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Microsoft FAT Patent Upheld

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 8 years ago | from the fat-getting-fatter dept.

Patents 558

theodp writes "After initially rejecting Microsoft's File Allocation Table (FAT) patents, the USPTO has ruled them valid. From the article: 'Microsoft has won a debate where they were the only party allowed to speak, in that the patent re-examination process bars the public from rebutting arguments made by Microsoft, said unimpressed Public Patent Foundation President Dan Ravicher.'"

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So now... (4, Interesting)

Tuxedo Jack (648130) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444127)

What does that mean to companies that sell stuff like USB flash drives or CF cards? They'll obviously have to pay royalties, of course, and that means a mass migration to a new filesystem to avoid such payments.

But what new FS will that be? FAT32? EXT2/3?

Re:So now... (3, Insightful)

toddbu (748790) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444146)

They'll obviously have to pay royalties, of course, and that means a mass migration to a new filesystem to avoid such payments.

It would be stupid for Microsoft to enforce this patent because of the migration issue. If they were smart, they'd immediately turn around and put this into the public domain. If they don't, I can't see the marketplace relying on the hope that someday Microsoft won't try to enforce the patent. So if they were protecting their own interests that's fine, but they need to send a clear message that this move was only done to make sure that nobody would screw them.

Re:So now... (4, Informative)

tpgp (48001) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444200)

It would be stupid for Microsoft to enforce this patent because of the migration issue. If they were smart, they'd immediately turn around and put this into the public domain. If they don't, I can't see the marketplace relying on the hope that someday Microsoft won't try to enforce the patent. So if they were protecting their own interests that's fine, but they need to send a clear message that this move was only done to make sure that nobody would screw them

Wishful thinking aside - Microsoft have allready stated they're going to enforce the patent:

From Microsoft's FAT licensing page: [microsoft.com]
A license for manufacturers of certain consumer electronics devices--Pricing for this license is $0.25 per unit for each of the following types of devices that use removable solid state media to store data:

        * Portable digital still cameras
        * Portable digital video cameras
        * Portable digital still/video cameras
        * Portable digital audio players
        * Portable digital video players
        * Portable digital audio and video players
        * Multifunction printers
        * Electronic photo frames
        * Electronic musical instruments
        * Standard televisions
At 25c a unity, thats going to add up to a helluva lot of money.

Food chain (2, Interesting)

scsirob (246572) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444291)

Where in the food chain does Microsoft expect to get these $25c from? For instance, 32MB USB Flash keys are produced millions at a time for about $10c each in Asia. Are they going to ask $25c for each manufacturer, causing the end-user price to more than double? Or will they charge the end-user?

Re:Food chain (1)

Crayon Kid (700279) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444330)

What do they care? To the GP's question I answer: "whatever makes them the more money".

No, manufacturers won't migrate to another FS, because they need their stuff to work with Windows and there's only FAT and NTFS to choose from. Can't use exotic stuff like ext2/3 because it would need a driver to work with Windows (does such a driver even exist, and is it free or cheaper to license?) Can't use the stuff that DVD/CD use because it's designed to be read-only. I wonder about the DVD-RAM FS though, but, again, licensing issues...

So they'll just pay through the nose, or, realistically, put the squeeze on the consumers by increasing the price for USB sticks. And that's why flash media keeps being stinking expensive and will never replace the floppy disk in the foreseeable future as a nearly universal, cheap and instant R/W access media.

Re:Food chain (3, Informative)

dabraun (626287) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444404)

Actually, it's hard to see how the flash drives are even impacted by this issue - they don't have a filesystem (unless the manufacturer formats them which they really don't have to) - the filesystem is used by the software that reads and writes to them. So, it may impact digital cameras, or other OS's that write to FAT, or even printers that can read directly from memory cards - but I don't see how it would impact the card itself any more than it would impact a hard drive or other form of generic storage.

Re:So now... (1)

weaselprince (933254) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444309)

And thinking about it - there's nothing to stop Microsoft from applying this patent to wheedle cash from floppy manufacturers who ship pre-formatted floppy disks as well. OK - admittedly not that many people use floppys any more but there's nothing to stop Microsoft from trying. In fact it says on the page [microsoft.com] "Pricing for other device types can be negotiated with Microsoft"

One obvious course of action for "removable solid state media manufacturers" is simply to ship the device with no filesystem. Get the end user to format the device on first use and Presto! - that $0.25 per unit remains in the bank where it belongs.

Re:So now... (1)

Devistater (593822) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444158)

Kinda hard to do a mass migration on all those digital cameras

Re:So now... (1)

ajs318 (655362) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444361)

Most of the affected digital cameras and USB memory devices were manufactured before the court decision, and in good faith that no valid patent was being infringed. In fact, the patent probably is not legally valid in most of the countries where these devices were made. And many have been exported to other jurisdictions where the FAT patent is not legally valid.

IMHO, Microsoft will be lucky to break even on this deal over the remainder of the lifetime of the patent. It is still working out ever so slightly cheaper to use an alternative file system and include a driver CD, than to pay the royalties.

Re:So now... (4, Informative)

tpgp (48001) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444167)

What does that mean to companies that sell stuff like USB flash drives or CF cards? They'll obviously have to pay royalties, of course,

Yep, they will pricing has been set to 25c per unit [dpreview.com].

Utterly crippling in the low margin, high volume USB storage market (especially at the low end)

and that means a mass migration to a new filesystem to avoid such payments.

And exactly what filesystem could that be? That is supported out of the box by 95% of desktop PCs?

This - if anyone was still wondering why a monopoly is so dangerous in the hands of an immoral company like MS.

You can use your overwhelming advantage in one market (desktop PCs) to exert influence in another.

But what new FS will that be? FAT32? EXT2/3?

Fat32? Patents cover it.

EXT2/3? Get real. Who wants to install 3rd party drivers every time you plugin your USB device?

Re:So now... (5, Interesting)

SenorCitizen (750632) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444186)

Utterly crippling in the low margin, high volume USB storage market (especially at the low end)

What exactly would prevent these low margin, high volume USB key manufacturers selling their memory sticks unformatted? It's not like hard drive manufacturers have to pay a FAT tax -- it's just the device manufacturers whose stuff actually uses FAT, like digital camera makers.

Re:So now... (5, Interesting)

FireFury03 (653718) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444306)

it's just the device manufacturers whose stuff actually uses FAT, like digital camera makers.

But when a user pops their CF/SD/XD/whatever card out of their camera, they're going to want to access it without installing drivers, etc.

Personally I don't mind cameras, etc using ext2, or even better - a proper flash filesystem designed to deal with the problems inherent in writing to flash. But then I don't use Windows...

I'd be interested to know what the monopoly-police think about this - it seems that requiring people to pay a licence fee to use the only supported filesystem in the monopoly OS to allow interoperability with other devices might be considered an abuse of their market position.

It's also worth thinking about - the Linux kernel infringes this patent. Is Linux going to have FAT support ripped out of it now? That'd be really bad coz suddenly it can't interoperate with all those devices using FAT.

Re:So now... (1)

tpgp (48001) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444315)

What exactly would prevent these low margin, high volume USB key manufacturers selling their memory sticks unformatted?

Nothing actually prevents that true - however, you miss the real point.

Why should they pay a MS tax after MS's bait'n'switch tactics with this filesystem?

Why can't they value add by pre-formatting (or even providing free content like portable openoffice [portableapps.com] or redistibutable music?

It's not like hard drive manufacturers have to pay a FAT tax -- it's just the device manufacturers whose stuff actually uses FAT, like digital camera makers.

If a HDD manufacturer is distributing a FAT filesystem, they're almost certainly distributing a MS O/S & paying the MS tax.

Re:So now... (4, Interesting)

LardBrattish (703549) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444226)

Yep, they will pricing has been set to 25c per unit. Utterly crippling in the low margin, high volume USB storage market (especially at the low end)

But as it caps at $250,000 the really high volume guys will be able to spread it out more... $250,000/10,000,000 = 2.5c

Re:So now... (1)

tpgp (48001) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444362)

But as it caps at $250,000 the really high volume guys will be able to spread it out more... $250,000/10,000,000 = 2.5c

I'm not sure what your point is here.

Do you mean because these royalty payments only affect small companies that it doesn't matter?

And you do you realise that 2.5c is still huge - all those 16MB thumb drives given away by (cheap) companies in promotions only cost about 10c each in bulk.

Re:So now... (1)

LordSnooty (853791) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444391)

Do you mean because these royalty payments only affect small companies that it doesn't matter?

Did the poster say that? Did they come anywhere near it? no, they were merely pointing the fact out.

Re:So now... (1)

mennucc1 (568756) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444228)

"EXT2/3? Get real. Who wants to install 3rd party drivers every time you plugin your USB device?"

What is the problem in installing some drivers? You just conveniently keep them in your USB device.

No... wait a second... :-)

Re:So now... (1)

gbobeck (926553) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444236)

So, what if the USB drive / CF media companies sell you the unit unformatted and included a little blurb in the documentation which says you must first format the unit before use, similar to the floppies of the good 'ole days?

Why would they? (1)

raehl (609729) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444247)

They can just charge you $0.25 more. Most consumers arn't going to notice the quarter and are going to notice the formatting.

Re:So now... (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14444241)

This - if anyone was still wondering why a monopoly is so dangerous in the hands of an immoral company like MS.

The problem here, if any problem exists to begin with, is not monopolies, but patents. $ony holds a patent on the CD, and gets a royalty payment for every single CD sold out there. Is that any better?

Utterly crippling in the low margin, high volume USB storage market (especially at the low end)

Not really - the extra cost will just get passed on to the consumer. Those who had >25c/unit margins before may get a slight advantage at the cost of decreased profits if they don't increase the price, but I'm going to bet every single manufacturer will unilaterally raise prices by 35c-50c (after all, if they're going to raise prices, might as well make some extra profit out of it) per unit and be done with it. That is assuming the current profit margins aren't large enough to just absorb the cost outright.
Unless you can find storage media that go for just a few dollars per unit, this ultimately won't even matter in the long run.

Re:So now... (1)

ajs318 (655362) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444379)

$ony holds a patent on the CD, and gets a royalty payment for every single CD sold out there. Is that any better?
Held. Got.

I bought my first CD player longer ago than the lifetime of a patent -- and even then, they'd already been out for just long enough to descend out of the realms of three-figure prices.

Re:So now... (1)

radu124 (871406) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444272)

> EXT2/3? Get real. Who wants to install 3rd party
> drivers every time you plugin your USB device?

I think Sony Cybershot cameras require drivers on Windows 2000, though I'm not sure.

The idea would be to force Microsoft to write it's own EXT2/3 driver and deliver it with Windows. That would be a funny turn of events, though I think it won't happen.

Maybe make a camera that is really good, really cheap, but only supperted on Linux and Mac, though I don't think that will work either.

Re:So now... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14444175)

Maybe Microsoft is just trying to be kind to the world and kill FAT off. It's a terrible filesystem for removable media. Floppies died and needed "recovery" quite often, and I dread the thought of trying to recover a 1G flash disk full of important photos or something.

NTFS would be an obvious choice for microsoft to go with since it support removable media and journalling. That would probably truly piss off camera makers, however, because NTFS support is probably neither cheap to license nor fun to stuff into cameras. It's a sad state of affairs that the best de facto standard anyone could come up with is FAT, and even worse that I can't think of a good universal replacement. Perhaps the BSD fast file system if only because of its widespread availability and public domain(ish) nature.

Re:So now... (2, Insightful)

glowworm (880177) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444259)

Floppies died and needed "recovery" quite often, and I dread the thought of trying to recover a 1G flash disk full of important photos or something.

The reason floppies died all the time was not due to the disk layout it was due to faulty media (major problem) or people popping the disk out before the write had finished (minor problem). The FAT layout was quite stable. (well nothing a periodical scandisk/chkdisk couldn't fix).

Sure, FAT doesn't have journalling, but it is very simple as well as being stable, tried and tested and most importantly legacy compatible with almost every O/S out there.
It would be sad to see NTFS taken up for flash media. For one it's also patented but for another Linux support isn't quite there yet.

Re:So now... (1)

cp.tar (871488) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444301)

FAT really is a dreadful file system... My father recently asked me what was wrong with his 128 MB USB stick/MP3 player/FM radio. It had some 11 MB of data - including those dreadful elevatorish .mp3s that come with the player - and 5 MB of free space.
11+5==16. 16!=128.

Nothing I did changed the fact that only 16 MB of space was usable - until I formatted the damned thing.

As for the FS drivers... I really fail to see the complexity of it.
Windows users have always been given CDs with drivers along with most of their hardware; just include some free filesystem and install support for it along with the device drivers.
I know it is a far less than perfect solution, but any way for FAT to die is a good one.

Re:So now... (1)

yfkar (866011) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444392)

Windows users have always been given CDs with drivers along with most of their hardware; just include some free filesystem and install support for it along with the device drivers.
The idea of portable USB sticks is that they are small and easy to take with you. If you have to carry a driver CD and have to have admin rights for the system and reboot Windows after installing the drivers, it certainly isn't a good thing.

Re:So now... (1)

Chatsubo (807023) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444218)

If companies move to a new filesystem, that is not supported by current MS operating systems (almost all other filesystems), we will see the need for 3rd party drivers again. The evil, evil thing that finally went away with USB storage drivers.

And I don't see companies moving to NTFS, because the patent threat looms there aswell.

Sigh, I guess we'll go back to carrying a device, accompanied by a CD with a driver. Sometimes we need to be reminded exactly how Microsoft makes our lives miserable. Or, if the hardware guys cave, our hardware more expensive.

Re:So now... [I think they avoid it in the 1st pl] (1)

Hellasboy (120979) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444286)

I don't remember if it was my last USB Jump Drive or SD card that I bought, but the packaging on it said that I would need to format it in order to use it. Since the cards don't come formatted and the user needs to format it, doesn't the company avoid paying the licensing fee?

I guess this would suck for those USB memory companies that are adding software to their sticks.

Re:So now... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14444304)

They should not have to pay royalties for two reasons.

One, they can choose to leave their device unformatted, and let the user format it using whatever FS they wish. Anyone who has bought Windows has an implied licence to use the FS.

Two, the patent claim opens with the words "In a computer system having a processor running an operating system...". There is no direct infringement by the USB supplier selling formatted USB sticks. As I see matters, the USB stick manufacturer can use Windows to format their sticks prior to sale, then the only possibility is if a user infringes through improper use of the stick.

A

Re:So now... (0, Troll)

retro128 (318602) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444333)

It's like hard disks - Why should it have ANY filesystem? Just ship them uninitialized and write instructions to have the user format them.

Re:So now... (1)

retro128 (318602) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444342)

*sigh* ignore above post it's late and I'm not thinking clearly. I was thinking strictly in terms of USB drives, not devices like digital cameras that need to READ the filesystem.

Re:So now... (1)

Barny (103770) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444355)

To flash drive makers and external HDD makers? absolutely nothing, since it is the OS that implements the FS in this case, its the peeps who make the lil chips in (for example) MP3 players that read their flash mem and give back a structured file system (fat) that will have to start priceing up.

Re:So now... (1)

Geheimagent (679949) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444387)

What does that mean to companies that sell stuff like USB flash drives or CF cards? They'll obviously have to pay royalties, of course, and that means a mass migration to a new filesystem to avoid such payments.

They could also just ship the cards unformated and leave it to the customer to chose an appropriate FS for their drive. This doesn't apply to cameras who can format the cards themself, though.

Re:So now... (1)

Bogtha (906264) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444390)

I was under the impression that it wasn't the FAT filesystem itself that was the subject of the patents, but specific techniques used within it regarding munging filenames to get filenames longer than the traditional 8.3 format while still remaining compatible with older software.

If this is the case, then USB flash drives and CF cards won't have to pay any royalties, since they can ship without using any long filenames on the drive, and because the code that actually writes to them isn't part of the drive themselves, but part of Windows (or Linux or whatever).

only they were allowed to speak? (0, Redundant)

know1 (854868) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444128)

that just reminds me of the clown court from transformers the movie

Did you mean the Quintisons? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14444324)

I can't say I remember any clowns in the movie so did you mean the Quintisons? Alas I can't find a good page describing just them. I'm guessing the bit you mean where Kup and Hot Rod are given a "trial" (where the heads spin round saying GUILTY) and are dropped into a robot shark infested pool...

Right... (1)

KingOfGod (884633) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444129)

And why would they want to keep the patent on that again, for other reasons than just appearing "evil"?

Re:Right... (2, Insightful)

sucker_muts (776572) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444217)

And why would they want to keep the patent on that again, for other reasons than just appearing "evil"?

Lots of mobile devices and flash memory cards use a form of FAT formatting. You wouldn't believe how many things in the world today use such a fragile filesystem, because it's easy, tested and does not need a strong protection for data loss.

And when Microsoft would suddenly like to force each manufacturer to start paying licence fees, they're all screwed.

MS FAT Patent Upheld (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14444130)

Guess it's time for that diet.

Re:MS FAT Patent Upheld (1)

heatdeath (217147) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444215)

"MS FAT" sounds like a ghastly 700-pound woman beauty pagent you would see on ESPN3 at 4am.

Linux? (5, Interesting)

Golradir (807889) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444131)

How will this affect the ability to read FAT filesystems under Linux?

Re:Linux? (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14444376)

The claims in US patent No. 5579517 - the patnet that was subject to re-examination - are rather strange, and to my reasding are not infringed by a Linux system reading or writing a vfat file system. The analysys is not straightforward, but as a clue to those used to looking at patent claims, think about the effect of the opening words of the claim: "In a computer system having a processor running an operating system..." followed by the words "said short filename including at most a maximum number of characters that is permissible by the operating system", i.e., not some other operating system but by the executing operating system.

US Patent 5758352 is more of a worry, because it relates to the way in which long and short filenames are stored in a directory structure by an (i.e., any) operating system. I cannot find any reference to this potentially much more damaging patent having been re-examined.

Note that the claims are not infringed by any system that does not support both long and short filenames. It is not FAT per se that is being protected, it is the backwards-compatible DOS filenames and the particular manner in which they are stored. You have to read the claims to understand this.

So the question about Linux etc., requires an analysis of the claims with an understanding of how the Linux FS driver works.

HTH
Anonymous European Patent Attorney

Linux Bitches (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14444134)

... Start your whining!

Let it go Microsoft (1)

Mancat (831487) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444137)

A patent on FAT doesn't really have much of a use for them now; at least none that I can think of. Just let the filesystem become an open standard now, MS.

FAT's valuable (2, Informative)

typical (886006) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444160)

A patent on FAT doesn't really have much of a use for them now; at least none that I can think of. Just let the filesystem become an open standard now, MS.

USB HID Mass Storage devices apparently usually use FAT.

Now, granted, I don't know whether they implement long filename support (which is what Microsoft's patent is on, IIRC), but FAT is still very relevant in the embedded device world, even if desktop boxes are now using NTFS instead of FAT.

Re:FAT's valuable (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14444188)

Now, granted, I don't know whether they implement long filename support (which is what Microsoft's patent is on, IIRC), but FAT is still very relevant in the embedded device world, even if desktop boxes are now using NTFS instead of FAT.

Without a replacement system with LFN support, no USB drive manufacturer will drop FAT. Imagine working the phones and explaining to J.Random why the keychain drive he bought at Walmart turned "Letter to Grandma.doc" and "Letter from Cousin Bob.doc" into "LETTER~1.DOC" and "LETTER~2.DOC".

Re:FAT's valuable (1)

FireFury03 (653718) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444357)

USB HID Mass Storage devices apparently usually use FAT.

USB mass storage devices are just block devices, it's up to the host to decide how to use what is essentially just a big array of blocks. Most come with a single partition pre-formated as FAT for ease of use but pop one in a linux box and you can happilly repartition it or put any FS you want on it. (Yes, USB mass storage devices have partitions, just like hard drives... and whilest using a WinXP system recently I discovered that Windows doesn't actually appear to have a method or repartitioning them...)

Re:Let it go Microsoft (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14444168)

A patent on FAT doesn't really have much of a use for them now; at least none that I can think of.

I can think of one really big one - patent infringement. The Linux kernel has FAT read/write capabilties built-in. Now all those systems out there can found guilty of infringing Microsoft's patent.

Re:Let it go Microsoft (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14444169)

Shows how little you know. FAT is still used in a huge amount of portable stuff, virtually all memory cards use it, and the situation isn't changing. This means gazillions of royalties.

Re:Let it go Microsoft (4, Insightful)

Dual_View (933041) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444297)

A patent on FAT doesn't really have much of a use for them now; at least none that I can think of. Just let the filesystem become an open standard now, MS.

I only wish that were true. The problem is that this is exactly the kind of thing that Microsoft has been after for quite a while. Now that it's everywhere, and it's something that every modern operating system has already implemented, Microsoft is going to go on a licensing spree. After all, they have already been talking about licensing it, [com.com] long before anyone else considered the idea that the patents might actually be approved.

There are only a few possible ways that this can turn out good:

  • Microsoft has a change of heart, and decides that the chance to utterly destroy all its competition and leverage a complete monopoly with Windows is not worth the price of temporarily finding itself villified in the eyes of the public. (Unlikely.)
  • Some intrepid open-source developer(s) quickly cracks open the last few secrets of the NTFS file system, finally allowing the Linux kernel total interoperability with NTFS volumes. The open-source community rips out FAT support and relies more on NTFS volumes, fully expecting Microsoft to try to patent this file system too. In the meantime, additional research is performed either to try and create a more universal file system, or grant ext2 and ext3 more reliable interoperability with Windows and other operating systems. (Wishful thinking.)
  • Microsoft does indeed go on a licensing spree and begins threatening the markets for all competing operating systems. Commercial OS's will fork over the money; open-source OS's like Linux, BSD, ReactOS, etc. will strip FAT support from their systems, disrupting their interoperability with Windows volumes and each other. The US economy takes such a hard hit from this scandal that the patents get overturned later. Or perhaps, this is the evidence that the free and open-source software advocates in the US need to finally demonstrate that software patents aren't just a hassle, but a genuine liability. (Hard to say.)

At any rate, I hope that I'm wrong, and that this is just excessive paranoia on my part. But with Microsoft in this position, I don't think we should rely on optimism and just say that this will all be fine.

Re:Let it go Microsoft (1)

Dual_View (933041) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444365)

My apologies. I think I read someone else in this discussion saying that NTFS was already patented by Microsoft.

I knew it (5, Funny)

commodoresloat (172735) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444151)

They finally patented Steve Ballmer.

Re:I knew it (1)

heatdeath (217147) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444183)

They finally patented Steve Ballmer.

I was walking down the street the other day, and I saw an insane fat man screaming at the top of his lungs and sweating like a pig. I instantly felt a passion for developers welling up from deep inside of me.

I can't explain it.

Re:I knew it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14444230)

Can someone please explain that joke to me? I know Steve Ballmer is fat, but that doesn't make it funny.

Hmmm... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14444157)

...fuck you Microsoft.

Less important than it sounds (1, Insightful)

heatdeath (217147) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444165)

Even though microsoft has a huge patent portfolio, this won't make a bit of difference for anyone. Microsoft doesn't generally enforce the patents it does have. I believe they keep them more as a protection against other companies.

Does anyone know of any major lawsuit where microsoft actually tried to have a patent upheld?

Re:Less important than it sounds (1)

man_of_mr_e (217855) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444177)

I don't know of a single case where Microsoft has sued anyone initially for patent infringement, though there are several where Microsoft has counter-sued after first being sued. Come to think of it, I don't think those were patent suits either, but copyright infringement (MS v. Stac, for instance)

Re:Less important than it sounds (1)

heatdeath (217147) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444193)

I don't know of a single case where Microsoft has sued anyone initially for patent infringement, though there are several where Microsoft has counter-sued after first being sued. Come to think of it, I don't think those were patent suits either, but copyright infringement (MS v. Stac, for instance)

Exactly. They see patents as more like protection from other people suing them. I guarentee you nobody's going to start paying royalties for using FAT in their software. =P

Of course, maybe redhat will chicken out and remove FAT support from fedora. Ugh.

Re:Less important than it sounds (5, Informative)

bosson (793519) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444232)

Get your facts right. They are using FAT-patents to get license fees from storage manufacturers. And they started using it *after* storage manufacturers where using vfat as a standard for flash drives.

So the methods bears all the marks of asserting broad patents against standardization initiatives. The set of patents they hold could just as easy be used to kill off mozilla or any other competitor, but they should be playing it safe not to upset any legislators too early.

Re:Less important than it sounds (2, Informative)

a_n_d_e_r_s (136412) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444351)

The reason anyone hasn't heard much about it is that NO ONE wants to be on the other end of a lawsuit from Microsoft. Its way too expensive.

There are free software developers whos been contacted by Microsoft. So yes Microsoft enforce their upatents. One example is Virtualdub and the patented ASF format.

Actually, FAT was invented by Bill Gates. (1)

siyavash (677724) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444185)

FAT was invented by Bill Gates for managing discs in Microsoft Disc BASIC. The file system was later incorporated into various CP/M clones including Microsoft's later on. FAT is what gave the CP/M clones the advantage over the actual CP/M.

The patents (5, Insightful)

cbdougla (769586) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444201)

According to this link: http://www.microsoft.com/mscorp/ip/tech/fat.asp [microsoft.com] , three of the patents (U.S. Patent #5,579,517, U.S. Patent #5,758,352 and U.S. Patent #6,286,013) all cover the "Common Name Space for short and long filenames."

What other parts of the FAT filesystem are protected by patents? This aspect of the FAT filesystem is just darn near obsolete as there aren't many systems that absolutely have to have the 8.3 format anymore are there?

Now, I have to admit, this is something that seems fairly specific to Microsoft's needs and is not a feature I've seen in any other filesystem. However, it also seems that this might be fairly easily just...excluded...without causing any really serious issues.

I am probably oversimplifying things.

Re:The patents (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14444251)

The problem is that FAT 8.3 directory entry holds the actual data (first cluster, size, time & date, attributes) and LFN entries are linked to that one. No 8.3 name entry = no file/directory.

Re:The patents (1)

taniwha (70410) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444402)

actually I think they're over reaching themselves, at least in so far as storage manufacturers are concerned - I've just skimmed the claims on the 3 patents and they all refer to the creation of directory entries (more importantly directory entries longer than 11 characters) - I'm sure blank preformatted media doesn't need this, moreover a smart camera manufacturer probably can keep their file names inside the old 8.3 restriction - hopefully the camera/media manufacturers will band together and stick it to M$

MS obviously got to someone... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14444208)

In the months since the last ruling, MS obviously got to someone (can you say bribes?)
I mean now they aren't even letting people comment on it? So no one else can show that MS is wrong and that there's prior art.

"Microsoft has won a debate where they were the only party allowed to speak, in that the patent re-examination process bars the public from rebutting arguments made by Microsoft,"

Corruption a Certainty (1, Interesting)

ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444303)

In the months since the last ruling, MS obviously got to someone (can you say bribes?)

Well, they have spent considerable sums of money "lobbying" members of the US congress, and probably other parliments as well.

But I take it you meant that actual brown paper bags full of cash were paid to certain persons of influence within the USPTO. Quite frankly, I think that not only is this a possibility, it is also a very likely one.

The USPTO is a corrupt organisation. Incompetance is the worst form of corruption, and they are certainly guilty of that. But I think even the most conservative of oberservers would have to admit that there is simply too many suspect happenings within the office to attribute soley to bereaucratic bumbling.

FAT, Chests of drawers, and brainwashing (4, Insightful)

Phatmanotoo (719777) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444231)

FAT is such a technical piece of crap that I would have thought nobody would want to patent it, out of pure
embarrassment.

For non-technical people who don't grok filesystems, there's a good story about FAT here: CyberSnare [netaction.org].

Re:FAT, Chests of drawers, and brainwashing (1)

yannick_mt (693328) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444270)

FAT is such a technical piece of crap that I would have thought nobody would want to patent it, out of pure embarrassment.

Add to that the fact that FAT has been around for more than ten years (if I'm not wrong) and the patent is only effective now. I know there's a huge processing delay for patents, but still.
So it's defenitely for embarrasment.

FAT sucks, but there's no alternative (2, Interesting)

Jesus_666 (702802) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444350)

FAT sucks, but it's ubiquitous. There is no other file system that does what FAT does: Run pretty much everywhere. I take a FAT-formatted USB drive, plug it into a Win box and put some files on it, then I put it into my Linux box and copy the files to my home directory, then I put it into my iBook and do the same there. With a different file system I might have needed to install drivers or use some other method of moving my files around.

Until we can get another file system to where FAT is now we're pretty much stuck with FAT. Unfortunately Microsoft won't support a non-Microsoft file system and NTFS (or any other new file system from Redmond) won't be released as freely as FAT is. Unless the next big rewritable medium has a portable, adaptable (to different media) and modern file system we'll be stuck with FAT until MSFT gets forced to release the NTFS specs or until the Unices reach a 50% market share on the desktop, whichever comes first.

oups, vfat gone? (0)

Britz (170620) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444242)

If they prohibit vfat maybe xfs or reiser4 should be ported to Windows for better access on a dual boot setup.

Re:oups, vfat gone? (2, Informative)

Cus (700562) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444380)

Why wait for xfs/reiser support? I needed a file system that could handle >4GB files and read/writable from Windows and Linux - I ended up installing Ext2FSD [sourceforge.net] and it does the job nicely.

next move (0, Redundant)

pintomp3 (882811) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444250)

will be interesting to see if they just tuck it into their already fat (sorry) patent portfolio or actually try to collect on it. i doubt the later will be the case, as FAT so old and is already used everywhere by everyone. i don't even see much use as a pre-emptive patent. i can't see anyone suing anyone for using it.

Ok, 2 questions (1)

ami-in-hamburg (917802) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444253)

1) Is there a USB mp3 player that can be formatted and still be usable with some type of Linux file system? I need to buy one anyway so why not go with a model that doesn't require FAT/FAT32

2) I may be wrong but I don't think SuSE 10, which is what I use, comes with the ability to employ a FAT type file system. When I setup my system I don't recall seeing FAT as a choice for the file system format when I was slicing up my disk partitioins. If that is indeed the case, how could this patent be a "threat to Linux which can't be distributed with any patented technologies"?

Re:Ok, 2 questions (1)

Yaztromo (655250) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444327)

  1. The only MP3 player that I know of which will work with a non-FAT filesystem is the iPod, which on the Mac can be formatted as HFS/HFS+. Unfortunately, I don't think this is really going to help you as a Linux user, as you'll probably need a Mac to reinitialize/reformat the iPod to use HFS/HFS+, may need to install extra software to be able to mount HFS/HFS+ partitions under Linux, and will need to run iTunes through some sort of emulator to manage your music. Ick. Every other flash or hard disk based digital music player that I know of uses a variation of FAT.
  2. The various Linux partition managers typically don't give FAT as an option when organizing your hard drive, due to a whole whack of limitations it imposes which makes it unsuitable for use on hard disks (including, but not limited to, partition size issues, partition position issues, lack of advanced Unix-style file attribute storage, and lack of ACL facilities). However, for most distros it is indeed installed, as it's typically the filesystem preferred for use with diskettes, USB keys, and by digital cameras, so it's most likely there, somewhere.

Yaz.

Re:Ok, 2 questions (1)

Knuckles (8964) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444354)

1) You can format it with whatever fs you want. I'd recommend against journalling filesystems, at least on smaller devices, because the journal itself needs quite some space, and journalling won't buy you much anyway. However, a Windows box will only be able to read/write FAT or NTFS. (ext2/ext3 fs drivers are available for windows, but are quite a hassle)

2) SuSE doesn't offer it because you don't want to -install- Linux on a FAT system. FAT is unreliable and does no support many features of modern file systems (e.g., permissions). But you still want your Linux box to be able to read/write the USB stick from work, so losing legal FAT support would suck

Re:Ok, 2 questions (1)

Knuckles (8964) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444366)

Oh, you said USB mp3 player. Scratch my answer 1) then, it's only valid for regular USB sticks. The other guy that replied got it right

Re:Ok, 2 questions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14444405)

Linux can't use FAT as it's main file system because FAT is too limited (no permissions, users, groups, symlinks, devices and so on)[1]. But it does have the ability to read and write FAT filesystems and this is often used for the data partition in dual-boot systems, because both Linux and Windows can get to the same data. So, removing FAT would not prevent the system from booting or anything, but it would be a problem for lots of users that depend on the feature.

[1] Not entirely correct, as there exists a filesystem called UMSDOS which layers the missing pieces on top of FAT, and makes it possible to install Linux in a directory on a FAT filesystem. However, this is slow, and not used very much, especially not now that everyone runs XP and NTFS, and don't have a FAT filesystem anyway.

software that can create it? (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14444274)

what about software that can create a FAT file system? Do those entities who distribute such software have to pay? How about users who format a drive, are they required now?

USB Sticks and CF cards (5, Interesting)

el_womble (779715) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444275)

I'm under no obligation to use FAT on my USB sticks. They come with a FAT filing table, but the functionality of the device isn't compromised by my using a different file system. USB stick manufacturers could simply sell their wares unformatted like the old floppy days, or you could pay $0.50 more and get a formatted one. Let the consumer decide.

As for digital cameras... well that was their decision. Unless I, as a consumer, am going to get fined for buying a piece of hardware that was unlicenced I don't care. The patents on FAT were no secret. They were, as are all the other patents, kept in a public place, next to the patents for lenses, CCDs, batteries and jpeg compression. As with any other patent, if you want to use the tech you have to pay the licence... and then pass that cost onto the customer.

Having a single filesystem that is accessible to all is good for everyone, especially Windows users. If Microsoft make it difficult to use digital cameras with their operating systems then they're going to piss a lot of people off. Digital cameras are one of the few reasons people buy a new computer so making it difficult to use digital cameras on Windows systems is not in their interests but perhaps worse for Microsoft is that people will install software that lets them use EXT3, Reiser4, UFS or heavens forbid, HFS+. People could use harddisks from other operating systems, with no need to defrag, decent meta information and genuine multi-user support!

I work with OS X, Debian and NT4 on a daily basis. The only way I can predicitably transfer files between them is using FAT16/32, and the limiting factor is NTs lousy support for alien filesystems. Microsoft should place FAT in the public domain. Its not strong enough to warrent a licence, and should really have become extinct along side the floppy disk. Charging people a licence to use a technology that was chosen because of a weakness in your main project, your operating system, is as lame as lecturers teaching from their own book.

Re:USB Sticks and CF cards (1)

taniwha (70410) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444364)

actually that's a great point and I bet one of two things will happen:
  • all cards/sticks/what have you come blank and get formatted by your camera/etc (where you'll pay the 25c)
  • M$ will sue to get all the media vendors to add 25c to their costs and some non-windows user will counter-sue because M$ is leveraging their monopoly
I bet for the first because M$ will tread warily around the second.

On the other hand the world is probably ready for a simple public domain file system that's unencumbered by patents or copyright. FAT's one saving grace is that it's simple and easy to implement, for most of these applications performance isn't a big deal, simplicity and robustness is much more important.

Ship unformatted dammit. (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14444277)

People, people, this means nothing. The vendors will just ship their USB drives, and flash media unformatted, and YOU will have to format it as whatever you want. It just so happens that FAT is idea for flash media since there is no metadata to update with every access, thus not destroying the flash media by reading it. (Last accessed date, what a stupid thing to have on flash media)

Re:Ship unformatted dammit. (1)

teh moges (875080) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444409)

Yes, this is a perfect option for those of us who actually know how to do such things. The popularity of USB drives of late has been that its a true plug-and-play device. You plug it in. It works. No messing about. If MS starts to enforce this, it means a rise in the cost of these products, or the releasing of drivers with these products which sell primarily as "plug and play usb drives". Either way, MS enforces, sales drop, price increases more and more. It really is confusing why MS would make such a money grab, the only resonable suggestion has been "you try sue us, and we bill you for those 100,000 FAT partitions you didn't pay us for". A "power move" such as when they got the state of California to verify all it's copies of windows, just because they "thought" there was some illegal copies. It was more a move to threaten any other governments.

Easy Workaround (4, Insightful)

koolman2 (903886) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444281)

There's an easy way to get around this: simply ship drives unformatted, and include instructions on how to format it. I'm sure there are other ways to get around it on devices such as digital cameras and such as well.

patent re-examination process bars... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14444290)

Those would be even slower than the windows ones.

Is the patent... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14444299)

...covering storage media as well as the devices that use it?
In that case, manufacturers could deliver their media units unformatted!
Wouldn't that be a solution to avoid the 0.25$/unit?

Is it the principle, the actual money (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14444302)

or an intrinsic bitching personality most of the slashdot crowd constantly exhibits when it comes to anything that is not free?

hmm ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14444307)

does that FAT come with a chair monkeyboy?

What if... (0, Redundant)

islanduniverse (925110) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444319)

Well what's to stop manufacturers putting in the instructions that after purchasing such a device that the customer has to format it themselves? If the device needs software, surely that comes on a CD anyway?

Good Thing? (2, Informative)

TwentyQuestions (945020) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444323)

I'm actually glade MS won this. I think it will help clear the way for more devices to use more secure and open-source friendly file systems. But I doubt MS will try to crack the whip on people making technology to read FAT. It just doesnt make sense, plus the income would be so low. And as for drives coming preformatted with FAT. Alot of the flash drives and even some MP3 players I have received from Japan use FAT but dont come preformatted.

Chain of events (3, Informative)

daBass (56811) | more than 8 years ago | (#14444381)

1. Microsoft spearheads USB standard
2. "Mass Storage Class" added to USB that is so low level, the OS uses it as any disk, needing to support it's file systems
3. 95% of computers run windows and the ones that support USB only support FAT, forcing device manufacturers to use that as filesystem.
4. Patent filesystem and demand royalties after the fact
5. No need for "???"
6. Profit!

Yup, they planned this all along, the sneaky bastards.
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