Microsoft has accused Tom Tom of infringing eight of its patented inventions. These "inventions" included the idea of mounting a computer on a dashboard, and the idea of shortening names that are too long.
Tom Tom has the following options:
- Fight the patents in court. They all seem too trivial and there is almost certainly prior art for each. How many months and how much money would a court battle take? Even if Tom Tom wins they lose.
- Just pay for a licence. Tom Tom could agree to pay Microsoft for the completely useless privilege of using these obvious ideas.
 The Bill Gates memo
The following is an excerpt from a 1991 internal memo that Bill Gates wrote to the executives in Microsoft.
If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today's ideas were invented, and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today. I feel certain that some large company will patent some obvious thing related to interface, object orientation, algorithm, application extension or other crucial technique. If we assume this company has no need of any of our patents then the have a 17-year right to take as much of our profits as they want. The solution to this is patent exchanges with large companies and patenting as much as we can. Amazingly we havn't done any patent exchanges tha I am aware of. Amazingly we havn't found a way to use our licensing position to avoid having our own customers cause patent problems for us. I know these aren't simply problems but they deserve more effort by both Legal and other groups. For example we need to do a patent exchange with HP as part of our new relationship. In many application categories straighforward thinking ahead allows you to come up with patentable ideas. A recent paper from the League for Programming Freedom (available from the Legal department) explains some problems with the way patents are applied to software.