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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:Why not? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by b4dc0d3r ( 1268512 )

      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

      • 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.
        • 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.

        • by ozphx ( 1061292 )

          Consider MS describing the linux implementation as non-infringing - as it is distributed source-only (in the general case) for "research purposes".

          No significant market infringing patents then?

          Does Redhat pay a license fee for RHEL, or does it leave lfn support out altogether?

          • I've only got Debian around here so I can't check Red Hat. But I suspect that, on the advice of counsel, they ship the vfat code.
            • by ozphx ( 1061292 )

              I would suggest the Doctrine of Laches could only consider binaries being shipped by a major distributor - source code usually being recognised as a non-infringing description of the patent. Taking this into account TomTom is probably one of the few people distributing an implementation without a license commercially.

              Not sure if a court would consider this as submarining anyway - MS have fairly aggressively defended this patent in the past (especially against preformatted flash drive and camera/phone vendor

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

                by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) * <> 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.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Lonewolf666 ( 259450 )

            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: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by b4dc0d3r ( 1268512 )

          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

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mysidia ( 191772 )

      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...

    • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) *

      Hehehe.. anyone who wrote ANY code in that device and put it under the GPL can sue Tom Tom for placing extra restrictions on the redistribution of the software.. as the license specifically states that extra restrictions are not allowed.

      • "placing restrictions" would mean written license terms beyond those in the GPL. It's a different section of the license from the part about patent rights. I don't see that it would apply in this case.
    • Okay but can microsoft sue the vendor of every linux laptop which supports vfat?
    • 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.


      • 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.



        • 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.

        • 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 naviga

  • 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.

    • Can someone explain to me if this suit is over the driver or the FAT formatted storage?
      • 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: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by pizzach ( 1011925 )
          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?
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            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: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by pizzach ( 1011925 )
              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.
        • Maybe tomtom could just use linux with 8.3 filename support?
      • 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

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          "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: (Score:3, Insightful)

            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?

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by MikeBabcock ( 65886 )

              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: (Score:3, Informative)

      by volxdragon ( 1297215 )

      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 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.

        • All of these comsumer devices come with all kinds of crap CDs with "required" software anyways. Just stick whatever you'd need to use to use the thing on one of those. No big deal, people are used to that sort of crap.
      • That, and it's pretty much universal, (almost) everything from Amiga to Windows can use FAT.

        However, I'm not really sure what TomTom does, ie: what implications does the file system have on its use? and couldn't any transfering be converted into something more generic between FS and other IO?

        Couldn't they just as easily use Ext2? Or make their own TTFS or whatever.

        • couldn't any transfering be converted into something more generic between FS and other IO?

          No, because users can copy updates directly to the SD card, then stick the card in the TomTom, without ever hooking up the TomTom device to their computer.

        • Re:Fuck em (Score:5, Funny)

          by FishWithAHammer ( 957772 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @01:10AM (#27177561)

          That, and it's pretty much universal, (almost) everything from Amiga to Windows can use FAT.

          Come on, you could have gone with z/OS and gotten extra points here.

    • The memory cards / SD cards use fat

    • FAT is useful for thumb drives that you want to be able to use in Windows systems.

      I COULD use NTFS but my thumb drive is slow enough without the overhead (at least, I assume FAT is faster).

    • 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.

      • 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.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by mysidia ( 191772 )

          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.

          • Sure, but the same applies to FAT16. I just wanted to point out that FAT12 isn't inferior to FAT16 in this regard, and, in fact, is still widely used on small devices. VFAT was developed for FAT16 but also "backported" to FAT12, so FAT16 and FAT12 are essentially identical as far as filenames go. In fact, all three filesystems share the same LFN hack. The only real differences are the FAT entry size and, for FAT32, some reorganization and cleanup (for example, the root directory is a normal directory on FAT

        • Re:Fuck em (Score:4, Informative)

          by ggeens ( 53767 ) <ggeens@[ ] ['igg' in gap]> 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.

    • To what, though?

      If they change to NTFS, they still have to pay MS. If they change to something like EXT3, then Windows users cannot use the Tom Tom without an additional driver. Plus, you'd be forcing people to format their currently very interoperable USB sticks to something that would make them worthless on most Windows computers.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Toveling ( 834894 ) *
      So that the flash cards, which are generally loaded from a Win/Mac with map data, can easily interoperate?
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by burnin1965 ( 535071 )
        Mac OS X drivers [] and Windows drivers [] are available for ext2. FAT is not absolutely necessary for cross platform compatible file storage hardware.
        • That's true, but:
          1. You now require your customer to install software on their PC. No using the work PC or a friend's PC to update your Tom Tom.
          2. You require your potentially brain-dead customer to figure out how to re-format a USB stick.
          3. Without yet another reformat, you render the USB stick useless for any other computer besides your own.

          • Tom Tom Home []

            TomTom HOME is our free software program that gives you access to a huge array of services as well as the global community of TomTom users. It is the only tool you need to manage, update and personalize your TomTom to enjoy a premium navigation experience: buy and install maps, make back-ups, download free software updates, shop and much more.

            Since a Tom Tom owner will be installing software on their PC or Mac anyhow the addition of an ext2 driver would be innocuous.

    • 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.

    • FAT is simple and compatable with everything.
  • 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 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 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 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 [] 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.

  • 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.

  • All the Microsoft "FAT patents" still in force have to do with the horrible hack used to support both long and DOS-type "short" ("XXXXXXXX.XXX") filenames. Nobody uses "short" filenames any more, and under UNIX/Linux, there's not even an API to talk about short filenames. So make an implementation that's long-filename only. You give up backwards compatability with DOS and Windows 3.1. Big deal.

  • Seriously. How much of what exists in FAT existed previously in things like CP/M? The long filenames translation thing? That may take some serious digging, but perhaps it could be ruled as "too obvious" since both the need and the backward compatible solutions are somewhat obvious in that it couldn't likely have been done any other way. (Yes, I am talking out of my ass a bit here.)

    But seriously, what happened to the fight by invalidating patents?

  • 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.

    • Is the thought that a lot of these companies that are using GPL code might actually be complicit in this plan. Poor Richard Stallman... he thought up the GPL after Emacs was swiped from him. Now, a bunch of companies are signing on with the likes of Microsoft not even over the matter of patents, but, over a more coordinated strategy to essentially just take the GPL code for their own products by turning the GPL into another kind of public domain.

  • 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.

    • Because $250K is a bargain compared to lawyers and courts when your a company. They have many times that tied up in inventory management for their devices, it's a relatively small amount of money for a consumer products business.

  • 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.

    • The way I see it, TomTom is not 'forced' to license FAT.

      It is to their advantage to do so, just like all the others things TomTom needs to license. TomTom, like all businesses, is motivated to maximize profits. Its FAT handling improves the product by offering its customers a pleasant FAT-compatible experience. FAT compatability is more valuable than the alternative choices.

      If its valuable, then pay the damn licensing fee.

      This is essentialy no different than the situation that had arrisen when the LZW
      • 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 wel

  • by dirtyhippie ( 259852 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @12:43AM (#27177435) Homepage

    Microsoft still needs to explain why it just cannot say that folks won't violate the GPL if they license FAT under its terms.

    Just what we need... Microsoft offering legal opinions about GPL enforcement.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

They are called computers simply because computation is the only significant job that has so far been given to them.