Microsoft's top intellectual property lawyer said that the company's legal action against TomTom over Linux was specific to that company, but he declined to say whether other suits over the open source operating system might follow.
"I wouldn't speculate at this point," Horacio Gutierrez told CNET News in an interview late Wednesday. Gutierrez did add that Microsoft's patent suit against TomTom, which includes three claims related to file management techniques used in the Linux kernel, was specific to that company.
It is the "TomTom implementation of the Linux kernel that infringes these claims," Gutierrez said. "There are many flavors of Linux (and) many implementations of the Linux kernel. Cases such as these are very fact-specific."
Microsoft filed complaints in federal court and with the International Trade Commission on Wednesday alleging eight counts of patent infringement by TomTom. While five of the patents relate to car navigation systems specifically, three of the claims pertain to TomTom's use of the Linux kernel in its products, Gutierrez said.
Gutierrez said Microsoft chose to include the open source claims alongside the proprietary GPS system claims because both related to TomTom. He characterized the suit as a dispute with TomTom as opposed to a new salvo against Linux.
"This is just a normal course-of-business dispute between two companies," he said, adding that no special thought was given to what it meant to include the Linux claims in the suit.
"That is not the focal point of the action," he said.
Asked whether that meant that Microsoft would seek compensation from all products that use the Linux kernel, Gutierrez said, "No. That is really not what we have in mind. This case is about TomTom's infringement."
He stressed Microsoft's preference for signing licensing deals with companies, including those using Linux.
"Our position is and has been that we believe licensing is the right way to approach and resolve these things," he said.
Gutierrez said that the move did not reflect a change in Microsoft's overall position toward open-source software. "I think there shouldn't be any ambiguity on our expectations as a company. We recognize that open-source software will continue to be a part of the industry."
But, he said that the company's "appreciation and respect for the open-source community is not inconsistent" with its desire to protect its intellectual property.
That said, he acknowledged the suit could hurt some of the efforts the company has tried to make in recent years to mend fences with the Linux world.
Sometimes, he said, disputes will lead to lawsuits. "Sometimes they will evoke hard feelings. Sometimes those feelings will make moving ahead with our open-source strategy more challenging, but there is no change to our open-source strategy and the work many teams across Microsoft do every day to move it forward."
Although Microsoft did not call out the Linux claims, Gutierrez said the company was not trying to hide them. While Linux is not mentioned in the federal lawsuit, he said, they are noted in two paragraphs of the ITC claim.
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