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March 30, 2009 at 11:38 AM

TomTom and Microsoft settle patent suits

Microsoft sued portable GPS maker TomTom in February for patent infringement, raising the specter of a first Microsoft attempt to file suit over an implementation of the open source Linux operating system, which Microsoft has long claimed violated its patents. TomTom counter sued earlier this month.

Today, Microsoft announced that the companies have settled both suits through a “patent agreement under which TomTom will pay Microsoft for coverage under the eight car navigation and file management systems patents in the Microsoft case. Also as part of the agreement, Microsoft receives coverage under the four patents included in the TomTom countersuit. The agreement, which has a five-year term, does not require any payment by Microsoft to TomTom. It covers both past and future U.S. sales of the relevant products. The specific financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.”

Three of the eight patents Microsoft alleged TomTom had violated pertained to file management systems in its implementation of the Linux kernel. Microsoft outlined how the agreement handles those more controversial patents:

“The agreement includes patent coverage for Microsoft’s three file management systems patents provided in a manner that is fully compliant with TomTom’s obligations under the General Public License Version 2 (GPLv2). TomTom will remove from its products the functionality related to two file management system patents (the “FAT LFN patents”), which enables efficient naming, organizing, storing and accessing of file data. TomTom will remove this functionality within two years, and the agreement provides for coverage directly to TomTom’s end customers under these patents during that time.”

TomTom’s director of IP strategy and transactions, Peter Spours, said in Microsoft’s release: “This agreement puts an end to the litigation between our two companies. It is drafted in a way that ensures TomTom’s full compliance with its obligations under the GPLv2, and thus reaffirms our commitment to the open source community.”

Todd Bishop, who broke the news that the Microsoft suit included the patents pertaining to Linux, wrote of the settlement, “the open-source community will no doubt be sorting out the potential implications as it assesses the public outline of the settlement. The provision for TomTom’s customers is similar to a patent protection extended in Microsoft’s controversial agreement with Linux vendor Novell.”

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