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Monday, 30 March 2009

Microsoft, TomTom best friends ...

A press statement hot off the Microsoft website states that Microsoft and vehicle navigation business TomTom have just settled the highly publicised patent litigation commenced by (i) Microsoft before the US District Court for the Western District of Washington and the International Trade Commission (ITC) and (ii) by TomTom in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. According to the press statement

"The cases have been settled 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 US sales of the relevant products. The specific financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.
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.
Horacio Gutierrez, corporate vice president and deputy general counsel of Intellectual Property and Licensing, Microsoft Corporation, stated:
“We are pleased TomTom has chosen to resolve the litigation amicably by entering into a patent agreement. Our car navigation patents, which are at the heart of the enhanced auto experience enjoyed by millions of drivers today, have been licensed to many companies, including leaders in the car navigation sector. The file management system patents, which increase file management system efficiency and functionality, have also been licensed by many companies, including those that produce mixed source products.

We were able to work with TomTom to develop a patent agreement that addresses their needs and ours in a pragmatic way. When addressing IP infringement issues, there are two possible paths: securing patent coverage or not using the technology at issue. Through this agreement, TomTom is choosing a combination of both paths to meet the unique needs of its business, and we are glad to help them do so.”
Peter Spours, Director of IP Strategy and Transactions at TomTom N.V., stated:
“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.”"
The IPKat--who was once instructed by a malicious SatNav to drive a friend's new car into the Pacific Ocean as a short cut to the San Diego Country Club--is relieved that this dispute has been so swiftly resolved.  Merpel is sad, however: this untimely outbreak of peace has deprived her of the chance to make some sharp witticisms about the parties seeking directions from the court ...

The news as reported on CNET and TechFlash

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

The press release seems to imply that TomTom's products will no longer have "efficient naming, organizing, storing and accessing of file data."

This seems to be a consequence of the language traditionally employed in patent statements of advantage. It's worth remembering, though, that it's highly likely that other technical solutions exist, and that by this action, either Tomtom will be forced to innovate further itself, obtain alternative (competing) technology, or as a consequence produce lower quality products.

It remains to see what option they select.

gyges said...

Apologies for being off-topic but Mish has posted the following IBM Files Patent for System that Calculates How to Offshore Jobs While Maximizing Tax Breaks.

Reading further, after filing the patent they have now withdrawn it. They say that it was a mistake to file it.

Does anyone know if the potential patent had any legs?

Anonymous said...

@gyges

The answer to your question is that, in Europe, the answer is almost certainly no. In the US, however, even post Bilski, it sounds like something that would be worth trying - a system that balances lots of different factors to provide a decision about offshoring (useful real world result).

The more interesting question, to me, is how many mistakes can people spot in the different reports of this patent. Easy marks to spot the classic "copyrighting an invention by patenting it" mistake.

Then, if you follow the link to the original source for this "news" piece you see another blunder in that it implies that the 18 months from filing to publication was some sort of error: "...but it took a year and a half for that patent to be published online".

Any other clangers? In a world where more and more people are trying to write about IP, how do those in the profession ensure these writers are informed enough to avoid making such basic mistake and oversights?

The above question is not as off-topic as it might appear. The Microsoft/TomTom battle sparked interest far outside the IP arena and is therefore a prime case to examine to determine the accuracy of reporting by non-professionals.

gyges said...

@anon

Thanks for the note.

I'd suggest that the reason for the poor reportage is related to the political nature of the patent. It's being picked up by political analysts rather than legal/IP types.

Gerontius said...

@gyges

I've now had a chance to have a look at some of the reports on the TomTom case and, actually, they're mostly pretty good - except that they present an extremist viewpoint: pro-patent people think that Microsoft are in the right, anti-patent people think that Microsoft are in the wrong, end of story. Would be nice if the reporting also presented some of the more moderate viewpoints.

So, this political-based reporting lacks balance, but doesn't contain significant errors.

On the other hand, the IBM story you picked up on was reported by an economist, rather than a political analyst and, as well as lacking balance, was also innacurate. Not sure what can be learned from that... :)

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