Mobile Video: The Next Frontier

Rob Enderle

A few days ago I tried to make the point that Microsoft going after TomTom, a manufacturer of GPS systems that is on the verge of bankruptcy, was not intended as a shot across Free and Open Source Software's bow. Of the eight patents in question, only three appeared to concern the FOSS folks (why a GPS company would need to use long file names in a GPS device is beyond me at the moment), and I can't see any evidence that would suggest that, if FOSS didn't exist, Microsoft would have filed the action any differently.


FOSS folks sold me, during the SCO days, that they were sincere in their claim that if they used code that belonged to someone else and it became a problem, they would simply stop using it. I saw zero risk to open source from Microsoft, but I'm seeing a lot of FUD coming out of the FOSS side, and now I'm getting concerned.


In short, it seemed ironic that I was saying don't worry, and the very people who supposedly supported FOSS (by the way, I'm refusing to use FLOSS until the naming hell that open source is in ends) were saying that Microsoft, the largest and best-funded software company in the world, was about to go to war against folks using Linux. This is in sharp contrast to a few years ago when Microsoft was making the noise and Linux supporters were generally saying don't worry. (To be fair, some still are.)


I see no evidence that Microsoft is gearing up for war, but it looks like FOSS folks are trying to goad Microsoft into one. And I'm quite sure Linux users don't want to be used as cannon fodder this year by anyone just to make what may be an invalid point on software patents.


Software Patents


If you drill down to the comment section of this earlier piece, you'll see it filled up with folks arguing for and against software patents. While I'm in agreement that the U.S. patent system is currently far from perfect, I also agree with Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Rehnquist that software can be patented under current law. And I believe, based on the foundation for the law, that software would have intentionally been included had it existed when the law was written. That position appears to be currently backed by the U.S. Supreme Court, but only by a 5/4 majority, which is hardly a ringing endorsement. So things could change. I'm just not aware of anything near-term that's likely to get to the Court that would force such change.


I'm also not seeing anything out of Microsoft to suggest it is altering its broad current policy of interoperating with Linux and aggressively licensing rather than litigation. TomTom appears to be a point problem with a company that has violated a number of Microsoft's GPS patents and has refused to license them legally. So far, I've seen no one argue that Microsoft's filing would have been any different had TomTom not been using Linux. It appears text book to me, and FOSS had similar problems with TomTom before.


However, I'm concerned that the tactics FOSS appears to be using sound a lot like those used by SCO, suggesting one may be becoming the other.

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