Editor's note: Contrary to reporting in a previous version of this article, TomTom is a public company traded on the Euronext exchange. The Fool regrets the error.
GPS navigation specialist TomTom can breathe a sigh of relief today and wipe the beads of cold sweat off its anthropomorphic forehead. The company has settled the patent infringement claims Microsoft
In what looks like a total victory for Microsoft, TomTom will send license fees to the software giant and stop using a couple of vital file system patents. "When addressing IP infringement issues, there are two possible paths: securing patent coverage or not using the technology at issue," said Microsoft's licensing head Horacio Gutierrez in a written statement. "Through this agreement, TomTom is choosing a combination of both paths."
TomTom couldn't simply pay the balance and go fully licensed, because much of its core software was written under the open-source GPL license. The GPL "copyleft" license doesn't mesh well with proprietary licenses like the ones covering Microsoft's FAT file management technology. Now TomTom gets two years to design a workaround of some sort.
Several public companies lean heavily on GPL-licensed software, including Linux vendors like Red Hat
Other friends of open software include IBM
The TomTom agreement sets a precedent for others to follow if Microsoft or some other giant with a fat patent portfolio goes after their open-sourced applications. One day, maybe Microsoft Office will be published under the GPL. In the meantime, don't be afraid to invest in open-source specialists.