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TomTom Sues Microsoft For Patent Infringement 166

Posted by timothy
from the gentlemen-do-not-consult-each-other's-patents dept.
CWmike writes "GPS device maker TomTom has shot back at Microsoft with a claim of patent infringement, after the software giant raised concerns in the Linux community with a recent lawsuit against TomTom. In a suit filed earlier this week, TomTom alleges that Microsoft infringes on four patents in mapping software Microsoft Streets and Trips. TomTom is asking for triple damages for willful infringement, since it says it had notified Microsoft about its alleged infringement. Microsoft said it was reviewing TomTom's filing and that it remains committed to a licensing solution and has been for more than a year."
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TomTom Sues Microsoft For Patent Infringement

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  • by squoozer (730327) on Friday March 20, 2009 @08:14AM (#27266711)

    Is it just me that is a bit fed up with this sort of situation? The last few years seems to have seen the rise of the legal stalemate based on patent infringement where 90% of the patents are for trivial ideas anyway. I'm sure when the patent and legal system were designed this wasn't what was intended as it helps no one and just ends up costing us, the buyers, more money. I suppose it keeps all those lawyers in business though.

  • MAD (Score:5, Insightful)

    by INeededALogin (771371) on Friday March 20, 2009 @08:14AM (#27266717) Journal
    Does anyone else see the entire corporate structure in America as being nothing more than a patent standoff? It is basically the whole "Mutually Assured Destruction" with small companies being the equivalent of 3rd world countries. This is pretty unsettling that the only retort to a patent lawsuit is to fire off a counter from your own portfolio.
  • Re:Total War? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by something_wicked_thi (918168) on Friday March 20, 2009 @08:19AM (#27266743)

    The funny thing is that, if the summary is true, it could have been TomTom, not MS, that shot first. Maybe MS suing TomTom was just retaliation for TomTom trying to collect royalties.

  • by GerardAtJob (1245980) on Friday March 20, 2009 @08:20AM (#27266749)

    ... this really need to stop... patent over a mouseclick or a pointer on screen shouldn't be patentable... In fact everything from a computer software shouldn't be patentable... A series of IF and ELSE isn't something new... whatever you do with it... Instead of creating competition in a field (the one that implement the feature the BEST and improve the MOST), we created a huge pot of gold for lawyers... at least it's friday :D

  • Re:Total War? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Zeinfeld (263942) on Friday March 20, 2009 @08:22AM (#27266767) Homepage
    Well it certainly makes Tom Tom's previous complaints about patent bullies look a bit thin. As they admit they threatened Microsoft. To their surprise, Microsoft fired first.

    In other words the Microsoft suit had nothing whatsoever to do with Linux, except to the extent that if your product uses Linux and you try to sue Microsoft for infringement of your own patents you can expect to be sued in return.

    This is not a new situation. The car industry discovered that it was impossible to build cars without cross licensing between all the major manufacturers in the 1950s.

  • Re:Total War? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pieterh (196118) on Friday March 20, 2009 @08:24AM (#27266775) Homepage

    What this shows is that firms which take patents are more likely to be involved in patent lawsuits. So the whole "we took defensive patents, now see how we need them" becomes a self-justifying circle.

  • Re:MAD (Score:3, Insightful)

    by chalkyj (927554) on Friday March 20, 2009 @08:28AM (#27266783)
    But does anything actually come of these lawsuits? I read about infringement claims by trolls against large companies and by large companies against each other all the time, but they never seem to come to anything - or at least the outcome is never publicised.

    Does anyone have some information on what percentage of technology patent suits get thrown out of court and how many actually end in settlement or damages?

  • Re:MAD (Score:4, Insightful)

    by infalliable (1239578) on Friday March 20, 2009 @08:32AM (#27266811)

    Pretty much.

    Large companies build up patent portfolios for the sole intention of using them in standoff mode or as defense.

    I talked to someone in the digital storage area, and who basically said each company patents all they can so they have a large number as a defense. They basically have to infringe on others patents, and others have to infringe on theirs and they all just agree to go on doing business rather than pay the lawyers to squabble.

    It is for these very instances. Company A goes to Company B and says your infringing on my patents. Company B's response is that you (company A) are infringing on mine as well. Nobody will win other than the patent lawyers.

  • Re:Total War? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Shakrai (717556) on Friday March 20, 2009 @08:37AM (#27266841) Journal

    it could have been TomTom, not MS, that shot first.

    There's a bit of a difference between notifying someone and filing a lawsuit. If Microsoft is infringing on their patents what else should they have done? You can't ignore it. Personally I'd rather receive a letter in that situation than a summons. Maybe that's just me....

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 20, 2009 @08:45AM (#27266909)

    [Microsoft] remains committed to a licensing solution and has been for more than a year.

    Haha, yeah. And when I download a movie from the Pirate Bay and if I get sued for it a year later, can I claim that I "remain committed to a buying solution and have been for more than a year", too?

    (Yes, I know, copyright infringement != patent infringement, but seriously, what kind of response is this? If anything, the only thing they're saying there is a) that they acknowledge TomTom has a valid case, and b) yes, they have indeed not licensed the patents in question, despite using them.)

  • Re:MAD (Score:2, Insightful)

    by adamchou (993073) on Friday March 20, 2009 @08:47AM (#27266929)
    maybe we should get bush to invade these companies building these patents of mass destruction
  • by kj_kabaje (1241696) on Friday March 20, 2009 @09:00AM (#27267037)
    It builds paper wealth for some people; much like short-selling and the current Wall Street debacle.
  • Re:Total War? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Ioldanach (88584) on Friday March 20, 2009 @09:04AM (#27267065)
    Also, from the article, Microsoft "remains committed to a licensing solution and has been for more than a year." So Microsoft has known about this patent violation for a year, and rather than stopping the violation while seeking a license, they continued to infringe. It would be hard to find a clearer case of willful infringement.
  • Although ... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by hesaigo999ca (786966) on Friday March 20, 2009 @09:07AM (#27267087) Homepage Journal

    Even though Microsoft streets used to ship with win95, way before TomTom existed, I guess they must have used some new technology to tie into the streets program, that may have come from the likes of TomTom?
    I have not RTA so, I am guessing here.

  • by jgostling (1480343) on Friday March 20, 2009 @09:15AM (#27267139)
    On the other hand, removing the VFAT code could be a derived work (non-infringing Linux kernel), which TomTom distributes together with their product. I don't see why deriving should be restricted just to adding new functionality.
  • Re:Total War? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dhalka226 (559740) on Friday March 20, 2009 @09:31AM (#27267299)

    If Microsoft is infringing on their patents what else should they have done? You can't ignore it.

    True. But if it really has been a year since they sent the notification, it seems pretty clear that 1) Microsoft doesn't think they're infringing or 2) they simply don't want to pay license fees. #1 doesn't seem likely, because of that quote about looking for a licensing solution, so it has to be #2.

    So how do you infringe somebody's patent and not have to pay them to continue using it? You trade. But you can't trade unless they're also infringing one of yours -- so you can file a lawsuit, which essentially forces them to counter-sue. Now you're both in the pot and you both have incentive to deal, and agreeing to a patent license swap is certainly the easiest and most pain-free resolution to the conflict.

    Note that nowhere in that scenario does any party have to actually prove the other is infringing, nor does it even have to be reality. It just has to have a prospect of losing scary enough that you don't want to let a judge/jury decide an outcome. It can be fear of losing or simply fear of legal costs in pursuing a win -- and having Microsoft's legal department on the other side of the table should go a long way toward that.

    And hey, if Microsoft actually succeeds in getting a patent trade without TomTom actually infringing one of their patents... well, they won handily.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 20, 2009 @09:44AM (#27267467)

    "...this really need to stop... patent over an engine or a mechanical component shouldn't be patentable... In fact everything physical shouldn't be patentable... A series of levers, wheels, pulleys, and inclined planes isn't something new... whatever you do with it..."

    Oh, and off-topic: Why do I keep seeing people using ellipses instead of periods in between sentences? Is it common in another language and just translated to English?

  • Re:Total War? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by overlordofmu (1422163) <overlordofmu@gmail.com> on Friday March 20, 2009 @09:53AM (#27267593)
    Are you saying that the law is not equal and fair?

    Are you saying that in the USA the wealthy are at an inherent advantaged over the poor? That justice isn't blind and she looks at the litigants pocket books and leans on the rich person's side of the scale?

    I was just wondering because I see the same thing and it is nice to hear that I am not alone.
  • Re:Total War? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by should_be_linear (779431) on Friday March 20, 2009 @10:39AM (#27268167)
    I hate Microsoft just like next guy, but sorry, *ALL* software patents are troll patents in my book. If you start using it against anyone else (which I don't say is the case of TomTom, we don't know yet) then prepare other SW patents to bite you back.
  • Re:Total War? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 20, 2009 @10:57AM (#27268453)

    But aren't courts tired of getting used for this type of thing? That's like two guys organizing a public boxing match between themselves. They get a ring, a referee, a crowd... As soon as round 1 starts, they look at each other and decide it's not worth fighting. If all they wanted was to compare each other's muscles, couldn't they have done this privately instead of wasting a bunch of people's time?

  • Re:Total War? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by murdocj (543661) on Friday March 20, 2009 @11:05AM (#27268551)

    Are you saying that in the USA the wealthy are at an inherent advantaged over the poor?

    You mean, like the rest of the world?

  • Re:Virtual Earth? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by JustNilt (984644) on Friday March 20, 2009 @11:10AM (#27268611) Homepage

    MS mapping existed before TomTom was even borne

    Which means precisely squat. Software changes over time (duh). It should be obvious to anyone that TomTom alleges Microsoft began infringing at some date in the Streets & Trips app. I'm sure they aren't claiming the entire concept infringes but only a part, minor or otherwise.

  • Re:Total War? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TerranFury (726743) on Friday March 20, 2009 @11:17AM (#27268699)

    What this shows is that firms which take patents are more likely to be involved in patent lawsuits. So the whole "we took defensive patents, now see how we need them" becomes a self-justifying circle.

    Isn't what you're saying circular? TomTom didn't get into this dispute because it had patents; it got into it because Microsoft did. But now, because it has patents, it and Microsoft will eventually be able to settle with a cross-licensing scheme -- whereas if it didn't, then it wouldn't have any bargaining chips.

    The only "circle" I see isn't a circle at all but rather a collective action problem: If all companies voluntarily agreed to avoid this patent nonsense, then they'd all be better off. But the individual incentives encourage patenting. See the Tragedy of the Commons [wikipedia.org], the Prisoner's Dilemma [wikipedia.org], or any other canonical example of a collective action problem.

  • Re:Total War? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 20, 2009 @11:17AM (#27268703)

    Anyone willing to work hard, to learn, to make sacrifices along the way, can claw themselves from poor/destitute/working class up to middle-class. No more. Big money comes from knowing the right people, already being rich, or being lucky - in the right place, at the right time.

  • Re:Total War? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 20, 2009 @11:24AM (#27268819)

    Are you saying that the law is not equal and fair?

    He's saying if you have fewer bullets than your enemy, it's not wise to shoot at them unless you're sure you can get them between the eyes.

    He has more ammunition so he can hose down the entire area and hope for a few lucky hits.

    (Or would you like a car analogy?)

  • Re:Total War? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mea37 (1201159) on Friday March 20, 2009 @11:29AM (#27268873)

    What do you mean, you can't ignore it? Of course you can. Patents aren't like trademarks, if that's what you're thinking...

  • Re:Lawyers (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cyphercell (843398) on Friday March 20, 2009 @12:15PM (#27269555) Homepage Journal

    You're right. If we didn't have lawyers we'd just need big sticks and rocks.

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