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Microsoft FAT Patent Upheld 558

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the fat-getting-fatter dept.
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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Microsoft FAT Patent Upheld

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  • So now... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Tuxedo Jack (648130) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @04:37AM (#14444127) Homepage
    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... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by toddbu (748790) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @04:42AM (#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... (Score:5, Informative)

        by tpgp (48001) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @04:57AM (#14444200) Homepage
        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 (Score:3, Interesting)

          by scsirob (246572)
          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?
          • 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
            • Re:Food chain (Score:3, Informative)

              by dabraun (626287)
              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:Food chain (Score:3, Interesting)

                by QMO (836285)
                So, you don't think that a box of pre-formatted floppies would increase in price by $2.50?
            • Re:Food chain (Score:5, Informative)

              by redhog (15207) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @06:38AM (#14444511) Homepage
              There are Free Software ext2 drivers for all major OSes:
              Windows: http://freshmeat.net/projects/ext2ifs/ [freshmeat.net]
              MacOS X: http://freshmeat.net/projects/ext2fs/ [freshmeat.net]
              OS/2: http://freshmeat.net/projects/ext2-os2/ [freshmeat.net]

              The problem is, they don't come pre-installed...
              • Not for the Mac... (Score:3, Informative)

                by John Nowak (872479)
                There is no ext2/ext3 support for 10.4. It only exists for earlier versions.
              • Re:Food chain (Score:5, Insightful)

                by QuantaStarFire (902219) * <ed@kehoe.gmail@com> on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @08:22AM (#14444807)
                The problem is, they don't come pre-installed...

                They're also kinda buggy. I'm using them right now since I couldn't format my 120GB IDE drive for FAT32 past 32GB or so (and there was no way in hell I was splitting it up into 4 pieces), and I wasn't too sure what else I could use to format for FAT32, so I used ext2.

                It's been interesting what happens. If I look in a folder with thumbnails, it generates a thumb.db file, followed by a thumb.db::encryptable file. When you delete the ::encryptable file, Windows tends to choke (though it still deletes), so you have to delete several times if you've got a lot of images or video to delete.

                I've also had problems with installing/uninstalling software. It wouldn't allow me to install World of Warcraft at all on it. I installed Final Fantasy XI on it, but then ran into problems that it couldn't save my settings. Even worse was that when I tried to uninstall it, I'd bluescreen and have to do it again. What I ended up doing was just deleting the folder from the disk, then uninstalling (which worked, which boggled my mind because there was nothing left for it to uninstall except registry entries).

                They've been fine otherwise, but I'd rather have my FAT32 back. It's far less buggy, and it's fairly stable in Linux as well.

              • Re:Food chain (Score:5, Informative)

                by baadger (764884) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @08:54AM (#14444939)
                There are infact several choices of upto date maintained Ext2/3 drivers for Windows.

                1. ext2fsd [sourceforge.net] which has support for Win64 (x64)
                2. ext2ifs [swin.edu.au] by John Newbigin (the one linked by parent). It says on the website "This version probably does not work under XP SP2".
                3. ext2ifs [fs-driver.org] by Stephan Schreiber. It's freeware but doesn't appear to be Open Source (so presumeably contains no GPL'd code). There are Windows XP screenshots on the site and it's x86 only.
              • Re:Food chain (Score:5, Informative)

                by diamondsw (685967) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @11:45AM (#14445915)
                The problem is, they don't come supported either. From the web page:

                It is written for OS X 10.2-10.3.

                No, they didn't just omit 10.4 accidentally, or not update the page. It doesn't work at all:

                Apple completely changed the kernel interfaces in Tiger and as such, a lot of work needs to be done to get the Ext2 driver running on Tiger. I started some of this work last year after WWDC, but there is still a lot to do and I don't have the time to finish things up right now.

                ...

                I've started getting back to bringing up the driver on Tiger. Progress is going well, everything is compiling (but not necessarily running) except for the vnops file. I still have to implement locking and then testing before a release can happen.
          • Re:Food chain (Score:5, Informative)

            by Marillion (33728) <ericbardes@gmail . c om> on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @09:52AM (#14445198)
            A device like a USB key fob is blank storage. Like a really big floppy. It doesn't violate because it doesn't have an algorithm that implements FAT. Cameras, on the other hand, have to save their images in a structured way. They do implement a FAT algorithm.
        • Every digital camera I've ever used (which is only about 5 or 6, so I may be wrong here) has only used short filenames. 'IMG_1234.JPG'. These aren't even covered by the patent. So why do they pay royalties?

          Rich.

          • Re:Short file names? (Score:3, Informative)

            by tpgp (48001)
            Every digital camera I've ever used (which is only about 5 or 6, so I may be wrong here) has only used short filenames. 'IMG_1234.JPG'. These aren't even covered by the patent.

            From the page I linked to:

            Additionally, the FAT file system licensing package includes rights to FAT file system innovations for which Microsoft has filed a claim for a patent that the U.S. Patent Office has not yet granted. This licensing program also provides licensees with rights to Microsoft FAT file system issued and pending pa

    • Re:So now... (Score:5, Informative)

      by tpgp (48001) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @04:48AM (#14444167) Homepage
      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... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by SenorCitizen (750632) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @04:54AM (#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... (Score:5, Interesting)

          by FireFury03 (653718) <slashdot@nex[ ]k.org ['usu' in gap]> on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @05:29AM (#14444306) Homepage
          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.
          • MOD PARENT UP (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @07:14AM (#14444628)
            There is no technical reason to use FAT at all, it is only in common usage because of Microsofts desktop monopoly. FAT was used by vendors for the benefit of Microsoft customers, Microsoft respond by stabbing everyone in the back. Time to start petitioning OEM's to ship a GPL'd 3rd party Windows filesystem driver by default, then we petition for device support.

            C# and CLR on linux people take note, Microsoft never acts in good faith. Why file for patents unless you plan to enforce them? Ever heard the phrase "trust a fox"?

          • Re:So now... (Score:4, Insightful)

            by swillden (191260) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @11:59AM (#14446035) Homepage Journal

            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.

            I think you missed the point.

            The point was that the storage device manufacturers can ship their devices unformatted, so they don't run afoul of the patent, and don't have to build a royalty payment to the Evil Empire into their price. Since some storage devices are cheap enough that the royalty payment might constitute a significant part of their price, that's a good thing.

            Cameras will probably still use FAT, for exactly the reason you mention. When you insert an unformatted card into a camera, the camera will format it. No problem. And an extra 25 cents in the price of a digital camera isn't going to mean much because cameras are more expensive anyway.

            I'm more concerned about the potential effect on open source implementations. The Linux vfat filesystem, for example, does implement the long name/short name encoding scheme that is, I believe, the target of the patent. If Microsoft could force all of the major Linux distros to remove vfat support from their kernels, they could deal a significant blow to Linux's ability to interoperate with Windows and with most of the digital cameras on the market.

            • by sadler121 (735320) <msadler@gmail.com> on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @12:49PM (#14446454) Homepage
              Thats why Linus needs to move the kernel.org server not from California to Oregon, but from Oregon to the EU*. That way MS can bitch all they want about vFat in the kernel, but can't get it out of the kernel cause the EU (for the time being, and if MS does try to enforce this agienst Linux, won't ever) have software patents.

              *this would also mean Linus and everyone working on the kernel would have to move to the EU, and also a fork in the kernel in the US that does not included vFat.
              • I don't the kernel sources matter as much as the distributions. It's not a big deal to leave kernel.org in the US and separate the vfat out as a patch that's hosted elsewhere. The bigger issue is what gets installed by default by the major distributions, at least three of which are based in the US.

                Also, if people were relocating in order avoid trouble, I'm not sure the EU would be a good choice. Software patents aren't currently valid in the EU, but that battle isn't finished yet.

        • 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 actu
      • Re:So now... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by LardBrattish (703549) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @05:05AM (#14444226) Homepage
        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

        • 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.
          • 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.
      • this is why monopolys are bad period.
      • Re:So now... (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        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 be
    • Re:So now... (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      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 in
      • Re:So now... (Score:2, Insightful)

        by glowworm (880177)
        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 stab
      • Re:So now... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by gerddie (173963) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @06:19AM (#14444456)
        NTFS would be an obvious choice for microsoft to go with since it support removable media and journalling.
        You wouldn't want to use standard journalling on a flash drive. IIRC for each write cycle at least 3 write actions are required: log in the journal that a write will be done (has to be synced to the disk), do the write, log in the journal that the write action ended successful. With flash, where you can only erase block-wise, this is not a good idea - for one its very slow, and on the other hand, the flash supports only so many write cycles. For journalling, special handling is needed as implemented e.g. in jffs2 [sourceware.org].
    • 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.
    • 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 dri

    • The Patents (Score:4, Informative)

      by Midnight Thunder (17205) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @08:53AM (#14444936) Homepage Journal
      I think to understand what it means to companies, then we need to look at what the patents are:

      Patent: 5,579,517 [164.195.100.11]
      Title: Common name space for long and short filenames
      Filed: 24 April 1995

      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.

      Patent: 5,758,352 [164.195.100.11]
      Title: Common name space for long and short filenames
      Filed: 5 September 1996

      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.

      Patent: 6,286,013 [164.195.100.11]
      Title: Method and system for providing a common name space for long and short file names in an operating system
      Filed: 28 January 1997

      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.


      So the patents in question all cover the same issue of a "common name space for long and short filenames". This would effect anyone using vfat and also potentially effect Rockridge and Joliet extensions for ISO 9660.

      One thing to note, from looking at the licensing page, is that only "consumer electronics devices" and "removable solid state media manufacturers" are targeted. For the moment operating systems aren't listed.

      One thing I have to ask myself whether makers of digital cameras would be legaly required to have to pay this license, despite them being listed in the "consumer electronics devices" section. The reason I ask this is because all the digital cameras I have seen to date still use 8.3 format file names (for example my Nikon is DSCN0000.jpg), therefore they are not using the technologies referenced by the patents.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @04:37AM (#14444130)
    Guess it's time for that diet.
  • Linux? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Golradir (807889) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @04:37AM (#14444131) Homepage
    How will this affect the ability to read FAT filesystems under Linux?
    • Re:Linux? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @05:50AM (#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

  • I knew it (Score:5, Funny)

    by commodoresloat (172735) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @04:43AM (#14444151)
    They finally patented Steve Ballmer.
    • 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.
  • The patents (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cbdougla (769586) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @04:58AM (#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 (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      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.
    • 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
  • by Phatmanotoo (719777) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @05:07AM (#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].

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

        by m50d (797211) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @06:41AM (#14444519) Homepage Journal
        Every OS supports it for the purposes of reading DVDs. It may not have been designed for flash drives, but it works on them fine. And it's an ISO standard.
        • Re:What about UDF? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Baki (72515) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @07:44AM (#14444710)
          Interesting suggestion. I just read the spec, and it seems to have been designed to be truely universal. It supports attributes found in any operating system and can be adapted to any medium (all kinds of block size etc. are free and thus can be set to values to accomodate any type of medium).

          I think it is a bit heavy, but nowadays that should not really matter.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @05:20AM (#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?
  • by el_womble (779715) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @05:20AM (#14444275) Homepage
    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.
    • 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 paten

    • by LordLucless (582312) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @06:48AM (#14444541)
      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.

      Except that these patents weren't around when they were making these decisions. These FAT patents were *rejected*. Why would a company base a decision around patents that were rejected by the UPTO? This is yet another example of the USPTO's stupidity - VFAT was created how long ago? Some where between 92 and 95 IIRC. So at least 10 years ago. VFAT has had 10 years to creep into all corners of the industry, and only now it's going to start costing money? Imagine if 5 years after the motor industry really got going, the patent for internal combustion engines was finally approved. Progress of science and useful arts my ass.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @05:21AM (#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)

    • by Vo0k (760020)

      -o noadate

      generic FAT is a very bad idea for flash media. Every write operation no matter where on the media causes a write operation in one area. Your flash media can survive a million writes so theoretically you can write 100 million files as long as you randomize/distribute their locations evenly over the media. Sorry, with each file write, no matter where, FAT gets updated, a single location gets written. After a million writes it dies. Bummer.
      Manufacturers overcome it by placing FAT on separate chip of
  • Easy Workaround (Score:4, Insightful)

    by koolman2 (903886) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @05:21AM (#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.
  • Makes sense (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Puzzles (874941) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @05:22AM (#14444285)
    One thing comes to mind with me: iPod tax
  • Good Thing? (Score:2, Informative)

    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.
  • FAT cat (Score:2, Funny)

    by telchine (719345)
    They might as well register FAT cat as a trademark whilst they're at it :-)
  • FAT tax? (Score:3, Funny)

    by todd10k (889348) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @05:50AM (#14444374)
    A fax tax you say? At 25 cents a pound, half of slashdot now owe microsoft 100 bucks.
  • Chain of events (Score:4, Informative)

    by daBass (56811) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @05:51AM (#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.
  • Patenting arrays? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tchernobog (752560) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @06:04AM (#14444414)
    What can you possibly patent about a FAT table? It's more or less a huge array!
    While the rest of the world is exploring new ways to implement filesystems and thus producing innovation, what one of the most rich and powerful software company in the world does?

    It bloody well enforce patents about twenty-five-years old bloody technologies.
    Silly of me to think they were working to finish that WinFS of theirs, instead.

    Look out for your helloworlds, they'll be knocking at your door with patent no. 1340032423 very soon.

    PS: How much for these patents to expire? Fortunately I live in Europe, so I can keep FAT support in my GNU/Linux kernel ;-)
  • by waterbear (190559) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @06:11AM (#14444431)
    Let's recall that even previous slashdot coverage of this issue -- as well as coverage elswhere -- identified that the "fat" patents are written to claim, not the fat-fs as such, but rather, ways of handling long filenames in connection with an underlying fat-fs. (I don't have the links by me to hand right now, sorry.)

    That would be much less than a patent on fat as such.

    When I last looked at the claims, it did seem that the ways claimed in the patent for handling the long filenames could be subgeneric, i.e. less than exhaustive of all the possibilities. (Granted that a situation like that can still mean that claims are wide enough to be a nuisance.)

    So it would probably be more useful to the FOSS community to look at what is actually left from the actual MS patent claims, and whether they leave unpatented, free outside the claims, any other ways of handling the long filenames.

    This would be as well as taking account of the possibility that the confirmed patent claims would still be invalidated by prior art or any other reason if it came to a court fight with the opposing party taking a full part there to provide full counterarguments.

    This case and its result underline -- again -- the inadequacy of the US patent re-examination procedure -- mainly because of the unequal treatment that it gives to the party wishing to oppose the patent.

    A failed attempt to get the patent invalidated is unhelpful to the community, because the patent holder can always point to the result when the prior art arguments come up again, and can argue that they have already been officially considered and rejected, so no need to review them.

    It would arguably be better not to use US re-examination in the first place, if there is an assessment that the patent holder could wriggle out of the allegations of prior art when the other party is not there to answer -- because stopped by the procedure from answering to nail the errors in the arguments of the patent-holder.

    It might also be recommendable for the PPF, instead of rushing in to raise proceedings that fail when there is no current and urgent need actually to bring them at that point in time, instead to give wide publicity first to the evidence and arguments against a nuisance patent, and to encourage debate about it.

    The resulting debate could bring facts to light, e.g. that strengthen the prior art arguments.

    New facts and evaluations can also shed light on the defendable scope of the claims, and make it clearer what techniques actually lie free outside them -- maybe even indicating that invalidation proceedings are not necessary.

    At least, wider discussion can make it a bit easier for PPF or anybody else to weigh up the prospects of success before weighing in with action.

    -wb-
  • CP/M 2.2 Prior art? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by crusty_architect (642208) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @06:12AM (#14444436) Homepage
    As usual with these things, I am struggling with how MS have gotten around what I would see as prior art. The CP/M file system, developed by Digital Research in ~ 1977. I wrote a defrag and badblock utility for CP/M and CP/M-86 in the 80's, and it's not a huge leap from the CP/M FS to a FAT FS. DR are long dead but it still begs the question....did MS really dream this up?
  • by FlippyTheSkillsaw (533983) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @06:13AM (#14444438) Journal
    People are asking what the alternatives are. Well, ext filesystems are great, if you're using Linux, but they are totally unreasonable if you, like 98% of the market, is using Windows. Get rid of that idea.

    What about one of the ISO filesystems? There's an ISO for CDROM filesystems, and I imagine that thing isn't always read-only. If anyone has a flash disk and wants to format it as an ISO9660 filesystem and see if Windows can read/write it, that would be nice of them. I don't have either.

    Second, what product is hit by this? People are going on about shipping unformatted media, but think about it: most devices that use the media have to speak FAT as well. Your camera can't write a file to the flash card if it doesn't understand how to read and write to it, even if rudimentary. The unformatted argument only works for media that will only be used on a PC, which seems like it will be a small minority.

    So then, is it the media or the device that will be pinned? If it's the device, that is bad news for open source. That means we lost our ability to write to disks that can be read by Windows. Hey, if the ISO9660 thing from above works, I see no reason why we couldn't format floppies that way, but we still couldn't read them. Will they be able to retroactively collect royalties from Linux distro organizers? Now that is a scary idea. How many copies of Linux have been distributed, even if not used?

    How does this work with interoperability? Would it now be illegal to interoperate with a FAT formatted disk without coming to an agreement with microsoft?
    • by m50d (797211) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @06:49AM (#14444546) Homepage Journal
      What about one of the ISO filesystems? There's an ISO for CDROM filesystems, and I imagine that thing isn't always read-only. If anyone has a flash disk and wants to format it as an ISO9660 filesystem and see if Windows can read/write it, that would be nice of them. I don't have either.

      ISO9660 is completely non-writeable - the filesystem is designed in such a way that you simply can't write to it. However, its successor, UDF, is writeable, and is already being used by flash drives which are too big for FAT (>32GB).

      Second, what product is hit by this? People are going on about shipping unformatted media, but think about it: most devices that use the media have to speak FAT as well. Your camera can't write a file to the flash card if it doesn't understand how to read and write to it, even if rudimentary. The unformatted argument only works for media that will only be used on a PC, which seems like it will be a small minority.

      Absolutely. Anything that has to access its own disk is at risk - the main things I see are cameras, MP3 players and possibly PDAs. A camera could just use another filesystem and be accessible via PTP, and since that just specifies how to transfer files, I suppose in theory it could be used for MP3 players as well, it has support from all major OSes.

  • by Yseboodt (931771) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @08:10AM (#14444777)
    I'm the author of the Embedded filesystems library. (http://sf.net/projects/efsl [sf.net])

    I've read the patents, they all cover the long filenames ability in the FAT filesystem. So basically as long as I do not implement long filesystem support, the EFSL should be free from patent problems.

    If anyone with a deeper understanding of legalese is willing to comment on this, I and the users of EFSL would be grateful.

    Since EFSL is targetted at embedded devices, it is used commercially (I am using it in a commercial product as well, and I know of several other projects that are doing the same) and thus the companies using it should know wheter or not they can use EFSL without paying a fee to microsoft.

    FAT is about the ugliest filesystem around, it's a shame they dare to ask licensing fees for it.

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