal computers, PDAs, and smartphones (hereinafter known collectively as “Portable Navigation Devices and Software”).
This feels much more like positioning for location-based services and the coming mobile Internet war. Microsoft has been the "PC company" for a long time. It got there on the backs of a standardized PC "device". (In a Christensen economic world of a network of complements, Microsoft captured the innovation premium in the OS on commodity hardware.) That world is changing rapidly since Apple demonstrated what the mobile Internet can look like with the release of the iPhone. There has been a rush of delivering iPhone competitors to market since then. Nokia bought Navteq, then Symbian (the predominant mobile OS), to be released royalty free and as open source sometime in the future. Google released Google Maps with instructions to drive places, and then developed and released Android. There are considerably more handset devices on the planet than PCs [see note below]. This feels like a much bigger fight than the first shots in a Linux patent fight. This could have much bigger ramifications for Nokia (and the other handset manufacturers), Google, and Apple than Red Hat et al. These are the players that need to be naming themselves to this patent litigation suit.
- Microsoft v. TomTom: Patent war, or no?, () Matt Asay's fine blog commentary
- Microsoft sues TomTom for alleged patent infringement, (25 February, 2009) by Ina Fried
- Has Microsoft's Patent War Against Linux Begun?, (25 February, 2009) Glyn Moody's commentary
- Beating the TomTom: Drums of War? (Not), (26 February, 2008) Andy Updegrove's excellent commentary
- Microsoft lawyer 'won't speculate' on Linux suits, (25 February, 2008) Ina Fried's CNET interview with Microsoft's Horatio Gutierrez, senior IP lawyer
- The Microsoft Press Release, (25 February, 2009)
Note: Communities Dominate Brands pointed out that there were 3.3 Billion mobile subscriptions in 2007 versus 900 Million PCs. Or to put this in better context:
Now as the phone handset makers like Nokia, Samsung, Motorola, SonyEricsson and LG ship over a billion phones annually (IDC, Jan 2007), we have a colossus of an industry of high tech pushing ever more powerful gadgets into our pockets. And yes, Nokia alone ships one million phones every day of the year, Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays included. For contrast note that the PC industry shipped 250 million new PCs in 2007, of which about 100 million are laptops (Computer Industry Almanac Jul 2007).