The recent complaint filed by Microsoft against TomTom has generated significant discussion and debate in the Seattle software community. In this post, I’ll briefly describe a few initial observations about the case.

After almost a week of smoldering in the blogosphere, one controversial issue seems to be already resolved: this is not a Microsoft against Linux battle. As some of the commenters to TechFlash’s Todd Bishop’s post noted, and Matt Asay carefully analyzes, Linux is really not the issue in this litigation, despite some of the headlines and discussion. Microsoft’s Horacio Gutierrez said as much when he said, “This is just a normal course-of-business dispute between two companies.”

In addition to normal damages, Microsoft’s complaint alleges that the company is entitled to enhanced damages and attorney fees because, on June 13, 2008, it sent a notice to TomTom’s CTO, Peter-Frans Pauwels. A court can enhance damages (triple them) under the theory of willful infringement and 35 U.S.C. 284. These are punitive damages, so they are usually reserved for egregious conduct. Still, the court has fairly wide discretion to consider all the evidence. The letter may be one piece of such evidence.

The real purpose of the letter, however, may have been Microsoft’s failed attempt to strike a licensing deal. As TechFlash’s Todd Bishop noted, Microsoft has rarely had to resort to litigation to profit from its automotive patent portfolio. Moreover, despite the fact that Microsoft had to send it’s lawyers to federal court in Seattle, the outcome of the dispute may indeed be a licensing deal. After all, in the past few times that Microsoft has turned to the courts, the cases settled.

I’ll try to keep tabs on the case as it develops–if it does not settle first.

For your reference, Microsoft’s complaint alleges that TomTom is infringing eight patents. They are:

  • 6,175,789 Beckert, “Vehicle computer system with open platform architecture”
  • 7,054,745 Couckuyt, “Method and system for generating driving directions”
  • 6,704,032 Falcon, “Methods and arrangements for interacting with controllable objects within a graphical user interface environment using various input mechanisms”
  • 7,117,286 Falcon, “Portable computing device-integrated appliance”
  • 6,202,008 Beckert, “Vehicle computer system with wireless internet connectivity”
  • 5,579,517 Reynolds, “Common name space for long and short filenames”
  • 5,758,352 Reynolds, “Common name space for long and short filenames”
  • 6,256,642 Krueger, “Method and system for file system management using a flash-erasable”

The following is the full text of the complaint.

Microsoft v. TomTom Complaint