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The Real Reason For Microsoft's TomTom Lawsuit 408

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the get-your-conspiracy-on dept.
Glyn Moody writes "We now know that Microsoft's lawsuit isn't just against TomTom, but against Linux too: but what exactly is Microsoft hoping to achieve? Samba's Jeremy Allison has a fascinating theory: 'What people are missing about this is the either/or choice that Microsoft is giving Tom Tom. It isn't a case of cross-license and everything is ok. If Tom Tom or any other company cross licenses patents then by section 7 of GPLv2 (for the Linux kernel) they lose the rights to redistribute the kernel *at all*. Make no mistake, this is intended to force Tom Tom to violate the GPL, or change to Microsoft embedded software.' Maybe embedded Linux is starting to get too popular."
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The Real Reason For Microsoft's TomTom Lawsuit

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  • Say It Ain't So (Score:5, Interesting)

    by alain94040 (785132) * on Thursday March 05, 2009 @01:04PM (#27079849) Homepage

    Ok, I'll play devil's advocate for a second. Here are the relevant parts of section 7 of the GPLv2:

    If, for any reason, conditions are imposed on you that contradict the conditions of this License, they do not excuse you from the conditions of this License. If you cannot distribute so as to satisfy simultaneously your obligations under this License and any other pertinent obligations, then as a consequence you may not distribute the Program at all.

    Here's an example. The US government probably prevents you from selling your open source software to Cuba or Iran. If I read section 7 correctly, that counts as a "condition imposed on you". So really you lose all rights to using that code?

    You got to be careful with literal interpretation of legalese... sometimes you can push the arguments too far.

    I hope the same applies to this theory that Microsoft is forcing people to violate the GPL and therefore lose their rights to the code.

  • What TomTom (and others) need to do is start using EXT2/3 on their external cards and then distribute Fuse with their software. This will force FAT and with that Microsoft tech slowly but surely out of the market.

    What do you think will happen when all external media starts using alternative formatting?

  • Re:Say It Ain't So (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 05, 2009 @01:18PM (#27080083)

    Since they have to distribute the code so people can use their devices they could just switch to a free FS. As I understand (IANAL) this lawsuit mostly concerns their use of FAT for their memory cards. If they used EXT2 and bundled EXT2IFS with their windows app they might well be able to avoid a lot of the hassles from Microsoft regarding this.

  • Re:Classic GPL (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pembo13 (770295) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @01:39PM (#27080399) Homepage

    So Microsoft sues someone and the GPL is what you blame?

  • Re:Say It Ain't So (Score:5, Interesting)

    by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @01:40PM (#27080429) Homepage Journal

    Forget ext2, they can use UDF [wikipedia.org], which is already supported on Windows, Linux and Mac OS X and is not patent encumbered.

  • UDF (Score:2, Interesting)

    by tzot (834456) <antislsh@medbar.gr> on Thursday March 05, 2009 @01:45PM (#27080485) Homepage

    So, is UDF an acceptable replacement for FAT (FAT32) filesystems on CF, SD etc devices?

    I think it's not patented (but ICBW) and I believe (but ICBW again) Windows has the ability to read/write UDF filesystems.

  • by cyphercell (843398) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @01:46PM (#27080503) Homepage Journal
    "There is no avoiding war; it can only be postponed to the advantage of others." Niccolo Machiavelli The escalation is not all Microsoft's. GPLv2 is proof that the FSF was looking forward to this scenario.
  • Re:Say It Ain't So (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dgatwood (11270) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @01:49PM (#27080559) Journal

    Actually, there are plenty of patents on UDF, or at least patents on ways of implementing UDF whose performance is even slightly usable.... In other words, just making sure the UDF implementation in Linux is clear of patent issues would be a major headache. There's really no good solution for storing user data that can't potentially run afoul of patents short of convincing the courts to ban data format patents and void all existing patents in this area. It's yet another clear example of how patents are stifling innovation in the field of computing for anyone without a multi-billion-dollar patent portfolio.

  • Re:Misleading title. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jeremy Allison - Sam (8157) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @01:54PM (#27080639) Homepage

    Thanks dude. I guess I should take my complements where I can :-).

    We are moving to a registry based config in later versions, but I'm not sure you would think that an improvement :-).

    You have to remember Samba is 17 years old, and you can still parse original smb.conf files from the first version. These things do tend to acrete over time, and it's hard to break existing configs. Not an excuse, but...... :-).

    Jeremy.

  • Re:Patents, not code (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Dare nMc (468959) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @02:06PM (#27080825)

    it's still not black and white. At least with GPLv2 you don't have to have all open hardware, IE the entire device doesn't have to be patent/license free, just the software that was compiled with GPL'd code. IE they are free to negotiate license's for attached devices sold in the same package. Also since the FAT resides on a separate chip, then how does a license negotiation over that affect the GPL'd code, as long as the interface used in the kernel doesn't require a license?
    Otherwise every computer/TIVO, etc shipped with any DRM, or propitiatory video card, or Sony memory stick reader could be sold with GPLv2 code. Since that was changed in GPLv3, that would be different analysis.

  • Re:Say It Ain't So (Score:3, Interesting)

    by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @02:06PM (#27080831) Homepage Journal

    UDF is an ISO/IEC standard, so the format itself is not patent encumbered. Yes, ways of implementing it are, but the important thing is that Microsoft only has 3 patents that even mention UDF, and only one of those is specific to UDF [google.com]. Also, IBM seems to be one of the largest patent holders on UDF implementations. I'm guessing they'd willing to launch a patent salvo against Microsoft should Microsoft try to sue someone over Linux' UDF implementation.

  • Re:Say It Ain't So (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dgatwood (11270) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @02:10PM (#27080879) Journal

    The problem is that these extensions aren't just used for long file names. IIRC, extra directory records in the FAT filesystem are also overloaded for other purposes like permissions, without which Linux et al would be unbootable off of FAT. I'd imagine that many of those uses would run afoul of the patent, but I could be wrong.

    More to the point, if it only applies to its use for naming purposes and not to the concept of storing additional data about a file in additional directory entries with reserved type codes that older OSes ignore, then the invention should have been unpatentable anyway, as there's nothing particularly original about taking the Rock Ridge extension set from ISO-9660 and applying the exact same concept to FAT except insofar as it uses additional directory entries. That's literally all they did here. Instead of an additional entry in the system use area of the variable-length directory record, they use additional directory entries with a different type code, but that's basically caused by differences in how the filesystem describes a file....

  • Re:Excuse Me? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mlwmohawk (801821) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @02:11PM (#27080907)

    Gates (and Allen) developed MBASIC, and DISK BASIC. DISK BASIC used the "FAT" system to control free space.

    Gates and company copied basic from other sources.

    The FAT system is nothing more than a fixed size array allocation system, in use in many systems of the time.

    CP/M did NOT use the same scheme. Instead, CP/M built up free space maps by scanning the directory. It also did not use a linked list. Personally, I thought FAT was weak then, and still is....

    CP/M was better, yes.

    But the "industry" adopted it.

    One has to wonder about the anti-trust issues of patent usage. Yes the industry adopted it, but could it have, in any practical sense, adopted anything else?

    Then, Microsoft designed a long filename system on top of it, that was back-compatible with the old method. THAT was patented. And, no, it wasn't even the "obvious" solution -- that would have been a mapping file.

    The word "obvious" is subjective. LFN in FAT is implemented simply using the existing directory mechanisms. Is the only way to do something "non obvious?"

    Microsoft was creative with the MS FAT longname solution. Either deal with it, or get the patent overturned.

    "Creative" is not what makes something worth a patent. Was it obvious? The only answer to that is yes, as someone skilled in the art (someone with file system experience, particularly FAT) their method was the only way to do it.

  • by MarkvW (1037596) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @02:24PM (#27081069)

    If Microsoft wins, it sucks for Tom Tom and it creates FUD. That's bad, but not too bad. Microsoft still has to sue everybody violating its software patent.

    But if Microsoft loses because the Court rejects the concept of software patents a'la Bilski, then Microsoft is royally screwed because if it sues anybody else over a software patent, that defendant can argue that Microsoft can't argue software patents anymore because they already fully fairly and finally litigated the issue against Tom Tom and they lost. They don't get to relitigate the same issue all over again.

    You can see why this is HUGE for Microsoft. If they win, they get some money from Tom Tom and they put a scare into the Linux community. If they lose because their software patents are no good, then Microsoft's whole software patent edifice is gravely jeopardized. Microsoft will really fight this hard.

    Tom Tom is really vulnerable because the GPS market is slammed in this economy. I suspect that Microsoft is betting that they'll give up. The Linux community ought to prop up Tom Tom with legal and technical support--at least on the software patent theory.

    Microsoft's invasion should be defended at the beaches. They should be thrown back into the sea before they create more FUD!

     

  • Re:Say It Ain't So (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anachragnome (1008495) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @02:42PM (#27081323)

    "Therefore, it is our right, nay, our duty to users everywhere to violate those bits of intellectual property at every possible opportunity until it becomes such a legal nightmare for these companies that they are forced to back down. Anything less would be uncivilized. I know this is no Rosa Parks moment, but it still very much necessary for the long-term viability of computing as we know it. Just say no to data format patents."

    This is precisely the tactic I encourage everyone I know to use.

    These people are no longer playing fair, WHY SHOULD WE?

    In this day and age, corporations are, quite simply put, walking right over common sense. There is no more "customer service", but rather corporations simply see us all as resources to be mined.

    When these people no longer see reason, no longer work to provide a product without stifling the competition, then "Intellectual Disobedience" is the ONLY route left to address the situation.

    Speak with your mind, voice and dollar, in that order.

  • Re:Classic GPL (Score:2, Interesting)

    by stonecypher (118140) <stonecypher@gmail.STRAWcom minus berry> on Thursday March 05, 2009 @02:43PM (#27081325) Homepage Journal

    Things like this make me wish I could request metamoderation. There was no trolling here, and yet it was done in under ten minutes. If someone's ability to request metamoderation was tuned down if they abused the request, then the metamoderation system would waste less work on articles nobody wants challenged, people would get more involved in metamoderation because they'd be presented with more examples of where it's productive, and problems where metamoderation was required would be less likely to slip under the radar simply because the dice didn't come up.

    Also, a +0, Disagree flag would go a long, long way to solving the constant abuse of troll and flamebait. Sometimes people are just looking for a way to register disagreement, and having a 0 attached to it visibly would help them remember that disagreement isn't meant to alter a score.

  • Re:Say It Ain't So (Score:2, Interesting)

    by RiotingPacifist (1228016) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @02:47PM (#27081415)

    If they used EXT2 and bundled EXT2IFS with their windows app
    Lets see if you read it this time

  • by QuietLagoon (813062) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @02:51PM (#27081461)
    Wasn't that what Microsoft said about the Windows anti-trust lawsuits?
  • Remember GIF (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fritsd (924429) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @02:55PM (#27081497) Journal

    I'm wondering if a patent can become so diluted that it is unenforceable. FAT is ubiquitous. It is used just about everywhere in every industry in innumerable devices. If Microsoft were to fight to enforce their patent they'd essentially be taking on the entire IT space. I doubt the courts would allow that to happen.

    IIRC, that's exactly what happened to GIF: After it was well established and used, Unisys [wikipedia.org] decided to see dollar signs.

  • What TomTom (and others) need to do is start using EXT2/3 on their external cards and then distribute Fuse with their software.

    FUSE for Windows doesn't exist. Someone claims to have one but isn't releasing it. Don't know or much care, since there's not a lot I can do about it. There is an Ext2 "IFS" (installable filesystem?) driver package for Windows; it makes Windows XP far crashier than it already is. There is also an Ext2 access program which I found to not be able to access filesystems I was trying to read at all.

  • Re:UDF (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Mad Leper (670146) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @04:15PM (#27082569)

    So why do so many devices that use GPL software still use FAT (FAT32) instead of UDF?

    If it's a standard and unencumbered by patents (unclear but likely) why the resistance to using it?

  • Re:Misleading title. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cptnapalm (120276) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @04:18PM (#27082601)

    Once upon a time I decided to change over to sendmail, after all that was what the big boys used.

    So, I apt-geted sendmail.

    Then I looked at the configuration file.

    30 seconds later, I was installing postfix.

  • Re:I disagree! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Lord Bitman (95493) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @04:20PM (#27082633) Homepage

    Software is covered by patents, there is no need for it to be covered by copyright, too.

    Software is often distributed in binary form: a form which cannot be derived from. The protection, for a limited time, of original works, is meant to allow them to be developed so that people in the future can create derivative works based on them.

      - NO protection without source code.
      - NO copyright on compiled software (makes as much sense as copyrighting a hammer)
      - Patent protections on binaries, contingent on the full source being provided.
      - NO obvious patents.

    Software patents aren't bad, they just have a bad name because stupid ones have been granted.

  • Re:Say It Ain't So (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jakykong (1474957) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @06:23PM (#27084557)
    Nobody is standing in our way right now -- but of course, "intellectual disobedience" (that is, refusing to accept bad patents or trampling of our rights by "rights holders") is one way to keep a future away where someone is in our way. If that future came, I don't want to say "I just stood around while it happened".

    They don't need to give up everything. They can exist. They may turn a profit (whether the can is another story...). They can make all the software they want. But here's the real issue:

    I would be very willing to pay $50 for a good operating system, with source code, that did not have activation, didn't phone home behind my back, didn't require 80% of my system resources to run, and wasn't made by a company that tries to strong-arm me at every turn.

    I am not willing to pay $200+ for a shoddy operating system, without source code, that requires activation (and worse: may be deactivated), phones home behind my back, eats system resources like popcorn, and is made by a company that tries to strongarm me at every turn.

    I'm not opposed to microsoft because they cost money. No. I'm opposed to microsoft because they're against me. And I will gladly trample on their "intellectual property" if it shows them that their customers matter.
  • Re:Excuse Me? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by shutdown -p now (807394) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @06:38PM (#27084783) Journal

    "Creative" is not what makes something worth a patent. Was it obvious? The only answer to that is yes, as someone skilled in the art (someone with file system experience, particularly FAT) their method was the only way to do it.

    Is the patent on "using directory entries for LFN" in general? or is it on a specific encoding for LFN in directory entries?

    If it's the latter, then, arguably, it's not all that obvious, and, in fact, reasonable on its own (since you can always use a different way to encode LFN).

    The problem is that, in practice, you have to encode LFNs the way Windows does it, because that's what the majority of your users will be using. But it's not the fault with the patent itself in this case.

  • Re:Remember GIF (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Thinboy00 (1190815) <{thinboy00} {at} {gmail.com}> on Thursday March 05, 2009 @11:00PM (#27087159) Journal

    IANAL, but the patent seems to be VERY broad. It basically covers "everything that's not FAT12/16 and is within the same class of stuff as FAT32" (of course such patents are invalid IIRC, but that doesn't mean it isn't expensive and difficult to defend against a lawsuit). In other words, if you make a FAT-lookalike (or even an incompatible filesystem that has similar functionality, even with a completely different underlying structure), Microsoft might still decide it wants to sue you. IANAL, this isn't legal advice, use of the word "you" instead of "one" does not make it legal advice.

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