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TomTom Can License FAT Without Violating the GPL 261

Posted by timothy
from the ask-a-master-license-delver dept.
dp619 writes "Capped per-unit royalties make FAT licensing agreements permissible under the GPL, and SD Times has found that Microsoft's public license policy caps royalties at $250k. If the royalties are capped — as they seem to be — TomTom should be able to license FAT without violating the GPL. And if that is the case ... TomTom needs some serious explaining to do as to why they aren't licensing FAT. That said, Microsoft still needs to explain why it just cannot say that folks won't violate the GPL if they license FAT under its terms."
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TomTom Can License FAT Without Violating the GPL

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  • by AJWM (19027) on Thursday March 12, 2009 @11:23PM (#27176985) Homepage

    The Microsoft v Tom-Tom suit covers a half-dozen or so patents, only two of them FAT-related. (Besides which, the FAT patent has been thrown out in Germany.) Most if not all of them are obvious or have prior art, like the FAT patents, and may well not hold up under Bilski. What does it gain Tom-Tom to license a (potential invalidatable) patent like FAT if they're still being sued over half a dozen others? If they have to go to court anyway, might as well try to get them all overturned - they can always offer to settle later.

  • by bogaboga (793279) on Thursday March 12, 2009 @11:35PM (#27177079)

    TomTom should be able to license FAT without violating the GPL. And if that is the case ... TomTom needs some serious explaining to do as to why they aren't licensing FAT. That said, Microsoft still needs to explain why it just cannot say that folks won't violate the GPL if they license FAT under its terms."

    Ohh yes they will violate the GPL. I have lifted the comment below (in bold), from this [itbusinessedge.com] informed user who I trust on these issues. He also drives home the motivation behind Microsoft's actions. Take a read.

    Samba maintainer Jeremy Allison pointed out in a recent blog posting by writer Glyn Moody that companies who sign up to Microsoft's licensing cannot continue to distribute their code under GPLv2.

    Section seven of GPLv2 - called the "Liberty or Death" clause - states that you cannot distribute code if outside restrictions have been imposed.

    "What people are missing about this is the either/or choice that Microsoft is giving TomTom," Alison posted.

    "It isn't a case of cross-license and everything is ok. If TomTom 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."

    In other words, Microsoft is eroding Linux and open source and slowing their development. A deal with Microsoft prevents GPL'd code from returning to the ecosystem whence it came, with any improvements or updates, as companies that do patent licensing deals with Microsoft must keep it in-house.

  • Re:which? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pizzach (1011925) <pizzach&gmail,com> on Thursday March 12, 2009 @11:48PM (#27177153) Homepage
    Say I format a floppy on a Windows machine using FAT and it has some long file names on it. Do I have to pay a royalty to Microsoft for for the privilege of owning the floppy or for the privilege of reading the floppy on my Linux machine sitting right next to it?
  • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Thursday March 12, 2009 @11:59PM (#27177211) Homepage Journal
    Okay but can microsoft sue the vendor of every linux laptop which supports vfat?
  • Re:which? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pizzach (1011925) <pizzach&gmail,com> on Friday March 13, 2009 @12:44AM (#27177439) Homepage
    Thanks for replying again, quickOnTheUptake. I'm just trying to gauge how possible it would be for TomTom to just use ext2/3 as it's main storage and have a FAT partition (unreadable for the device because it would lack the drivers) that auto-runs a ext driver install when connected to a Windows PC.
  • Get rid of FAT (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Hucko (998827) on Friday March 13, 2009 @01:45AM (#27177707)

    Is someone connected high up with VLC, GIMP or even Mozilla that can start piggy-backing the ext2fs driver installer (with the users permission of course) on installation of such programs? Heck it would go a long way to fixing such problems.

  • Re:Why not? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Tenebrousedge (1226584) <tenebrousedge AT gmail DOT com> on Friday March 13, 2009 @01:46AM (#27177711)

    Why would someone develop for WinCE? Not to troll, it just seems like a dead platform.

  • by Jonner (189691) on Friday March 13, 2009 @02:20AM (#27177853)

    Yeah, UDF would probably be the best vendor-neutral choice, but you couldn't just format your device as UDF, plug it into a Windows machine, and copy files to it, since the implementation in Windows is incomplete and buggy AFAIK.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 13, 2009 @02:22AM (#27177857)

    Didn't they patent Augmented Reality based gps navigation recently? They seem to have aninterest being a patent troll, so even Microsoft may be on the wrong side, TomTom has deserved getting fingers burnt anyway.

  • Great exhibit for why allowing the patenting of software was a bad idea. Even you experts are guessing and rethinking how these hypothetical lawsuits would play out. If such complexity was necessary, it'd be one thing, but it's not.

    Working out the issues in court could cost enough to make $250K look petty. Society will bear these costs. Generous of people to already be offering to help out with donations, but I wish it wasn't necessary. Ideally, MS should have no case whatsoever, and shouldn't even be thinking of such things. But patent law has handed them an angle. Remove patenting of software, and then the issues of this particular case will be non-issues.

  • Re:Fuck em (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 13, 2009 @03:49AM (#27178179)

    what about UDF? it is supported natively by windows, linux and mac. you can use it on dvd's cd's memory sticks/cards.. it is exactly good for this purposes. i use it to avoid fat, jouliet extensions and all microsoft's crappy formats and still make compatible media for their users. the only problem is that almost all media comes preformatted in FAT, but i'm sure that they can arrange other formats for their equipment with fabricants for a lot less than 250k

  • by OrangeTide (124937) on Friday March 13, 2009 @04:33AM (#27178313) Homepage Journal

    I had no ends of trouble trying to get a writable UDF flash volume working on Windows XP and Vista and Mac OS X. It was hard to even create a real blank UDF volume without jumping on linux and using udftools. I couldn't get OSX to make a worthwhile one with hdiutil.

    The UDF spec is certainly capable of being a good interoperable filesystem, the recent additions are a little complicated. but the base standard is worth supporting in my opinion. But I don't think it will go anywhere. OS support seems mainly targeted to DVDRW media.

    If anyone can point me to information on how to get UDF up and going, I would be grateful to add support for it in the next consumer device I develop for!

  • by gnasher719 (869701) on Friday March 13, 2009 @04:35AM (#27178317)

    I see another problem with this and that is that it shoots a hole in the GPS licensing. What good is open source if you still have to pay royalties to patent trolls in order to use it?

    What do patent trolls have to do with anything? Let's say you are young enough to still go to school, and there is a school bully who threatens to beat up anyone who uses a computer that doesn't run Windows. So what good is GPL licensing? (I assume you meant GPL and not GPS). What good is a license to MacOS X, when Apple can't protect you from getting beaten up?

    This whole GPL angle on the TomTom case is nonsense. TomTom uses Linux under the GPL license. Linux is either infringing on Microsoft's patent, or it isn't. If it is, that is not TomTom's fault. So TomTom gets blackmailed. They either pay or they don't. Whether they pay or they don't doesn't affect whether Linux is infringing on Microsoft's patent or not. Payment doesn't mean that TomTom admits Microsoft's patents are valid, it means they want to avoid a court case. Even if TomTom admits Microsoft's patents are valid, that isn't binding on anyone.

    As long as TomTom puts all the code on their website, and doesn't itself add restrictions to its use, I can't see how they would be violating the GPL. Sure, they can tell you about this bully boy who forced them to pay money, and the bully boy could go after you as well. But the patent infringement, if there is one, is there in all Linux versions.

  • by Andy_R (114137) on Friday March 13, 2009 @05:25AM (#27178495) Homepage Journal

    I'm starting to wonder if this isn't in some way connected to Apple's counter-intuitive decision to block TomTom from selling their software for the iPhone.

    TomTom announced fairly shortly after the 3G iPhone with built-in GPS appeared that they had a working port of their navigation software, but despite the obvious demand for the App, and the profits to be made from Apple's cut if it was on the App store, Apple have a very surprising clause in their development agreement that prohibits 'turn by turn navigation' apps.

    If Apple are ready to bundle their own brand navigation software into iPhone OS 3.0 (rumoured to be announced next week), it might drive TomTom into the arms of Microsoft... however if TomTom are siding with Apple and the inevitable approved navigation software *is* that port of TomTom, then this whole kerfuffle might well be a warning shot over their bows by Microsoft.

  • by zaphirplane (1457931) on Friday March 13, 2009 @07:11AM (#27178963)

    Then if TomTom settles with MS and TomTom's EULA does not impose restrictions on the end user, this clause does not apply. Even if it did what would it say ... must use windows when plugging the device to a PC! would not stand in court I assume

    There is something bizarre about this clause and it's interpretation, in that TomTom does not own the rights to the Linux's vfat code, so how can they impose restrictions on it. Can I then impose restrictions on say ext3, just for fun?

    How is this different from :
    Redhat restricting the number of cpus if you buy RHEL.
    Tivo restricting how (in fact if) you can use their device
    Wireless device drivers including intel that impose restrictions on frequency the device can operate (by using blobs)

  • Re:which? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AlecC (512609) <aleccawley@gmail.com> on Friday March 13, 2009 @07:58AM (#27179169)

    Yes, he could not patent the concept of a teleporter, though he could patent a particular implementation. An idea does NOT need to be implementable (at the time) to be patentable. (Except, in the case of the USPTO, for perpetual motion machines, for which they demand a working model to keep the whackos at bay).

    In his seminal article about geosynchronous satellites, published in 1945, Arthur C Clarke described the need for a synchroniser for TV signals transmitted by satellite, even though neither the satellite nor the technology to build the synchroniser existed at the time.

    When the technology to build digital synchronizers arrived in the early seventies, the first company to build one was unable to patent the idea because of Clarke's prior art. Which was lucky for the company which built the second one, for which I worked a little time later.

  • by hackstraw (262471) on Friday March 13, 2009 @08:50AM (#27179465)

    IANAL, but to me I don't see where paying MS would violate the GPL at all.

    The gist of the GPL is about distribution, modifications and source availability. I searched for Open Office the other day, and the first link was something like software-openoffice.com. Out of morbid curiosity, I clicked on it and they wanted me to pay like $30-60/year subscription to download OO. For all I know, this is a patented business method or software design or something. Now, OO is LGPL, not GPL, but I've heard here on /. that in Europe these kind of pay sites for GPL stuff are around and they are legal.

    To me, the real crime is that 14+ year old technology has the potential to even under a patent.

  • Re:Why not? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Bruce Perens (3872) * <bruce@perens.com> on Friday March 13, 2009 @09:00AM (#27179551) Homepage Journal
    I don't think there's anything magic about source code that would disable the Doctrine of Laches. There is ample evidence that the source code has been compiled and used in a commercial context for more than a decade. Microsoft has not asserted its rights against the producers of namei_vfat.c despite the fact that it has been clearly visible to Microsoft for a long time. I think that's all you need to build a Laches case.
  • by yakovlev (210738) on Friday March 13, 2009 @09:14AM (#27179661) Homepage
    And GPLv3 is proof of his point.

    The GPL restricts developers and distributors, not end users. GPLv3 adds additional restrictions.

    If a business was built around exploiting "loopholes" in the GPLv2 and then the project they were relying on as a whole moves to GPLv3, then the business may have lost access to further updates.

    So, even the GPL is not exempt from creating tighter restrictions. Just because some people happen to like the restrictions doesn't mean they aren't beyond those originally applied.
  • by True Grit (739797) * <.edwcogburn. .at. .gmail.com.> on Friday March 13, 2009 @11:08AM (#27180841)

    deploy a file system driver ... and bundle it with flash player ... It does not have to even integrate with flash but use the distribution mechanism to beat them at their own game

    Bingo. If the FAT-LFN FS (FAT filesystem with long filename support) patents can't be invalidated, and aren't going to expire anytime soon, then I believe this idea will be the only permanent solution for the problem.

    Right now every company that distributes a "plug-ready" storage device that comes formatted with a FAT-LFN FS on it has to pay an expensive MS tax, or risk getting sued. If a company that pays the ransom *also* puts Linux on the device to read & write this format, then technically they could be sued by the authors of that code (assuming they wanted to), *if* those authors knew who these companies were. We already know, from MS itself [computerworld.com], that they have made such deals, under NDA, with companies, which allows those companies to remain anonymous.

    Introducing a new FS "standard" (for small devices) into the world of Windows, free of MS patents, and as ubiquitous as, say, the Adobe Flash Player is, would be a permanent way of ending the MS tax.

    Unfortunately, I'm not sure Adobe, specifically, would interested in trying, as AFAIK, they are primarily a software company, and don't make the kind of hardware devices we are talking about. What would be necessary, I think, is a consortium of hardware makers getting together, adopting an existing filesystem, making a Windows driver for it that is robust, stable, and ready for the typical Windows end-users out there, and then distributing the hell out of it. If they do the heavy lifting, *then* maybe they can get companies like Adobe, ones who are already doing mass distribution of commonly used Windows drivers & utilities, to help spread the new "standard", and *anyone* who has a device that needs this, could just slap this thing on their hardware's driver CD, with a label saying, in effect, "you must run the install CD first before using the device". Now that MS is targeting Adobe's own home-base with Silverlight, Adobe is not likely to be all that friendly towards MS anymore, and *probably* wouldn't mind helping out, as well as other major players, especially if it didn't require a lot of work on their part (just including it with whatever they're distributing now).

    Would they (the hardware makers) be interested? I don't know, apparently most of them believe its just easier to pay the MS tax. So it might take a little help from some in the FOSS community to kickstart the idea, by taking an existing open filesystem that's free of patents, and doing some (or a lot) of the software engineering to make such a fast, free, stable, easy-to-use filesystem driver (and an installer for it) possible. As some have mentioned earlier however, the available ext2 driver on Windows is apparently not very stable (and do we *know* if its patent free?), so there doesn't appear to be a ready option already available, and none of the hardware makers that are now under MS's thumb, show any desire to try and fight back.

    It might be a nice idea, or not, but the cynic in me thinks the most likely result will be that companies just continue to pay the MS tax (and those who also distribute Linux will do so anonymously, and just keep their heads down), until those FAT-LFN FS patents expire. The only question is, for how long?

  • Re:Why not? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Bruce Perens (3872) * <bruce@perens.com> on Friday March 13, 2009 @11:44AM (#27181457) Homepage Journal
    So, what if TomTom chose to rewrite namei_vfat.c, which isn't very long or complicated, and take those copyright holders out of the picture? They could GPL the result, but the only party with standing to sue them over the FAT patent might then be themselves.
  • by janwedekind (778872) on Friday March 13, 2009 @12:31PM (#27182229) Homepage

    I thought that Microsoft has a ongoing patent-licensing agreement with Novell which distributes GPLv3 software. But the GPLv3 says that therefore a world-wide royalty-free patent-license is granted. However the Linux kernel is licensed under GPLv2. So does anybody know a software which
    * is licensed under GPLv3
    * distributed by Novell
    * and contains FAT
    I guess that could change the game quite a bit.

  • by shutdown -p now (807394) on Friday March 13, 2009 @03:00PM (#27184481) Journal

    The gist of the GPL is about distribution, modifications and source availability. I searched for Open Office the other day, and the first link was something like software-openoffice.com. Out of morbid curiosity, I clicked on it and they wanted me to pay like $30-60/year subscription to download OO. For all I know, this is a patented business method or software design or something. Now, OO is LGPL, not GPL, but I've heard here on /. that in Europe these kind of pay sites for GPL stuff are around and they are legal.

    Oh, it's even funnier than that in Russia. There, you get government agencies, such as police - not even BSA-type guys! - raiding offices to check for "illegal software". This is because in Russia, software piracy is a criminal matter, not civil - i.e. the state itself can and will sue you, even if the copyright holder does not want it to happen (this is what happened in Ponosov [wikipedia.org] case, where MS itself said they have no problems, but the government went ahead with the prosecution).

    Now, aside from all the obvious problems with that, there's also the issue that the people doing those inspections understand very little about the business. They often have a simple script, which basically tells them to require the business owner to present either software boxes or some other printed document with a holographic "licensed blah-blah-blah" sticker. They do not know about FLOSS in general or Linux and OpenOffice in particular, so if you have a PC that can boot, and it doesn't have a licensed Windows sticker, you're in trouble. You may of course fight that in the courts and will probably win - the problem is that those inspectors have the right to confiscate the PCs they deem "unlicensed" on the spot, and hold them in custody until the court rules in your favor. Given that it may easily take several months to a year, it's a very major detriment for any business to stay out of most, if not all, of their computers for so long.

    So an alternative solution was found: some software distributors sell fancy-looking papers as "licenses" for FLOSS software. For example, here [softkey.ru] you can buy such a license for OpenOffice for ~$20. What it is is just a printout of a Russian translation of the GPL on fancy paper with a holographic sticker, and a title page that says "License granted to company X", so that you can shove it in the face of any inspector that comes to check. They say it works. $20 isn't exactly a small amount, though...

  • by harlows_monkeys (106428) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @03:36AM (#27190815) Homepage

    Here's how TomTom can get off the GPL hook, no matter what terms they come to with Microsoft:

    1. Write a library, from scratch, that implements VFAT and is covered by the patent license they get from Microsoft.
    2. Take VFAT out of their Linux kernel.
    3. Use FUSE to mount their VFAT volume, via the user-mode library that they wrote. Or, alternatively, compile the library from #1 into all of the TomTom applications that run under Linux on the TomTom hardware, and give the apps access to the raw volume, and don't even mount the VFAT volume. Essentially, VFAT would be just an application file format they use, with the file being the raw disk volume.

    The engineering effort for this would be easy.

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