TomTom Joins Linux Patent Defence Body

A navigation device company that is being sued by Microsoft in a patent dispute has joined the Open Innovation Network, a collection of companies that pools its Linux-related patents to defend against legal action.

Linux is an open source operating system which TomTom uses in its navigation devices. The Open Innovation Network (OIN) is an industry-sponsored body that aims to protect the patents underlying Linux from lawsuits by private companies.

Microsoft sued TomTom earlier this year claiming patent infringement, saying that some of the alleged infringements are to do with TomTom's use of Linux.

TomTom has now signed up to OIN, which gives any company a licence to any of the patents pooled with it as long as the company agrees not to assert its own patents against Linux.

“Linux plays an important role at TomTom as the core of all our Portable Navigation Devices,” said Peter Spours, director of intellectual property at TomTom. “We believe that by becoming an Open Invention Network licensee, we encourage Linux development and foster innovation in a technical community that benefits everyone.”

"We are pleased to have TomTom become a licensee,” said Keith Bergelt, chief executive of OIN. “TomTom is one of a growing number of companies, of all sizes, that value the openness and collaborative culture of the Linux community.”

OIN controls 275 patents and patent applications which will now be available to TomTom.

Microsoft lawyer Horacio Gutierrez said when the company launched the action that TomTom's use of Linux formed part of the suit.

"[The] TomTom implementation of the Linux kernel…infringes [our] claims," he said.

Microsoft said in 2007 that Linux infringed 235 of its patents. General counsel Brad Smith said that 42 of those were violated by the kernel alone, while 65 were infringed by the graphical interface of Linux.

Bergelt recently spoke to podcast OUT-LAW Radio and explained what OIN and its project Linux Defenders were.

"What I do is make the world safe for Linux and the democratisation of innovation," he said. "Mobilisation of the creative capacities of the community is what I am looking to do; provide a vehicle an outlet where you don't have to just rail against the system and say, 'you know, look at that patent that was granted that's just stupid, that should have never been granted'."

"Well I think we all can appreciate there are a lot of patents that should have never been granted but instead of just railing against the system now there's the capacity for the community to actually become involved in remaking the future and affecting the past if we can get contribution to help invalidate some of these poor quality patents that are out there," he said.