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TomTom Can License FAT Without Violating the GPL 261

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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  • This story is nonsense.

    First, to be sued you have to have someone willing to sue you. That would be the copyright holders of the GPL code that can't be distributed. They are:

    Werner Almesberger
    Gordon Chaffee
    Wolfram Pienkoss
    OGAWA Hirofumi

    Those are the listed authors of the vfat code in the Linux kernel.

    I don't see why those folks would want to sue TomTom. In general the kernel team isn't interested in suing to enforce the GPL, and the only person to bring such a suit, Harald Welte of, isn't involved with this code.

    One of the possibilities in this case is that other companies than TomTom want to see the patents in question invalidated, and don't want to see TomTom bought by Microsoft, and will help TomTom with funds, etc. Whatever agreements go on about that will happen behind closed doors.

    TomTom probably would not want to pay a capped royalty of a quarter million for something as bad as the FAT patents without at least exploring any less expensive paths to invalidate the patent. Like the Doctrine of Laches, for example. That code has been in the kernel longer than the usual Laches interval, which in general would hand MS and automatic loss.

    Less expensive ways to win, in this case, may also mean "with someone else's money".

    A capped royalty payment is in general NOT in compliance with the GPL version 2. What is "fixed" in GPL3 is the Novell loophole of licensing customers of the other company rather than the other company directly. Microsoft is not required to offer TomTom a license that uses the Novell loophole. Whatever they offer TomTom may still be out of compliance with GPL2. But that doesn't matter if the developers don't want to sue.

    Jeremy is either being misquoted (likely) or he's a bit off-base this time.

  • Re:Fuck em (Score:3, Informative)

    by volxdragon ( 1297215 ) on Thursday March 12, 2009 @11:15PM (#27176941)

    It's quick, it's dirty, it's easy, and developers are lazy. I have seen many embedded products that use FAT just out of convenience for the developers (many of the embedded CPUs have reference bootrom code available from the CPU manufacturers and those generally support FAT partitioning and not EXT*).

  • by mysidia ( 191772 ) on Thursday March 12, 2009 @11:20PM (#27176971)

    Most likely the "cap" only applies to TomTom, not other 'licensees' of the software. For example, if TomTom sold a program to another company that relies on FAT technology, and the other company develops a different product based on the same kernel, Microsoft (if they follow common practice) would require the second company to license the FAT technology, to ship a product based on it.

    Unless their standard agreement would allow TomTom to sublicense the technology, and include an unlimited royalty-free license when they distribute the Linux source code that corresponds to the software they are shipping in binary form, then the "capped" license still violates the GPL.

    The GPL doesn't say you can distribute software under the GPL with capped royalties.

    The only way this works is if TomTom pays the full $250,000, and gets unlimited licensing for them and all recipients of the software from them.

    TomTom cannot require people who receive source code under GPL terms to report when they redistribute, in order for TomTom to pay for another license. The reporting requirement would be in violation of the GPL.

    See the GPL version 2 [] (which applies to the Linux kernel), these are some quotes from the License:

    We wish to avoid the danger that redistributors of a free program will individually obtain patent licenses, in effect making the program proprietary. To prevent this, we have made it clear that any patent must be licensed for everyone's free use or not licensed at all.


    For example, if a patent license would not permit royalty-free redistribution of the Program by all those who receive copies directly or indirectly through you, then the only way you could satisfy both it and this License would be to refrain entirely from distribution of the Program.


  • by Joe The Dragon ( 967727 ) on Thursday March 12, 2009 @11:23PM (#27176993)

    The memory cards / SD cards use fat

  • Re:which? (Score:5, Informative)

    by quickOnTheUptake ( 1450889 ) on Thursday March 12, 2009 @11:30PM (#27177043)
    IIRC it isn't about FAT, but about using long names in FAT.
  • Re:Fuck em (Score:4, Informative)

    by mysidia ( 191772 ) on Thursday March 12, 2009 @11:33PM (#27177069)

    Just switch file systems. Seriously, why the hell are you using FAT anyway.

    PC users who want to be able to exchange data between their TomTom and their Windows XP/Vista PC.

    There are essentially 5 filesystems available... FAT12, VFAT/FAT16 (Microsoft), FAT32 (Microsoft), and NTFS (Microsoft).

    FAT12 has limitations that make it essentially unusable (no long filenames)

    This difficulty in exchanging files with removable media is essentially a result of Microsoft's Windows monopoly.

    They have patented all the filesystems they implemented in Windows, and the only modern filesystems the OS supports are filesystems they have patented.

    Yeah, someone could develop a custom filesystem (ala VxFS) and sell it as an add-on application. It would probable be about as successful as Netscape Navigator was, compared to Internet Explorer, and since the OS itself couldn't be hosted on such a filesystem, such a product would have great difficulties in the marketplace.

  • Re:Fuck em (Score:3, Informative)

    by Toveling ( 834894 ) * on Thursday March 12, 2009 @11:37PM (#27177089)
    So that the flash cards, which are generally loaded from a Win/Mac with map data, can easily interoperate?
  • by maxume ( 22995 ) on Thursday March 12, 2009 @11:39PM (#27177103)

    TomTom (probably) can't pay Microsoft for a license to the FAT patents without violating the GPL. The people who wrote the code that is (probably) covered by Microsoft's patent would then have the right to sue TomTom (for violating the GPL).

  • by burnin1965 ( 535071 ) on Thursday March 12, 2009 @11:39PM (#27177111) Homepage

    Setting aside the idiocy in assuming that the patents are valid after being rejected twice by the USPTO before finally being revalidated [] and ... []

    GPL V2 Terms and Conditions []

    11. If, as a consequence of a court judgment or allegation of patent infringement or for any other reason (not limited to patent issues), conditions are imposed on you (whether by court order, agreement or otherwise) 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 Library at all. For example, if a patent license would not permit royalty-free redistribution of the Library by all those who receive copies directly or indirectly through you, then the only way you could satisfy both it and this License would be to refrain entirely from distribution of the Library.

    Microsoft does have the presidence in their favor due to the final decision of the USPTO and forcing Lexar to pay them off for their lame patents, but only a fool would simply give in to extortion.

  • by maxfresh ( 1435479 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @12:06AM (#27177263)
    Citation needed? Here it is: Federal Patent Court declares FAT patent of Microsoft null and void []

    These same two patents were also invalidated in the U.S. [] for a while, but they were subsequently upheld after an appeal. []
  • That would make it incompatible with all versions of Windows. At which point you might as well use another filesystem.

    FAT files need the stupid short names. It's a requirement. You can't physically have a FAT filesystem without short names. The patents are about the fugly hack that long filenames on FAT are (which makes them compatible with short filenames; it doesn't add that capability to them).

  • Re:Fuck em (Score:3, Informative)

    by burnin1965 ( 535071 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @12:17AM (#27177311) Homepage
    Mac OS X drivers [] and Windows drivers [] are available for ext2. FAT is not absolutely necessary for cross platform compatible file storage hardware.
  • by Jeremy Allison - Sam ( 8157 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @12:19AM (#27177319) Homepage

    You're correct Bruce, I'm off base this time. I got contacted by the writer this morning who told me that the SFLC had told him that a fixed cap would work with GPLv2. So being in the middle of coding something (ie. not paying enough attention), and remembering the fixed price we paid to get access to the EU Workgroup Server docs, I just agreed that it sounded like this would be a work-around for v2, but not for v3 where section 11 is much stricter about patent licensing (explicitly the bits about extending the license downstream), and bingo - there goes the story with the quote. You know how these things go :-(. My fault, and I'll be more careful in future.

    Looking closely at the license here: []

    the devil is in the details. Someone just mailed me a comprehensive analysis and agreeing to this license, even with a royalty cap, would violate GPLv2 in several ways.

    There is a field of use restriction : "Pricing for other device types can be negotiated with Microsoft."

    Modification restrictions: "devices are fully compliant with certain required portions of the Microsoft FAT file system specification"

    and a per-manufacturer limit: "a cap on total royalties of $250,000 per manufacturer".

    So yes, I got it wrong and this license is in no way GPLv2 compatible.

    Sorry for the mistake. Blame me, not the journalist who was just trying to get his story.


  • Re:Fuck em (Score:3, Informative)

    by mysidia ( 191772 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @12:22AM (#27177331)

    In traditional FAT12, filenames are limited to 8 characters, plus a . and an optional extension up to 3 characters.

    LFNs in FAT12 are only possible with the VFAT extensions, or by some similar hack. MS doesn't have a patent on FAT12, but they have a patent for the extension to use long filenames on FAT12.

  • by ( 760528 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @12:27AM (#27177345)

    Way back when the whole thing about fat being patented hit slashdot there were a few articles. One in particular was about nearly every camera manufacturer ponying up the dollars after the patent was uphelp... they all paid $250k to use fat (so no, this isnt new - and this was all on slashdot by the way).

    Also, people keep missing the point of the patent (i.e. whats being licensed) keep an eye on whats being licensed here, its important. This is not "oh your flash card has a fat filesystem on it, you have to pay for it". Its "your device can read and write fat"... NOT THE STORAGE CARD! its the DEVICE that can read and write FAT (specifically long-file names capable FAT). Do we get what the license is for now?

    Now what filesystem exactly would they switch to? joe blogs goes and downloads the update, plugs his flash card into his windows box and (formats the flash card if required - as fat or ntfs). Then plugs that into the tomtom device. Tomtom device doesnt read fat(32) and so it doesnt work...

    i.e. tom tom are essentially forced to license a patent based the fact they are forced to implement fat in their device.

    I personally hope tomtom fight it. from the words of (whats is possibly) the worlds most moronic OP "TomTom needs some serious explaining to do as to why they aren't licensing FAT.". You dont think Tom-tom already knew about it? you dont think they ever read the (very very public) news about it happening to the camera makers?

    But in reality, it should read more like "the patent office have some serious explaining to do in order to justify why FAT was ever allowed to be patented". Those patents should never have been allowed - there is nothing remotely inventive about fat with long file names.

  • Re:which? (Score:3, Informative)

    by quickOnTheUptake ( 1450889 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @12:28AM (#27177355)
    IANAL nor do I pretend to know much of the topic, but I understand that the person who wrote and distributed the software tha uses MS's workaround for using long filenames on FAT would have to pay the license, not the end user.
  • Re:which? (Score:5, Informative)

    by burnin1965 ( 535071 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @12:30AM (#27177367) Homepage

    Actually the lawsuit is over multiple patents, some of which are the FAT patents, all of which are dubious...

    United States Patent 6,175,789
    Beckert , et al. January 16, 2001
    Vehicle computer system with open platform architecture

    United States Patent 7,054,745
    Couckuyt , et al. May 30, 2006
    Method and system for generating driving directions

    United States Patent 6,704,032
    Falcon , et al. March 9, 2004
    Methods and arrangements for interacting with controllable objects within a graphical user interface environment using various input mechanisms

    United States Patent 7,117,286
    Falcon October 3, 2006
    Portable computing device-integrated appliance

    United States Patent 6,202,008
    Beckert , et al. March 13, 2001
    Vehicle computer system with wireless internet connectivity

    United States Patent 5,579,517
    Reynolds , et al. November 26, 1996
    Common name space for long and short filenames

    United States Patent 5,758,352
    Reynolds , et al. May 26, 1998
    Common name space for long and short filenames

    United States Patent 6,256,642
    Krueger , et al. July 3, 2001
    Method and system for file system management using a flash-erasable, programmable, read-only memory

  • by FishWithAHammer ( 957772 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @01:09AM (#27177553)

    Ext2IFS isn't very good, though, and IIRC that's the main ext* FS driver on Windows.

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

    by jrumney ( 197329 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @01:16AM (#27177583)

    GPL developers suing TomTom over their copyrights would not get the chance to invalidate the patents.

    Worse than that, they would be playing right into Microsoft's hands, scaring device developers away from Linux towards WinCE.

  • Re:Why not? (Score:3, Informative)

    by OrangeTide ( 124937 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @04:28AM (#27178291) Homepage Journal

    Well WinCE supports FAT. Although I think you could just as easily license FAT on a closed embedded OS like QNX.
    You could also use FreeBSD where there is no license to get in the way of licensing FAT.

  • by smoker2 ( 750216 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @05:04AM (#27178431) Homepage Journal
    Never mind, it was a "beware of the leopard" ordeal. []
  • Re:Why not? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) * <> on Friday March 13, 2009 @09:02AM (#27179569) Homepage Journal
    6 years is the commonly accepted interval. But Laches cases have been won for as little as 1 year.
  • Re:Why not? (Score:4, Informative)

    by TheRealMindChild ( 743925 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @09:29AM (#27179807) Homepage Journal
    Dead? How many devices out there sport Windows Mobile? Windows Mobile is just a tailored build of Windows CE.
  • Re:Fuck em (Score:4, Informative)

    by ggeens ( 53767 ) <ggeens&iggyland,com> on Friday March 13, 2009 @09:38AM (#27179861) Homepage Journal

    FAT12 has long filenames all right. You still see small SD cards formatted as FAT12 these days. FAT12/16/32 is typically chosen based on the device size.

    All FAT "sizes" use the same directory structure. Each entry holds an 8.3 file name. VFAT uses a set of extra entries containing the long name (hidden so a non-VFAT driver doesn't see them).

    Windows 95 introduced VFAT and it could write long file names to floppies (FAT12) as well as hard discs (FAT16). FAT32 was introduced later with OSR2.

  • by chmod a+x mojo ( 965286 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @01:31PM (#27183163)
    If you are talking about the IFS EXT2/3 driver it has been stable for me. I have 1.5TB of EXT3 drives that I access from WinXP from that driver. The only thing that sucks about it is if the FS needs an integrity check ( either from boots or a bad shutdown) you need to boot into Linux to do it. It would be nice if fsck.ext2 would be ported to Win32 for these situations, especially since the IFS driver now supports stuff like USB hotpluging ( have not actually TRIED it but it claims it does).

Do not underestimate the value of print statements for debugging.