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How Linus Torvalds Helped Bust a Microsoft Patent 103

Posted by Soulskill
from the wondertux-powers-activate dept.
New submitter inhuman_4 passes along this quote from an article at Wired: "Last December, Microsoft scored a victory when the ITC Administrative Law Judge Theodore R. Essex found that Motorola had violated four Microsoft patents. But the ruling could also eliminate an important Microsoft software patent that has been invoked in lawsuits against Barnes & Noble and car navigation device-maker Tom Tom. According to Linus Torvalds, he was deposed in the case this past fall, and apparently his testimony about a 20-year-old technical discussion — along with a discussion group posting made by an Amiga fan, known only as Natuerlich! — helped convince the Administrative Law Judge that the patent was invalid."
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How Linus Torvalds Helped Bust a Microsoft Patent

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  • >along with a discussion group posting made by an Amiga fan, known only as Natuerlich!
    That'll be the 'Amiga' fan posting in comp.sys.atari.st about the ST's OS options will it?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Also, "known only as Natuerlich!"?

      The post has a complete e-mail adress from somebody at the computer science department of the university in Darmstadt attached to it.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Nothing saying that he couldn't have been an Atari ST owner who is an 'Amiga fan' - Not mutually exclusive ;)

      Ahh good old days....

      • by Shinobi (19308)

        Considering that the Amiga vs Atari flamewars were of a magnitude even Emacs vs Vi will only ever dream of reaching, I find it hard to believe that claim :p

        • by MrDoh! (71235)

          I think that's it. And the Amiga owners are now Android Users, the Atari ST users are now drooling in a corner somewhere, and SNES owners now use iOS.

          • by Shinobi (19308)

            Nah, us Amiga users are a diverse bunch, using a bit of this, a bit of that. Many of us tend to be on the high-end side of things, not having settled for mere routine work

    • known only as Natuerlich!

      It's 2012 and we still can't use umlauts in email addresses?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Since when do Amiga fans talk about operating systems for Atari hardware?

    OK. I admit they did it all the time. Let me rephrase.

    Since when do Amiga fans talk about operating systems for Atari hardware without flaming?

  • Atari ST & Amiga (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Oh, c'mon don't try to start old flamewar. Atari ST is not Amiga...

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I agree. Let it drop. We all know the Atari ST sucks, while the Amiga still kicks $ss!!!!

      • by Joce640k (829181) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @06:38AM (#39506991) Homepage

        Be sure to let us know when you've managed to get your Amiga to boot from a hard disk...

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          ummm lets see every Amiga after the 1000/500 ie 1500-3000 and even the 500 with a conversion could boot from a hard drive.

          • by Joce640k (829181)

            Sure, but the Amiga was dead by then...

            • by Anonymous Coward

              You don't know what you are talking about. The A500 was what put the Amiga brand into homes by the million and the second model released. The harddrive plugged into the left of the machine and booted fine with a ramp shaped box to match the Amiga's profile. It was nothing more than a SCSI board, you could replace the drive for a bigger model. Many of us did this. GVP with a quantum drive was the best at the time for performance, 50MB was the main offering, then cheaper options started to appear. We also upg

              • by Joce640k (829181)

                Nope. Most A500 machines only had Kickstart 1.2. You needed Kickstart 1.3 to boot from hard disk.

          • The A500 could boot from hard disk starting from Kickstart 1.3 (released in 1988). No conversion necessary, just a SCSI controller.
        • by Anonymous Coward

          Seriously? It was a 40MB SCSI drive in my Amiga 2000 in the early 90s. Amiga's booted just fine from hard drives. Even the Amiga 500 had the option. You must be an Atari ST fan! (They aren't very smart.) lol

        • by Viewsonic (584922)

          My Amiga 500 had a 40MB hard drive and 2Mb memory expansion box on the left side. It cost me $700 and was worth every penny.

        • by k8to (9046)

          Strange, I achieved this feat in 1989. Perhaps you did not get the memo.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 29, 2012 @05:51AM (#39506739)

    Well if patents are really to reward innovation, and if the patent office was right that this is an innovation, presumably Microsoft will be stripped of the profit it made by stealing his invention and the money given to him?

    No?

    Ahh, I thought so, patents are just a game. The USPTO believed it could create IP assets by simply issuing more patents and did a huge load of damage in the process to everyone except lawyers.

  • by ccguy (1116865) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @05:52AM (#39506743) Homepage

    Linus: (b) do the long filenames by fooling around with several consecutive minix-type directory entries. Depending on how you do it, you can make old binaries see only th first characters of a extended filename, while new binaries see them all. Besides, this means you won't waste a full 64-char direntry for short files, but instead use several entries only when necessary. The downside is that it's a bit more work in the kernel.

    Reading about saving bytes and caring about storage... um, gave me a semi...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 29, 2012 @06:00AM (#39506789)

    I can imagine the Laywer vs Torvalds.

    Lawyer: Are you sure this alledged discussion happend before the MS patent
    Linus: Yes, I'm sure, in fact the timestamp is right there: Dec 23 1992, 8:34 am
    Lawyer: 20 Years is a long time ago, how can you be so sure?
    Linus: the timestamp is right there: Dec 23 1992, 8:34 am
    Lawyer: So there is no doubt you might remeber the date wrong.
    Linus: No.
    Lawyer: Really, So when did this discussion happend?
    Linus: Dec 23 1992, 8:34 am
    Lawyer: I see, are you sure about the date? ...

    Internet 1, Lawyers 0
    Thank you internet news groups for documenting these old discussions.

    • by clickclickdrone (964164) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @07:08AM (#39507179)
      >Thank you internet news groups for documenting these old discussions.
      And another good reason we should stop relying on web boards and get back to Usenet. You can bet if a discussion like this happened 5 years ago on a forum, it's gone now. We're such a throw away society, we even throw away stuff like this.
      • by cheekyboy (598084)

        So if old forums were converted to plain static html files that can be easily copied/indexed, then that means that all this fancy pants highend database stuff is all a big wank and long term useless as its not portable data.

        • by tqk (413719)

          Off topic, but ...

          So if old forums were converted to plain static html files that can be easily copied/indexed, then that means that all this fancy pants highend database stuff is all a big wank and long term useless as its not portable data.

          What are you talking about? Gmane was/is(?) presenting Usenet groups as web forums. It's portable data (ASCII/text), and it would be just as easy to take it the other way (forum --> newsfroup format). All it takes is a db programmer with time to do it. It's hardly rocket science. You do know what the "ht" in HTML means, yes?

    • by Blakey Rat (99501)

      So, what, you're just assuming the lawyer is a moron?

      Your point about documentation is valid, but then again a cancelled stamp would have the date on it, too. It's not like news groups are the only thing ever that are datestamped.

  • PHOSITA (Score:5, Insightful)

    by l2718 (514756) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @06:01AM (#39506803)

    A major problem with the way courts have analyzed software patents is their low-balling the skill level of a "Person having ordinary skill in the art". This is significant since anything such a person can do given the prior art is considered "obvious" and non-patentable. Basically, judges don't understand software well enough to distinguish true invention from routine solutions to problems.

    In the case of software patents, many of them (the long-filename patent, the BCD patent [invalidated by the Supreme Court on other grounds] and so on) are for solutions that a typical developer will propose given the problem. But, because PHOSITA is basically taken to be an idiot the "obviousness" limitation on patentability has no effect unless by some chance an actual person bothered to write down this solution in the past.

    • by drerwk (695572)
      Doesn't the discussion highlight the meaning of "ordinary skill in the art"? I might argue that the person asking the implementation question has such ordinary skill, and they are asking Linus, who I posit has greater than ordinary skill in the art, for direction because to them the answer is not obvious. The counter argument is that another person had already done an implementation and I think Linus may have been recalling the other implementation, but Linus offers some good insight on compatibility issues
      • by l2718 (514756)

        Here's a problem: you have a data structure intended to be kept in an array and would like to extend it (say by adding a field) in a backward-compatible way.

        Here's a standard solution going back to the first days of computers: chain successive entries in the array, with the first entry being kept roughly the same as it was before while the succeeding ones are made "invalid" in some way so that the legacy programmes ignore them while the new programmes know how to deal with the extra data. A twist on this i

    • by jedidiah (1196)

      Yes. Quite.

      This reminds me of wide eyed "consumers" that are in total awe of some consumer electronics device. They think that just because "they are impressed" that some company should have a 17 year long innovation stiffling excuse to sue anyone that produces something similar.

      It's the "rube on the street" standard versus the "person skilled in the art". Although some of these things come off as fodder for university homework assignments.

      Of course the "rube in the street" acting as a corporate shill has n

  • by backslashdot (95548) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @06:10AM (#39506843)

    Microsoft recently got this patent:
    http://www.reghardware.com/2011/09/23/microsoft_contemplates_mobiles_with_interchangeable_accessories/ [reghardware.com]

    Now, go to http://www.engadget.com/2008/12/26/how-would-you-change-sony-ericssons-xperia-x1/2#comments [engadget.com] and do a find in page for the word "bottom" or "pop out" ... ok read that description .. now if you scroll up to the top of the article you can see a photo of the Xperia X1 which is being talked about .. notice that a combination of the Xperia X1 and the comment exactly fit the patent of microsoft? If you read the actual patent it becomes even clearer they stole the idea from that engadget comment.

    • by qxcv (2422318)

      If you read the actual patent it becomes even clearer they stole the idea from that engadget comment.

      Because "stealing" is the only logical explanation for two people coming up with similar ideas at different times, right?

      • Because "stealing" is the only logical explanation for two people coming up with similar ideas at different times, right?

        It depends on who you ask and in which context. I don't think that it is, but plenty of people claim that it is when they are trying to get one over a competitor who has a similar idea.

      • by Arrepiadd (688829) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @07:14AM (#39507215)

        No, stealing isn't the only way. But then again, when you apply for a patent it should (in principle) be for something novel and non-obvious. If random Joe (whomever he is) can think of it, then maybe a patent shouldn't be granted to such a thing.

      • Because "stealing" is the only logical explanation for two people coming up with similar ideas at different times, right?

        Yes, "stealing" is the only explanation for someone using force (government patent) to deprive the other person of the ability to use the idea.

        Some things are independently invented, and all the inventors get to use it, and other people get to copy them.

        And some things are stolen, taken away from everyone else. It's not even an accident; the filing for a patent shows intent to take away

        • by jedidiah (1196)

          A bad patent allows large corporations to steal from me personally. They allow a corporation to deprive me of the product of my own intellect. Patents allow corporations to sue me for "re-inventing" something trivial. This happens without the benefit of me ever seeing their patent because their patent is total nonsense.

          This is a far greater harm then having different companies all re-invent the same thing.

      • Because "stealing" is the only logical explanation for two people coming up with similar ideas at different times, right?

        According to the patent office, it sure seems to be.

    • Microsoft may have gotten the idea from the comment, but in principle a patent should require actually putting the idea to practice -- to actually make it work. Patenting the implementation (how do the connectors work? how do you make parts fit together snugly?) is not so absurd.

      If the patent really is for the idea "mobile phone with interchangable parts" then it's wrong, but if it's merely for "this particular design of a mobile phone with these particular interchangable parts, with this particular metho

      • by metacell (523607)

        There's still the problem of using patents as a way to prevent interoperability. E.g, a cellphone manufacturer wants to prevent competitors from making accessories to their phones, so they patent the connector.

        • by Dog-Cow (21281)

          You seem confused. Patents can be used one of two ways. 1) They can be used as revenue, via licensing. 2) They can be used to prevent competition. These are not mutually-exclusive (witness 3rd-party iPod/iPhone dock accessories), but either alone is a valid and intended use of patents.

          And if you were indeed referring to Apple, you are confused on another point. If Motorola or Samsung want to make dock accessories for Apple devices, Apple would be happy to let them. What Apple doesn't want is for Motor

          • by metacell (523607)

            The purpose of patents is to promote the publication of useful technical solutions. An inventor describes their solution in their patent application, which then becomes public, and in return for making it public gets a time-limited monopoly on it.

            When someone constructs a special connector to prevent interoperability, the connector itself isn't valuable. Patenting (and publishing) it doesn't make society richer, since its main purpose is to *prevent* devices from working together. Once the patent has run ou

      • Not really. Patents are worded to maximize the breadth of interpretation. Design patents are something separate. It's entirely likely this patent will cover what was described in the engadget post.
        The sad thing is that even if this guy thought his idea was truly innovative and patentable, he'd have had to invest a fortune to even get it granted, and even then it would have been practically worthless as he has zero manufacturing power and no industry influence. Tech patents are only really effective in bulk

  • by Alain Williams (2972) <addw@phcomp.co.uk> on Thursday March 29, 2012 @07:02AM (#39507139) Homepage

    This shows how important it is that mail list (& similar) archives of very old discussions are kept on-line. They are not just a matter of academic/historic interest, they can have real benefits.

    So: if you do host something like this and are thinking of removing it because it is old, out of date, ... please think again. Thanks.

    • by tqk (413719)

      So: if you do host something like this and are thinking of removing it because it is old, out of date, ... please think again.

      Which reminds me of the guy in the Niven & Pournelle Lucifer's Hammer [wikipedia.org] who was spraying his books with insecticide, double bagging them, then dropping 'em down a well. Thanks.

  • So ... does this mean that the infamous "long file name patents" are now officially busted?
    • by Junta (36770)

      Seemingly, though I would've thought that MS could've argued they never touched on the '~1' '~2' name collision coping in those discussions. They didn't really say anything one way or another on any of those. It seems an obvious extension of that thinking if they proceeded and ran into that, but not explicitly documented.

  • by nurb432 (527695) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @07:46AM (#39507443) Homepage Journal

    Its clearly an Atari thread that was discussed in court. If the attorneys were incorrect, they jeopardized their case out of ignorance, if it was the guy who wrote the story, he should be taken out back and shot.

    I don't care if its been decades since both camps lost the fight with IBM/Microsoft, but they deserve to be represented properly.

    • by evilandi (2800)

      Screw the court case, I'm still harbouring resentment from Amiga owners looking down on my decision to buy an ST. That's a battle as big as Confederates vs. Unionists! Tudors vs. Plantagenets! Roundheads vs. Royalists!

      If we ST owners defeated Microsoft in court, then by Jingo we Atarians deserve the credit! Screw you and your fancy graphics chips, Amigans, bow down before my vastly superior raw CPU megahertz! Not that I'm bitter, or anything.

      Good Lord, I'm old. But a four-digit Slashdot ID will never be eno

      • by nurb432 (527695)

        We had better sound too.. and a better OS.

        Oddly enough, in the 8-bit world i was still in the Atari camp, but all my friends were in commodores ( but i found that was a highly regional thing.. ).

      • by cheekyboy (598084)

        Amiga mhz was tuned to be in sync with the TV frequency screen updates.

        ie, n nanoseconds represented X pixels on screen, 140 was 8 I think.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Funny, they /are/ being represented properly. Atari never got any respect in the day, either, and whined about it.

      (Disclaimer: A1000, Workbench 1.3, 2MB Micron expansion. ;) )

  • by Anonymous Coward

    of course, now that usenet is gone....such a thing can never happen again. email is simply not as persistent as usenet discussions.

  • The odd thing is, I don't really see how these discussion relate to the patent in question. You see, the real beauty of MS's solution was having two separate filenames associated with a file, allowing for a great deal of backwards compatibility. The solutions offered by Linus and others amounted to effectively showing LFN-unaware programs only the first n characters of a long filename; the obvious problem with this is filename collision. It also does nothing to support things like UTF-8 or other encoding

  • An Atari ST fan. Calling them an Amiga fan is just about the most egregious trolling you could do! ...IIRC, Linus was an Amiga hacker before he got his 386 to work on Linux. The Atari community had TOS [wikipedia.org] (GEM gui, GEMDOS disk/filesystem, and other syscalls).

  • An ITC finding of invalidity does not "bust a patent," it merely prevents relief through the ITC. An Article III court, e.g., a federal district court, does not have to give any weight to the ITC's validity finding, meaning the patent is still valid for "normal" law suit purposes.

  • Well done. Now, what about the other 200 patents that cover that exact same algorithm?

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