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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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  • Fuck em (Score:3, Insightful)

    by QuantumG ( 50515 ) * <> on Thursday March 12, 2009 @11:05PM (#27176889) Homepage Journal

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

  • by NatteringNabob ( 829042 ) on Thursday March 12, 2009 @11:22PM (#27176981)
    They are the victim of an attempted extortion racket over a couple of bogus patents. Why on earth should extortion victims have to explain why they didn't just pay up instead of taking the bastards to court?
  • by Jonner ( 189691 ) on Thursday March 12, 2009 @11:24PM (#27177001)

    Or just maybe it's because people expect to be able to see some files when they plug their GPS receivers into their Windows machines. If Windows had an Ext2 driver bundled with it, I wouldn't ever format a USB drive as FAT either.

  • Re:Why not? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by b4dc0d3r ( 1268512 ) on Thursday March 12, 2009 @11:31PM (#27177049)

    Why wouldn't they want to sue? Lots of people would love to see the Microsoft patent get invalidated, of those lots of people are confident it will be. If that number out of the original population is greater than 25%, there's a 1 in four, or real, chance one of those guys wants to sue, on principle if not on principal. I'm sure they would likewise get financial help from others to fight just like TomTom would, just different sources.

    Sue TomTom and let them decide to take their chances with copyright law or open source law, one being rather established and one rather less so. End result is the same, only TomTom does it involuntarily.

  • by slashqwerty ( 1099091 ) on Thursday March 12, 2009 @11:38PM (#27177095)

    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.

    It goes further than "the software". For this to work all recipients of the software must have all the rights granted under the GPL, which means they must be able to modify and redistribute the code, even as a completely different product. If a recipient of the code wanted to use it in a blender that stores data in memory in FAT format, the recipient must have the right to do so royalty-free in order for the GPL to remain intact.

    Basically, the $250,000 cap would have to effectively grant unlimited use of the patent in all GPL'd software in order to distribute any software that uses the patent under the GPL. I seriously doubt Microsoft's licensing allows for that.

  • by mysidia ( 191772 ) on Thursday March 12, 2009 @11:38PM (#27177097)

    Maybe they won't, but I wonder if TomTom can really take the risk of being sued later for willful infringement?

    Considering how long copyrights last nowadays, the kernel developers easily have 70+ years to discover the infringement and pursue them.

    They might like to seek out the kernel developers of the code involved in the relevant modules and license their work under more permissive terms for use in TomTom's products...

  • Re:Fuck em (Score:5, Insightful)

    by squidinkcalligraphy ( 558677 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @12:02AM (#27177237)

    Everyone uses it? you can plug in the SD card from the gps (or camera or whatever) straight into a card reader on _any_ computer from the last 10 years and it will read it. Moving away from it will be like moving from IPv4 to IPv6. Slow and messy. But necessary one day - those flash devices are getting bigger and bigger, and windows won't let you create a FAT fs bigger than 32G (though it is possible) as it gets horribly inefficient. MS is pushing exFAT, but being incompatible with FAT, they face the same problems as any other fs in this regard, and lawsuits like this one might end up biting them back.

  • Question : Don't you have to show that you've been harmed in order to bring a lawsuit? I'm not a lawyer, but I always thought that in order to sue somebody, you had to be damaged by them.

    Now, let's say Tom Tom or any other company ponies up to Microsoft and distributes some piece of hardware bundled with Linux, and that's obviously a violation of the GPL. Clearly Tom Tom broke the license and they are not entitled to distribute it.

    The question is, is the GPL owner harmed?

    Well, one could make the argument that the answer is no, as everyone who actually had a Tom Tom device could in fact obtain the GPL code for themselves, and could update the code in the device. In fact, a person owning a Tom Tom might perhaps just state that a replacement in deed, because, if the Tom Tom GPL code is the same as the code it would be replaced with, which it has to be, then a physical act of copying the code over to make it legal is silly.

    What this could be then, would be really Microsoft trolling for the ultimate legal showdown, which is thus: Microsoft makes a bunch of noise but ultimately gives Tom Tom a vfat license, rendering Tom Tom in default of the GPL. Somebody sues Tom Tom, at which point, Microsoft's pocketbooks open up and they support Tom Tom in the lawsuit, arguing that, well, because any person who is distributed the GPL by Tom Tom, can get it from somewhere else, Tom Tom's infringement is actually academic.

    Thus, the attack would be, you can't be damaged by someone redistributing your GPL code against the terms of the license, because the person they are distributing it to can get it directly from you, and the GPL is actually worthless.

  • by Ragingguppy ( 464321 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @12:13AM (#27177299)

    I say challenge them in court and put this nonsense down once and for all. There is tones of prior art. The vfat code was written before the patent was filed. They should just challenge Microsoft in court. I mean really. Whats wrong with challenging them. I'd say this is the safest bet at this point.

  • Re:Why not? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) * <> on Friday March 13, 2009 @12:28AM (#27177357) Homepage Journal
    GPL developers suing TomTom over their copyrights would not get the chance to invalidate the patents. Their suit would be a copyright case. It's TomTom who can invalidate the patents if they decide to fight Microsoft that way. It's not even clear that they have to take the trouble, they could show that the vfat code has been in the kernel long enough for the Doctrine of Laches - which says you lose the right to assert your patent if you wait for the market to develop first - to apply.
  • Thank you, Jeremy. I suspect you may be a bit out on a limb on the GPL compliance angle, too. As you can see above, there are only a few people who are direct copyright holders of the code that exercises the patent. The rest of the kernel isn't at issue. I think those four may be the only people with standing to sue. The question then is: does suing deter Microsoft, or only deter TomTom from embedding Linux in their device?

    Obviously how TomTom conducts itself will be important. If their CEO has an on-stage hug with an MS executive and actively helps Microsoft circumvent the GPL, that would probably irk some developers. If they get bought by MS, they'd probably start embedding WinCE. If they just try to go on doing business as well as they can without allowing themselves to be a mouthpiece for a Microsoft FUD initiative, the key copyright holders might not have a reason to object. I would feel better about TomTom, though, if they hadn't had to be dragged into GPL compliance. But my experience is that companies usually commit GPL incompliance out of ignorance and bad process rather than intent.



  • by ClosedSource ( 238333 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @12:57AM (#27177497)

    Certainly MS could sue anyone who they claim violated their patent and didn't buy a license. It has nothing special to do with laptops or Linux.

    The question is whether they would succeed.

  • Nobody got the sarcasm. The "informed user" is Rob Enderle, who is, according to his own web site, paid to take opinions by certain software vendors. Or he just psychotic. The point he is trying to make about holding back code doesn't make legal sense, because that's not in GPL compliance either.
  • by _Sprocket_ ( 42527 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @01:33AM (#27177649)

    How... odd. Enderle is always good for a chuckle. Like this paragraph:

    FOSS folks sold me, during the SCO days, that they were sincere in their claim that if they used code that belonged to someone else and it became a problem, they would simply stop using it. I saw zero risk to open source from Microsoft, but Iâ(TM)m seeing a lot of FUD coming out of the FOSS side, and now Iâ(TM)m getting concerned.

    Heh. Enderle. All concerned for FOSS. A big believer in the honesty of FOSS developers. That's rich.

  • Re:Fuck em (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 13, 2009 @02:20AM (#27177851)

    fat has a minute speed advantage over ntfs, but not within human perception probably, it's the usb comm that slows them down. Anyway, ntfs metadata updates are why you don't want to put ntfs on a thumbdrive unless you turn off those updates, otherwise windows will be continuously writing microupdates to it constantly and make it's lifetime go down if you leave it plugged in for long periods of time.

  • by cheros ( 223479 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @02:39AM (#27177909)

    AFAIK, the original idea of patents was to give an inventor (read: the actual people who come up with an idea) a TEMPORARY market monopoly so that they could benefit from their invention without all & sundry copying it.

    So far, so good. However, note "temporary" - the concept there was that eventually the idea would contribute to the common good. That, however, happens rarely.

    Combine that with a questionable approach (I'm putting this mildly) to approving patents with plenty of prior art of falling well outside the boundary of what can be patented and you have an innovation stifling mess that only lawyers derive any benefit of - and very rich companies that can afford those lawyers.

    I'm all for paying of what is due. I'm against a system that can be abused to stop competitive innovation or take an invention without paying.

  • Re:which? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nicolas.kassis ( 875270 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @02:41AM (#27177917)
    "Vehicle computer system with wireless internet connectivity" That's a radio. Microsoft patented the freakin radio. Anyone who has a radio newer then 1990 has a chip in it and it does some computing.
  • Re:which? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by digitalchinky ( 650880 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @03:10AM (#27178035)

    Wireless internet connectivity implies one or more transmitters and receivers. Your average car radio is an entirely passive device that has no internet connectivity. The real question is what actually defines a 'computer system' these days?

  • by GauteL ( 29207 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @05:36AM (#27178547)

    ... on the basis of Anti trust?

    IANAL, but it seems to me that by agressively patenting the most common file system on the planet and limiting the use of this file system, Microsoft is essentially using its monopoly on the Windows platform to gain an unfair advantage in the sat.nav market.

    I'm surprised Tom Tom hasn't started an anti-trust counter suit.

    And I don't for a second believe that the FAT filesystem patents would stand up if faced with a decent lawyer in a court. All the patents are describing relatively simple engineering solutions that anyone could come up with when faced with the problems Microsoft created for themselves.

  • Re:Why not? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Lonewolf666 ( 259450 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @07:57AM (#27179161)

    Linux distributions that support vFAT are on the market for several years now, and they certainly contain binaries too. Compiling your own kernel is optional and done after installation of the pre-compiled version. Except maybe Gentoo...

    So while I don't know the legal details of laches (what is a typical timeframe for it to apply?), in principle this looks like a case where it fits.

  • Re:which? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MikeBabcock ( 65886 ) <> on Friday March 13, 2009 @09:23AM (#27179761) Homepage Journal

    Personally you're right. However, they patented every car with Bluetooth enabled.

    My Tomtom GPS looks up the weather for me online using a bluetooth connection to my cell phone for its Internet access. That's what they're going after here.

  • Re:Why not? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Fujisawa Sensei ( 207127 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @09:42AM (#27179883) Journal

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

    No GPL restrictions?

  • Re:Why not? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by b4dc0d3r ( 1268512 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @10:54AM (#27180605)

    Right, that's what I'm saying. Developers, being copyright owners, would sue TomTom for copyright violation. Copyright law being well established (GPL being a rather new twist, however), TomTom would probably attempt to meet the demands of the copyright owners instead of risking the loss of the code, which means following the terms of the GPL. That would force TomTom into compliance, whichever way they choose to go, and the most obvious choice is to fight back against Microsoft. As you say, Laches would be a lot easier path than defending against the copyright owners.

    Several assumptions going on here, but they are as valid as the assumption that the copyright owners wouldn't want to sue. Keep in mind I have little idea what I'm talking about, just questioning assumptions and offering alternatives. And I'd love for someone to just stand up, point at Microsoft, and say "STFU" within my lifetime.

    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.

    In general I would agree, but MS has been wielding this fairly heavily lately, and I wouldn't be surprised for someone to decide it's time call their bluff. This seems to be the perfect setup.

  • Re:Why not? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by SuperIceBoy ( 787273 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @02:04PM (#27183647)
    All this will do is steer more businesses away from GPL licensed code towards a BSD or similar licensed code. I never got why a business would choose GPL code over BSD licensed code. They can modify and distribute all they want and only release their code changes if they choose to.
  • by Z00L00K ( 682162 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @04:07PM (#27185457) Homepage

    And I still call the FAT patent a troll patent.

    Almost every software patent is troll patents one way or another because they just causes trouble for software development.

    As it is now one company can claim a software patent and claim thousands of man-hours for it while another can do the same development in an afternoon with the right guy.

    And if you have a patent attack on Linux it's subsequently also attacking GPL.

Torque is cheap.