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Microsoft Patents

Microsoft to Charge for FAT File System 1424

pario writes "According to Microsoft, the Redmond company is going to charge a license fee for any product that is formatted in FAT by the manufacturer. Any manufacturer of compact flash memory cards or digital cameras may end up paying Microsoft as much as $250,000 for the use of the file format. The FAT File System is covered by several US patents."
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Microsoft to Charge for FAT File System

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  • The future? (Score:5, Funny)

    by TheSpoom ( 715771 ) * <slashdot.uberm00@net> on Thursday December 04, 2003 @09:51AM (#7627687) Homepage Journal
    Litigation: The Business Model of the Future!(TM)

    (Disclaimer: The above statement is the intellectual property of Uberm00 Corp. and may not be used without prior written permission.)
    • by ed.han ( 444783 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @09:53AM (#7627706) Journal
      isn't patent barratry a patented business process held by SCO? if so, i believe you're infringing upon their IP rights... :>

      seriously though: this is an inducement for people to use other file systems. is NTFS similarly protected? if not, is this the objective of this move?

      ed
      • Re: the future? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Oo.et.oO ( 6530 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @11:12AM (#7628581)
        yes NTFS is indeed covered under many patents and trademarks.

        the format has not fully been determined, nor has it been fully released by MS. ...as witnessed by the article yesterday on using windoze DLLs in *NIX to get write access to NTFS media...
        • Re: the future? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by DickBreath ( 207180 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @12:12PM (#7629167) Homepage
          You say, NTFS not fully documented. But then you say patents?

          (I'm not disputing your assertions, btw.)

          Now correct me if wrong, but isn't a requirement to get a patent that you disclose EVERYTHING necessary so that a person "skilled in the art" can recreate the patented work? If such a patent exists, then wouldn't (shouldn't?) it have everything necessary to make a Linux NTFS driver work?
          • Re: the future? (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @12:29PM (#7629359) Homepage
            Educated guess: The patents cover methods and algorithms, not the particulars of NTFS implementation.

            So someone "skilled in the art" could create a filesystem using the techniques in NTFS described by the MS patents, but this wouldn't necessarily be compatible with NTFS.

          • Re: the future? (Score:5, Informative)

            by Lagged2Death ( 31596 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @01:36PM (#7630128)

            ...but isn't a requirement to get a patent that you disclose EVERYTHING necessary...

            Maybe in theory, but it's not like the patent guys have time to verify complete documentation by sitting down and re-implementing each and every application using only the applicant's docs. Considering the way the patent system has been bent, folded, spindled, and mutilated in recent years (e.g., Amazon's one-click, Netflix's business model), less-than-complete disclosure starts to look like the least of the patent office's worries.

          • Re: the future? (Score:5, Interesting)

            by blakestah ( 91866 ) <blakestah@gmail.com> on Thursday December 04, 2003 @01:41PM (#7630172) Homepage
            Patents require disclosure of everything necessary for a skilled person to recreate the invention.

            But, NTFS uses several inventions, and some code to tie them all together. Whereas you should be able to determine all the patentable bits, it may be REALLY tough to figure out all the details.

            I read the Sorenson video codec patents once, to see how they encode video. It was a nearly useless endeavor.
          • Re: the future? (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 04, 2003 @01:51PM (#7630321)
            Your not exactly wrong, but...

            Not everything inside NTFS is patented. A patent for a "means to store a filename in an inode" doesn't tell you a whole lot about anything.

            Once again, look to abuse by the patent system. Patents and Copyright were supposed to superceed trade secrets. Either Or, was supposed to be a choice you had to make. Now you can use both, thus the entire point of the patent system has been corrupted.

            Patents were supposed to cover "inventions", not mear discoveries or things that could be produced by anyone skilled in the art as a matter of need. Thus something like NTFS may be subject to patent, and thus made available to the public at the end of the term. But, again, the system has been corrupted such that one NEVER patents the invention itself, but as many individual acts of routine as possible. Thus, your "invention" remains opaque and your "patents" can cover all sorts of routine.

            FAT is a "filesystem" that any not-so-good programmer might throw together if so asked to store files. It is hardly an "invention" under the intent of the patent system.

            Imagine the Light bulb. Prior, nothing even remotely like it was in existed. That's an invention. Putting a metal base on it, using blue glass, or shaping it like a christmas tree bulb is not (well, was never supposed to be). Those little improvements are somthing anyone skilled in the art of glassblowing would take for granted.
      • Re: the future? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by MuParadigm ( 687680 ) <jgabriel66@yahoo.com> on Thursday December 04, 2003 @12:02PM (#7629059) Homepage Journal

        Yep, if killing the FAT file system isn't the objective, it will be the result. It's probably aimed at preventing Linux interoperability with Windows machines. I don't know how that will play out, in court or otherwise, but if MS has patents on FAT, then presumably they may want, or be able, to prevent people from distributing free code to access FAT files systems.

        Certainly, any company using FAT for its products will switch to a different file system. SCO may want to sue MS for infringing on its patented "Cock Pistol, Shoot Foot" algorithm.

        Overall, I kind of think it might be a good thing that MS is doing this. It provides yet another reason for tech companies to consider embedded Linux for their devices. And the more prevalent Linux becomes in that sector, a) the sooner Linux driver support will improve, and b) the more home users will consider Linux.

        • by MuParadigm ( 687680 ) <jgabriel66@yahoo.com> on Thursday December 04, 2003 @12:24PM (#7629303) Homepage Journal

          Responsding to myself, but this just occurred to me: I wonder how this will affect the FreeDOS project. My first guess would be that they'll have to rewrite the project to use ext2 or some other file system.

          Software patents have been commonly regarded as the "nukes" of the software world. I'm beginning to think that MS has decided it has nothing to lose by going nuclear on the free software world.

          • by cybermace5 ( 446439 ) <g.ryan@macetech.com> on Thursday December 04, 2003 @02:18PM (#7630625) Homepage Journal
            I don't think so. Programs that use the FAT filesystem have been out there for several coon's ages or the age of a really old coon.

            FreeDOS does not distribute in the FAT filesystem, interestingly: the official distribution is a CD-ROM ISO image only. They also don't distribute product or media preformatted with FAT. I don't even think Microsoft is going after programs that can create a FAT filesystem, so FreeDOS can format a hard disk and you're good to go.

            However, I wouldn't mind if they did make it ext2. If you're booting with FreeDOS, it doesn't really matter what the filesystem is. Just allow reading of FAT partitions and floppies, and you can copy over all the old DOS software you wanted to run. Might be a few bugs here and there, but I guess when Microsoft wants to play rough, you just get out of the way.
    • Re:The future? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by bigberk ( 547360 ) <bigberk@users.pc9.org> on Thursday December 04, 2003 @11:53AM (#7628972)
      Litigation: The Business Model of the Future!(TM)
      For a failing economy, in a country that has no prospects for true innovation due to its self-imposed corporate protection measures.
  • Going up... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JamesO ( 56897 ) * on Thursday December 04, 2003 @09:53AM (#7627698) Homepage

    Gotta love submarine patents.

    Is there a win32 ext2/3 filesystem driver out there anywhere?

    • Re:Going up... (Score:5, Informative)

      by ggeens ( 53767 ) <ggeens.iggyland@com> on Thursday December 04, 2003 @09:58AM (#7627760) Homepage Journal

      Is there a win32 ext2/3 filesystem driver out there anywhere?

      Searching for "win32 ext2" yields this [swin.edu.au] as the first link.

    • Re:Going up... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by mystik ( 38627 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @10:00AM (#7627788) Homepage Journal
      This one isn't really submarine --- They created FAT in 1976, according to the microsoft.com page ... but the earliest patent was filed in 1995.

      We need a public domain minuxfs implementation now, to be the standard.

      • by N Monkey ( 313423 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @10:13AM (#7627937)
        This one isn't really submarine --- They created FAT in 1976, according to the microsoft.com page ... but the earliest patent was filed in 1995.

        That can't possibly be right. In the US (but nowhere else) you have a 1 year's grace period from the time of publishing an invention such that you are still allowed to patent it. Even with the USPTO's track record (!!) I honestly can't see them granting a patent based just on 1976 technology. MS must have included new ideas... or something like that.
        • yeah they added "over the internet" somewhere.

          Tom
        • by N Monkey ( 313423 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @10:22AM (#7628065)
          Just to follow up, the first patent that MS list as protecting FAT (US5,579,517) has this as the abstract:

          An operating system provides a common name space for both long filenames and short filenames. In this common namespace, a long filename and a short filename are provided for each file. Each file has a short filename directory entry and may have at least one long filename directory entry associated with it. The number of long filename directory entries that are associated with a file depends on the number of characters in the long filename of the file. The long filename directory entries are configured to minimize compatibility problems with existing installed program bases.


          Do these devices really need compatibility with "dead" operating systems?

          The second patent seems to another concerning filename formats. I haven't bothered to look at the other 2.
        • by Svartalf ( 2997 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @12:12PM (#7629160) Homepage
          The problem with it is, their implementation of long filenames for FAT was in the hands of people outside of Microsoft well before the one-year prior drop-dead date for the application. Before it was Windows 95, it was codenamed Chicago and it was available to ISV's beginning of 1994 (as in it was available to developers outside of the company BEFORE April 24 1994...) - I know, I was part of that beta program. It does not matter WHAT you have with those people in the way of non-disclosure, they're customers and the moment you put an improvement in the hands of anyone outside of your company, the clock on the filing date starts ticking because you've revealed it to the world as far as the law is concerned.

          The first patent, at least, is invalid by their OWN prior art.
    • ext2 for Windows (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Ultra64 ( 318705 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @10:00AM (#7627792)
    • by 0x0d0a ( 568518 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @10:05AM (#7627853) Journal
      Is there a win32 ext2/3 filesystem driver out there anywhere?

      Forget that -- there is FAT code in the Linux kernel. More IP that smacks Linux and means that it cannot be distributed (and interoperate with windows, as FAT-based systems were the only major filesystem that both Linux and Windows can read and write out-of-box. Very bad juju.

      FWIW, it is *damned* hard to write Windows filesystem drivers -- compare a small Linux filesystem -- RAMFS, at 342 lines of source -- with even a minimal Windows driver. There is an ext2 implementation with read support, though.

      Oh, yes. The embedded community uses FAT all over the place. They are going to absolutely go bonkers when this hits the news.
      • by barzok ( 26681 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @10:16AM (#7627980)
        As I read the license options, this applies only to devices that come pre-formatted as FAT. No mention of software. Limiting the ability of others to write FAT-compatible software would be a bad strategic move on MS's part - anyone who currently has another OS interoperating with Windows via FAT may be just as likely to ditch Windows as they are the "other" OS.
    • by Bananenrepublik ( 49759 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @10:27AM (#7628113)
      It's not like they provide very much information, but here are the patent abstracts, plus links to the full patents. They sure don't seem interesting, and they all seem to deal with the coexistence of long and short filenames. All of this wouldn't be patentable in Europe.

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

      Abstract

      An operating system provides a common name space for both long filenames and short filenames. In this common namespace, a long filename and a short filename are provided for each file. Each file has a short filename directory entry and may have at least one long filename directory entry associated with it. The number of long filename directory entries that are associated with a file depends on the number of characters in the long filename of the file. The long filename directory entries are configured to minimize compatibility problems with existing installed program bases.

      United States Patent 5,745,902 [uspto.gov]
      Miller , et al. April 28, 1998
      Method and system for accessing a file using file names having different file name formats

      Abstract

      A multiple file name referencing system stores multiple file names in a file. These multiple file names include an operating system formatted file name and an application formatted file name. When an operating system formatted file name is created or renamed, the multiple file name referencing system automatically generates an application formatted file name having a potentially different format from, but preserving the extension of, the operating system formatted name. The multiple file name referencing system similarly generates an operating system formatted name upon creation or renaming of an application formatted name. A B-tree is provided which contains an operating system entry for the operating system formatted name and an application entry for the application formatted name, each entry containing the address of the same file to which both names refer. The multiple file name referencing system converts the operating system formatted file name to the application formatted file name by accessing the B-tree with reference to the operating system entry, and vice versa. As a result, either file name can be used to directly reference the file without requiring additional file name translation.

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

      Abstract

      An operating system provides a common name space for both long filenames and short filenames. In this common namespace, a long filename and a short filename are provided for each file. Each file has a short filename directory entry and may have at least one long filename directory entry associated with it. The number of long filename directory entries that are associated with a file depends on the number of characters in the long filename of the file. The long filename directory entries are configured to minimize compatibility problems with existing installed program bases.

      United States Patent 6,286,013 [uspto.gov]
  • Selling unformatted (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pigeon ( 909 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @09:53AM (#7627699) Homepage
    What if you just sell the cards and usb sticks unformatted and have it formatted under windows? That way you could evade this kind extortion?
    • by TheSpoom ( 715771 ) * <slashdot.uberm00@net> on Thursday December 04, 2003 @09:59AM (#7627772) Homepage Journal
      I think that might be the point that Microsoft is trying to make manufacturers use... Basically, force people to use Windows, otherwise they won't be able to format the memory in question.
      • by dalutong ( 260603 ) <djtansey@NosPAm.gmail.com> on Thursday December 04, 2003 @10:02AM (#7627814)
        I doubt it. Devices can be just as easily used in other OSs with other filesystems.

        And the "buy it blank and format it yourself" theory only works for things like USB drives. It's not as easy to format other devices -- like a PDA or any other device that has to come with some amount of software already installed.
      • Why Windows? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by gillbates ( 106458 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @10:33AM (#7628172) Homepage Journal

        Disclaimer: I've worked with the FAT12, FAT16 filesystems in assembly language.

        FAT is relatively well documented. IIRC, one can already format a FAT filesystem from Linux, and even if they can't, writing the drivers wouldn't take long.

        But why would you use FAT in the first place? It's a very inefficient filesystem, built for ancient hardware.

        Since static memory sticks have no problems with random access, it doesn't make sense to use traditional filesystems which were designed to minimize seek latency involving mechanical components. In fact, due to the block access factor, most filesystems are very inefficient when it comes to data storage.

        One would think that instead of using a filesystem per se, the memory of a memory stick should be managed in a fashion similar to malloc. The difference would be named allocation - a "filename" would be associated with every section of memory allocated.

  • by TechnoVooDooDaddy ( 470187 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @09:53AM (#7627707) Homepage
    Failure to litigate...

    heh...

    no seriously, FAT was convenient and fairly standard.. all microsoft is going to do is drive manufacturers to other (hopefully free software) schemes.... That's when we all win! THANKS MICROSOFT!
  • good (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mirko ( 198274 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @09:54AM (#7627715) Journal
    If they charge people, then they have to support it.
    I'll bring them my broken SD-card directories so that they fix their bugs.
  • Apple Disk Utility (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Johnny Mnemonic ( 176043 ) <mdinsmore&gmail,com> on Thursday December 04, 2003 @09:54AM (#7627718) Homepage Journal

    Hm...since Apple's Disk Utility will let you format pretty much any writable media in FAT, will Apple have to pay Microsoft for that privilege? Will they choose to do so, or will they drop the ability?

    Note to manufacturers: this will make your Mac formatted media actually cheaper to produce, so even if you don't give the consumer a discount, that's just one more reason to continue to produce Mac-compatible product...
  • by mOoZik ( 698544 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @09:54AM (#7627723) Homepage
    I see nothing wrong with it. They own the patents, so they have the right to sell it to whoever pays. BTW, slashdot post is a bit misleading.

    "Pricing for this license is US$0.25 per unit with a cap on total royalties of $250,000 per licensee."

    The $250K is the cap; that means, that is the maximum amount they will charger per license holder for the use of the FAT. Just thought it came across incorrectly.

    • What about Europe ? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Jesrad ( 716567 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @10:00AM (#7627795) Journal
      Can they enforce their patents in Europe ? What will be the consequence for Euro-based device manufacturers ?
    • by bug-eyed monster ( 89534 ) <bem03 AT canada DOT com> on Thursday December 04, 2003 @10:20AM (#7628039)
      Anybody has the right to file a patent and attempt to license its technology (as long as the patent makes sense, which is not always the case with software patents, but that's another story).

      The right way to do it: get the patent, announce the technology and licensing terms for it, sell licenses to however's interested. This way, manufacturers can decide whether they want to invest into that particular technology or find an alternative.

      The wrong way to do it: get the patent, wait for a large number of manufacturers to widely use the technology, then announce licensing terms. This way, manufacturers have already invested a lot of resources into the tech and have no choice but to pay for the license, because switching to an alternative would cost them even more.

      In an ideal world, the wrong way should be illegal and carry criminal sentences for extortion.
  • Long File Names (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 04, 2003 @09:55AM (#7627726)
    All [uspto.gov] four [uspto.gov] listed [uspto.gov] patents [uspto.gov] deal with the problem of having both short and long file names. None of my digital cameras use long file names.
  • by CaptainZapp ( 182233 ) * on Thursday December 04, 2003 @09:55AM (#7627729) Homepage
    Of the friendly folks at Unisys (GIF) or the Fraunhofer Institut (MP3)?

    The point why I think such a scheme is totally fucked and dishonest is not the fact that such patents exist, but because of the following business model:

    1. Create valuable idea

    2. Wait until it's a defacto standard
    3. PROFIT !!! (no ??? required)

    It looks more and more like RMS is a true visionary.

  • A risky move... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by zoward ( 188110 ) * <email.me.at.zoward.at.gmail.com> on Thursday December 04, 2003 @09:55AM (#7627734) Homepage
    This will probably make MS a little money, until the embedded industry moves en masse to a free file format. If they do, the file formats for PDA's et al move away from MS's (FAT) standard - something that mas long-term repercussions for MS.

    The profit margin isn't that great on PDA's et al as it is - why would the industry want to cede a further chunk of that margin to MS? All you'd have to do is include a driver for a free file format with the PDA cradle, card reader, and/or desktop application.
  • by Doesn't_Comment_Code ( 692510 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @09:56AM (#7627741)
    Thickheadedness helps the process of moving away entrenched companies. And this case is no different. MS is still very much entrenched, no doubt about that. But hardware manufacturers are now that much more likely to support other standards and filesystems (like ext3) natively, and perhaps as their primary system.

    They'll get away with this because they're big enough. And they'll make some money. But this, and similar practices, will work against them in the long run.
  • by deanj ( 519759 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @09:58AM (#7627757)
    I must be missing something here....

    How can they enforce this, if memory cards/sticks for cameras have been doing this for years now? If they haven't be pursuing the patents enfringement before this, can they now?

    What about pre-formatted floppies?
  • by shoppa ( 464619 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @09:59AM (#7627774)
    The earliest versions of the FAT file systems were around in 1981. (Actually probably 1979 or 1980 if you count Seattle Computer's QDOS). Those patents must've expired by now, right? Or does Microsoft get a perpetual patents the same way Disney gets perpetual copyrights?
  • (subject) (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BHearsum ( 325814 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @09:59AM (#7627775) Homepage
    Does this mean the Linux kernel will be dropping FAT support? And BSD for that matter?
  • by frovingslosh ( 582462 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @10:07AM (#7627871)
    How strange. They couldn't stop DR-DOS, which clearly could format FAT partitions, but now (even after the loss of a Federal court case that proved they abuse their monopoly power) they can stop people from using FAT? And FAT is well over 20 years old, Microsoft's own site states The first FAT file system was developed by Microsoft in 1976. Stranger still, they didn't get the first FAT patent until 20 yaers later, in 1996! (Applied for in 1995.) This is wrong in so many ways.

    And if they can stop a manufacturer from delivering a product such as a USB drive pre-formatted with FAT, then can't they do the same with a pre-formatted floppy disk? For that matter, can't they do the same with a floppy disk that contains software? Anyone who sells PC software on floppies will owe Microsoft money! (There are less today than there were just five years ago, thanks to CD's, but there are still many small businesses out there. I just got a driver on a floppy last week with something I bought).

  • Long file name stuff (Score:5, Interesting)

    by lpontiac ( 173839 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @10:15AM (#7627963)

    The four patents cited all relate to Microsoft's kludge for shoehorning long file names into a filesystem that can only take 8+3 names. You know, Microsoft -> Micros~1.

    First I'm going to get obligatory whinges out of the way. It's ludicrous that this is patentable. The patent is stupidly long and verbose, probably to make this 'innovation' seem more significant than it actually is. The patent is also worded to sound as though this is a useful general idea, rather than something that you'll only ever see in FAT because everyone else is sane enough to just use a better filesystem.

    On a more practical note, these patents cover only the long name -> 8.3 stuff. Those digital cameras that write 8.3 names (DSC00001.JPG, DSC00002.JPG, ...) should be fine. Shipping blank but FAT-formatted media should also fall clear of the patent's grasp - the patents don't cover the FAT filesystem itself, just the 'VFAT' Win9x method of fitting long filenames into FAT. Furthermore, the patents seem to cover algorithms for inserting long filenames into the directory tables - implementations that don't write, but only read data, might be okay.

    Simple blank FAT, might I add, has been around for at least 17 years, so any patents on it should have expired by now.

    Ob-disclaimer: I've only skimmed the patents, and I'm not a lawyer. I'm probably wrong.

  • ISO 9660 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kalak ( 260968 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @10:16AM (#7627973) Homepage Journal
    OK, so we format it in ISO 9660 and the drivers are written to treat it like a CD-RW. Microsoft just makes companies move to standards. (Or they ship it unformatted, and the users choose how to format it according to their OS of choice.) Put the driver on the device (small ISO 9660 file system) set to auto install, and you're set.

    Talk about submarine patents. Floppies have been shipping FAT for *decades*!
  • Seems to me... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ltwally ( 313043 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @10:16AM (#7627974) Homepage Journal
    It seems to me that Microsoft is granting licenses for their FAT code and what-not. They make no mention of not being able to make your own FAT-system (which what everyone has been doing up 'till now).

    The only reason you'd really care about this is if you run a large company that makes FAT devices and want to insure that your FAT-system is 100% compatible with specs (which are controlled by Microsoft). Otherwise, you wouldn't care... You'd just look up the well published info already available for free on the 'net.
  • by dreamchaser ( 49529 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @10:23AM (#7628074) Homepage Journal
    From the webpage:
    Microsoft is offering to license its FAT file system specification and associated intellectual property. With this license, other companies have the opportunity to standardize the FAT file system implementation in their products, and to improve file system compatibility across a range of computing and consumer electronics devices.
    Reading this and the rest leads me to believe that they are NOT preventing people from reverse engineering FAT. Rather, they are selling their 'true' implementation of the filesystem. Nowhere does it say that companies providing their own 'clean room' implementation of the FAT filesystem will have to pay.

    That doesn't mean they won't go there, just that they haven't yet. Still, the typical knee-jerk reactions here are as yet unwarrented.

  • Very good move! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Gadzinka ( 256729 ) <rrw@hell.pl> on Thursday December 04, 2003 @10:26AM (#7628108) Journal
    It's very good move by MS.

    FAT is a terrible format for Flash media, because it constantly updates some variables in first several sectors of the disk. The effect was mentioned some time ago on /. -- when you're done writing around 200k files to flash media it was already past erasure limit for those sectors at the beginning i.e. media was destroyed.

    So it might actually give some incentive for vendors to move to JFFS or similar FS _designed_ with this flash-specific limitation in mind.

    rrw
  • FreeDOS not free? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jlrowe ( 69115 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @10:30AM (#7628137)
    Just where does this put FreeDOS [freedos.org]? I'd think, not free anymore. How can you have DOS without FAT?

    Sure, you could have it use another FS (ext2) but can you imagine a DOS not using FAT?

  • by frovingslosh ( 582462 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @10:32AM (#7628159)
    here's [uspto.gov] the fist of the patentes in question. Filed for only in 1995, granted in 1996. I've looked at it, but I don't have a good understanding of how claims in a patent work. If each claim represents something they own then I don't see any way they can makes claims as broad as claim 1. If the patent is only for something that matches each and every claim, then it would seem that a very minor (even compatable) varient on one part of any these claims would allow an alternate file system to co-exist that would not infringe the m$ patents. But then it doesn't make much sense for this (or any) patent to go into extreme detail in making claims that would limit what the patent applies to.
    • by Psyx ( 619571 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @11:04AM (#7628500)
      The validity of one claim typically does not invalidate the others. My patent lawyers call this a layered approach, where the first claims are purposely broad in an attempt to grab as much IP ground as possible. Subsequent numbered claims in the patent are become more specific. They take this land grabbing approach essentially because they can.
  • by internet-redstar ( 552612 ) * on Thursday December 04, 2003 @10:46AM (#7628311) Homepage
    I thought there were similar filesystems, and besides FAT is so simple, a cleanroom implementation would not take long, hence no need to licence

    This is certainly not true. With copyright law, it's illegal to copy code. With patent law, ideas are patented. Wheter it's implemented in a 'clean room' or not, that really doesn't matter.
    THAT's the reason why we detest software patents in the first place!

    To be able to bring out preformatted FAT flash devices without paying the Microsoft license, one would have to claim rights to 'prior art'.
    In contrary with copyright law, however, it's the responsability of the IP holder to come down on the infridger (so as long as you don't get a letter from MS, you aren't obligated to take action).

    Yet IANAL but in my past businesses talked about these issues alot with lawyers.
    Regarding the question wrt European manufacturers usage of the FAT filesystem. First needs to be seen if these patents are also valid in Europe or not. After initial issuing a patent in Europe, US or Japan it's automatically valid for 3 years in all of these regions. After this period it needs to be registered in the specific region. As I presume these are quiet old patents, one should look into this.

    However, there still is controversy regarding software patents and its enforcebility in Europe. European software patents should also have a hardware part. This license has a hardware part, but the patents themselves not.
    You might want to consult a patent lawyer to verify this, but I would bet that it's unenforceable in Europe. However, I wouldn't bet on this for 250k USD ;-)

    A lot of smaller device vendors will probably sell the unformatted version after they receive letters from MS (which is a pity as FAT is readable/writable by Win/Mac/Linux).

    A lot of users will now unknowingly format their cards using NTFS making it harder to exchange data with non-Windows users...

    Regarding the FAT driver in Linux; as this MS license only speaks of preformatting digital media in the FAT filesystem, this is not an issue today.
    Could Microsoft ask money for inclusion of the FAT driver in the Linux kernel?
    Remember, patents are about ideas, not about the actual implementation or even in which language certain algoritms are written (it's about what is accomplished, not about how it's actually done). So as the FAT filesystem is patented technology, they could theoretically take action.
    However, the action needs to be taken by them first. If 'prior art' can prove that the Linux implementation is based upon technology very simular than the patents issued, a case in court might prove the patents to be not really valid.

    Such a thing would also destroy all possible revenues from licensing programs such as these (it's higly unlikely that device manufacturers will try to prove they had access to prior art, the long-bearded fs developers in the OpenSource community are probably less easy to convince - especially since the patents where only filed in 1995).

    If the outcome of a legal case would be different, chances are higher that distributions would just drop the filesystem driver instead of paying money to Microsoft.

    So, to me it seems that Microsoft would have more to loose than to gain from going after the FAT driver in Linux.

    copyright.

  • slashdot effect (Score:5, Interesting)

    by frovingslosh ( 582462 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @11:03AM (#7628492)
    open source letter to Microsoft:

    Dear Sirs:

    I'm a computer professional. On rare occasions I still used floppy disks that I have formatted and put business product on. I might distribute two or three a year to business contacts this way. It has come to my attention that Microsoft now wishes to enforce it's patents on the FAT file system and I believe that the floppies that I distribute might fall under this extension of you monopoly power. Therefore I would like to request that you provide me with the proper paperwork and licensing agreements so that I can pay my 25 cents each time I do distribute a FAT formatted floppy with my product on it.

    If we can take down web sites, perhaps the Microsoft legal department should receive a few million requests from people who want to be sure they don't cheat bill out of his two bits when they format and distribute a floppy.

  • Karma whoring? (Score:5, Informative)

    by vrmlguy ( 120854 ) <samwyse@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Thursday December 04, 2003 @11:09AM (#7628548) Homepage Journal
    Here are the patents' abstracts. They all relate to long filename support, so if you were willing to limit yourself to 8.3 names, you don't need a license. This is easly done with dedicated devices, since you just implement your own index file on top of the 8.3 names; this was a common technique back in the old FAT16 days.

    U.S. Patent #5,579,517 [uspto.gov] Common name space for long and short filenames

    An operating system provides a common name space for both long filenames and short filenames. In this common namespace, a long filename and a short filename are provided for each file. Each file has a short filename directory entry and may have at least one long filename directory entry associated with it. The number of long filename directory entries that are associated with a file depends on the number of characters in the long filename of the file. The long filename directory entries are configured to minimize compatibility problems with existing installed program bases.

    U.S. Patent #5,745,902 [uspto.gov] Method and system for accessing a file using file names having different file name formats

    A multiple file name referencing system stores multiple file names in a file. These multiple file names include an operating system formatted file name and an application formatted file name. When an operating system formatted file name is created or renamed, the multiple file name referencing system automatically generates an application formatted file name having a potentially different format from, but preserving the extension of, the operating system formatted name. The multiple file name referencing system similarly generates an operating system formatted name upon creation or renaming of an application formatted name. A B-tree is provided which contains an operating system entry for the operating system formatted name and an application entry for the application formatted name, each entry containing the address of the same file to which both names refer. The multiple file name referencing system converts the operating system formatted file name to the application formatted file name by accessing the B-tree with reference to the operating system entry, and vice versa. As a result, either file name can be used to directly reference the file without requiring additional file name translation.

    U.S. Patent #5,758,352 [uspto.gov] Common name space for long and short filenames

    An operating system provides a common name space for both long filenames and short filenames. In this common namespace, a long filename and a short filename are provided for each file. Each file has a short filename directory entry and may have at least one long filename directory entry associated with it. The number of long filename directory entries that are associated with a file depends on the number of characters in the long filename of the file. The long filename directory entries are configured to minimize compatibility problems with existing installed program bases.

    U.S. Patent #6,286,013 [uspto.gov] Method and system for providing a common name space for long and short file names in an operating system

    An operating system provides a common name space for both long filenames and short

  • by billsf ( 34378 ) <`ln.xylac.abuc' `ta' `fsllib'> on Thursday December 04, 2003 @11:12AM (#7628580) Homepage Journal
    Static, EEPROM (flash) and all other memory chips allready have a built-in filesystem. RAM means random access and voltages on the pins select the exact points on the chip. FAT is used because just about every OS supports it and cheap card readers can be made.

    Using no filesystem will get the best usage of the memory chips. Please note that a 1440k floppy won't give you that but perhaps 10% less. As usual M$ shoots itself in the foot and camera makers can advertise 10% more pictures to a card. Tar would work nicely as a 'filesystem' and as far as I know that is free and even Windows understands it. Tar is very efficient but not exactly 'random access' something not usually needed in a camera.

    No filesystem or minimal formatting works well on all removable media. That includes DVDs and CDs which will hold considerably more if you don't use cd9660 or UDF. If you have Unix (and SCSI) try it if media is intended to be streamed. Any further discussion of this is offtopic.

  • by Brett Glass ( 98525 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @02:52PM (#7631077) Homepage
    The FAT file system format was never patentable to begin with, since there was nothing particularly novel about it when it was created. What's more, it has been in use for more than 20 years (the lifetime of a patent) and nothing about it was patented within a year of its implementation and release to the public. So, Microsoft has no rights here. Its claims to the contrary are absurd.
  • by D4C5CE ( 578304 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @06:52PM (#7633813)
    Microsoft should have considered one further option which is also left to the manufacturers of "formatted blank media" such as USB/CompactFlash/etc. memory:

    Of course, just as Microsoft may have assumed, manufacturers could either use FAT and pay up, or sell their media unformatted, in which case the customer needs a M$(-licensed) product to format it to FAT.
    However manufacturers will probably want to test an initial write/read cycle, but if (for the sake of quality control) they simply format their media to something else (let's call it FOSFS, the hypothetical Free and Open Source File System ;-/, in order not to express any preference for one of the solutions in existence), most customers could not read it and/or would have to reformat it to FAT - with someone owing royalties to M$ as above.

    If this has been Microsoft's reasoning, they have neglected to consider another possibility:

    On current removable media of 256 megs and up, an entire Linux distribution takes up less than 10% of capacity:
    Unless the boot process from USB memory requires more than a rudimentary, non-infringing "allusion to FAT", such media could not just be formatted in an empty FOSFS, but it might rather be sold with preinstalled software such as this (compiled without FAT support of course):
    Cameras etc. could switch to the new FOSFS immediately, for PCs would not need to support it "out of the box", as the removable media itself would actually "be its own driver" (and media viewer, and provide network connectivity, etc.).

    In this case, such "not-so-blank media" should certainly bear the penguin logo as a "seal of quality".
    To justify adding a Creative Commons mark next to it, one could even fill the remaining space with some free and open (motion) pictures and/or audio to be played on first use.

    Microsoft itself would have to catch up and release Windows support for the FOSFS before everyone sends and serves pictures from some sort of "USB Linux".
    If only one major manufacturer of removable memory takes an approach like this, at M$ the employee who came up with that "bright idea" of a FAT license but failed to see this option may have a hard time explaining...

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