When Microsoft (MSFT) sued Dutch GPS-maker TomTom, alleging part’s of Linux (in TomTom’s devices) violate Microsoft’s patents, we recommended the two companies settle immediately — Microsoft can really do without riling up the open-source crazies. And tiny TomTom’s stated intention to fight the Microsoft giant also made no sense to us.
But Techdirt has an interesting theory about why TomTom didn’t settle — legally, it can’t.
Techdirt’s whole post is worth reading for a backgrounder on the intricacies of Linux licensing, but the gist is the terms of TomTom’s GPL licence prevent the company from making a separate piece with Microsoft. Where does that leave them?
TomTom is now stuck between a rock and a hard place. The GPL has left the firm with only two options. It must either fight Microsoft’s patents to the death (literally) or it must settle with Microsoft and immediately stop distributing GPLed software. Given how deeply-entwined GPLed software apparently is in TomTom’s products, that second option may be no option at all. So expect a long and bloody fight in the courts.
But we see a third option: TomTom settles with Microsoft, and the whole thing gets sealed by NDA so Microsoft can maintain the fiction that Linux violates their patents and TomTom/the open source community can maintain the fiction it doesn’t.
That’s the outcome we’re hoping for: We can’t see how having some judge issuing rulings on who owns what helps anyone.