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Germany Rejects Microsoft FAT Patent 162

Posted by kdawson
from the skinny-on-inventiveness dept.
Askmum writes in with news that a German patent court has ruled Microsoft's patent on FAT invalid in that country, finding that it is "not based on inventive activity." Just one of 6,000-odd patents Microsoft has amassed since a 1991 memo from Bill Gates turned around the company's attitude to patents.
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Germany Rejects Microsoft FAT Patent

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  • Are they ruling on the oldest patents first? Its going to take a long time to reject all 6,000.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jimstapleton (999106)
      Probably not, they are unlikely to look at patents that haven't expired.

      Sadly most of MS's patents are post 95 by the article (they had around 100 in 95, 1000 in 99 and 6000 now If I remember correctly?)
  • by stratjakt (596332) on Thursday March 15, 2007 @10:14AM (#18361411) Journal
    I don't fault MSFT for patenting everything they can. Apple does it, Google does it, everyone does it. Eolas does it.

    The system is broken. Don't hate the player, hate the game.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      The system is broken. Don't hate the player, hate the game.

      We hate MS for many reasons. Just because we hate the patent system too, doesn't mean we cant enjoy a little chuckle when MS takes a much needed slap.
      • by stratjakt (596332) on Thursday March 15, 2007 @10:31AM (#18361641) Journal
        Yes, you hate MSFT for all the business practices you love from Apple or Google.

        I know slashdot is a bunch of young'uns who personify corporations as either friend or foe.

        I'm just pointing out that corporations are things, not beings, and they are a part of a system, and behave as they are supposed to within the system.

        It's the system that was set up to allow robber barons to swindle stockholders, stifle innovation with patents, and clog our legal system with crap.
        • by mstahl (701501) <marrrrrk@gmail . c om> on Thursday March 15, 2007 @10:41AM (#18361759) Homepage Journal

          While it may be best to think of corporations as things and not beings (I don't think it's healthy to think of them as best buddies or arch nemeses either), there really isn't much personification going on. They actually are (at least in the US) legally identical to individuals. That's in the sense that they can commit crimes and get sued or pay taxes.

          It's probably a good thing that corporations can't get married.

          • by mpe (36238) on Thursday March 15, 2007 @11:39AM (#18362783)
            They actually are (at least in the US) legally identical to individuals. That's in the sense that they can commit crimes and get sued or pay taxes.

            Except that corporations don't tend to have their freedoms constrained at the point they are charged with a crime. Not many real people can be "business as usual" whilst awaiting a trial, let alone only only have their lawyers attend the trial. Even if found guilty there is no corporate equivalent of a prison sentence. When it comes to criminal law corporations and individuals are treated (very) differently. Even if the same statute theoretically applies to both situations.
            • by sumdumass (711423)
              You confusing people and corperations with money and no money.

              The difference is who has access tot he funding needed to defend themselves and how the justice system is revolved around treating people fair. What you end up with is a huge bale set for you and me but largely small to keep corporate offenders in jail. You also end up with having a herder time affording good lawyers were it is more readily available to corporations.

              And don't think money means you win. Look at the execs form Tyco, Worldcom and En
          • It's probably a good thing that corporations can't get married.

            I don't know about that. If they were married then at least they'd commit to only screwing their one partner. Right now they try to screw everybody they possibly can.

        • by kcbrown (7426) <slashdot@sysexperts.com> on Thursday March 15, 2007 @10:58AM (#18361989)

          I'm just pointing out that corporations are things, not beings, and they are a part of a system, and behave as they are supposed to within the system.

          Not really.

          Corporations are supposed to act in the best interests of the society in which they function first and foremost. If that were not the case, then a corporate charter and business license wouldn't be required, now would it?

          The problem is that most people have lost sight of that fact. In exchange for limited liability and effective immortality, corporations are supposed to act with restraint. And in a sane, balanced society, such restraint would be enforced by the revocation of corporate charters in the case of misconduct, just like it was done in the (relatively) distant past.

          People like you have been brainwashed to believe that it's okay for corporations to act in evil ways (if intentionally harming others for personal gain isn't evil, then I don't know what is) because "they're responsible to their shareholders" or some such bullshit.

          But it's not okay. It never has been. Such behaviour is very harmful, and many ills of the world exist because of it. You might say that it's the responsibility of the government to hold corporations accountable for their actions and you would be right about that. But that in no way excuses the behaviour of corporations. That someone might not have been punished for murder doesn't make the act any less wrong.

          People like you need to wake up, and fast, because we're almost out of time. The U.S. is pretty much unrecoverable now but there's still time for the rest of the world. But if corporations aren't held to a much higher standard than we hold them to now, it won't be long before they rule the rest of the world the way they rule the U.S.

          And trust me, that would be a bad thing for just about everyone. The experience with the British East India Company is one of the things that led to the founding of the United States, after all.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by mpe (36238)
            The problem is that most people have lost sight of that fact. In exchange for limited liability and effective immortality, corporations are supposed to act with restraint.

            The term "limited liability" started off with one specific meaning. That was that shareholders' financial liability was limited to the amount of their investment. i.e. if the enterprise failed the worst that could happen is that they would have some worthless pieces of paper, creditors could not persue the "owners" of the business. Nothi
            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by sumdumass (711423)
              I don't think it was ever intended to shield executives from anything. The company in itself is really at the will and direction of the executives.

              I think the problem lies in the belief that if you own the company you can tell it what to do. This is only the case if your one of the executives. And if that is the case, it does nothing to shield you from your part in whatever crime you and your company were involved in. Unfortunately, Many investors and owners take a hands off approach to a lot of their busin
        • by Kadin2048 (468275)
          It's entirely possible that if Google or Apple was in the position Microsoft is in, I'd hate them just as much as I do MS. In fact, it's highly probable. But they're not, so it's a bit of an academic point. I wasn't a big fan of IBM back in the early 90s, when they were the dominant player, and every once in a while I find it odd when I read some pro-OSS, pro-IBM article, because there's a part of me that still thinks that ought to be a contradiction.

          But to be honest, what really gets to me about Microsoft
    • We've got other things to hate them for.
    • I agree. But I wouldn't want any revision of copyright laws to have any kind of global scope whatsoever. The problem is mostly the dodgy legal system in the USA, so the its partly contained for the time being.
    • by Scott7477 (785439) on Thursday March 15, 2007 @10:53AM (#18361925) Homepage Journal
      I agree with you. The article in ArsTechnica pointed out that at the time of the memo, Microsoft's position in the market was radically different than it is today. MS was a relatively small company compared to the big boys in the enterprise world like IBM and Sun and Novell. The way software was distributed was totally different as well. Given that the Internet was primarily an academic and military system at the time, companies were still sending you boxes of floppies. I recall from graduate school at that time seeing a business plan that contemplating distributing software through vending machines! It seems absurd now, but at the time it wasn't that far out of the ball park. In any case, based on reading the excerpt from the memo, Gates was trying to figure out how best to make money from the business of writing software. Today, the open source community is in the same boat. We want non-restrictive licenses (like MIT's), but also want to put food on the table.

      I don't excuse MS's anti-competitive business practices, and a lot of their frankly dumb decisions over the years. But I can see where Gates has something of a point. To me, since software costs practically nothing to copy, the primary way to make a profit at software is in support. Most general-use software is rather simple to produce these days (see how many different text editors there are). So I don't think most types of software should be patentable.
    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by hxnwix (652290)
      Did you know that Microsoft is a key supporter of software patents worldwide? They're not just abusing the system - they helped create it.

      So yes. I do blame them.
  • Sorry but, (Score:5, Funny)

    by Jason Hood (721277) on Thursday March 15, 2007 @10:16AM (#18361435)
    this patent is only valid in the US and Samoa. Germany has no right to allow any Fat patents.
  • What about the thin MS patents?

    Inquiring mind demand to know!
  • Hmm.. (Score:4, Funny)

    by SevenHands (984677) on Thursday March 15, 2007 @10:26AM (#18361569)
    Doesn't McDonalds already own this patent in Germany?
    • They tried to, but the schnitzel producers' guild claimed prior art.

      • by Sique (173459)
        It seems that the Döner Kebab guild has the rights at the fat patent... at least Döner Kebab is the most served fast food in Germany (15 mio servings per day, compared with 5 mio burgers and about 1.2 mio bratwurst/curry wurst).
        • Yeah, you're right ... the last time I was in Germany, it seemed like you couldn't go ten feet without tripping over a Döner stand/shop. Actually, I've always been surprised that it's not more popular here in the 'States. I mean, it's got some vegetables in it, you could pass it off as "healthy" (*snort*...but there's a sucker born every minute, right?).

          Man, I could go for a Döner right now, actually. I'd probably just lose interest somewhere over the Atlantic, though.
  • Whoa!!! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Bullfish (858648) on Thursday March 15, 2007 @10:27AM (#18361587)
    You have to invent something to patent it! Say it ain't so! An awful lot of companies are going to go into panic over this! Why, it could threaten the entire patent holding industry!!
  • I was under the impression that software patents were _not_ allowed on the whole of Europe.
    • by stratjakt (596332)
      You could argue that FAT is mechanism to allocate physical space on a storage device, and thus not "software" at all.
    • by Scarblac (122480) <slashdot@gerlich.nl> on Thursday March 15, 2007 @10:39AM (#18361737) Homepage

      Not true. Every country has its own rules. Besides those, there's also a European patent court, which isn't actually part of the EU, just a cooperation of European countries. That court officially doesn't allow software patents but does in practice; Germany's patent law is different, I have no idea.

      The "EU patent directive" and the fight over software patents that's covered now and then on /. is about a EU proposal to do away with all this and replace it by a single EU system, and about whether software patents should be part of that.

      This is "Slashdot knowledge", I have no actual knowledge of law, so...

      • by Splab (574204)
        Don't know about the rest of EU, but here in Denmark software patents are invalid.
      • by jonbryce (703250)
        Where the invention is solely a computer program, or a method of carrying on business, a patent may not be granted under EU law. However, the fact that an invention may involve the use of a computer program does not in itself prevent a patent from being granted if there is some non-software related inventive step.
      • by Jesus_666 (702802)
        The "EU patent directive" and the fight over software patents that's covered now and then on /. is about a EU proposal to do away with all this and replace it by a single EU system, and about whether software patents should be part of that.

        Actually, it's an attempt of the European Patent Organisation (EPO) to legitimize software patents.

        The European Commission (EC) drafted a proposal for a common directive that allowed patents. The European Parliament (EP) discussed the proposal and (due to the efforts
    • by bentcd (690786)
      I was under the impression that software patents were _not_ allowed on the whole of Europe.
      That is almost correct. In Europe, software _as such_ cannot be patented. And "as such" turn out to be two very important words in this context. Patent lawyers have been very creative in getting software patented as something that is not quite software "as such". The most popular approach seems to be to patent it as software "that runs on a computer", which may or may not be different from software "as such".
      • by Plunky (929104)

        That is almost correct. In Europe, software _as such_ cannot be patented. And "as such" turn out to be two very important words in this context. Patent lawyers have been very creative in getting software patented as something that is not quite software "as such". The most popular approach seems to be to patent it as software "that runs on a computer", which may or may not be different from software "as such".

        IANAL but I have written and released patent infringing software, and I always wondered if I would

    • The fact that they have been rejected on a European level doesn't mean that individual countries can't implement them, it just means that if you patent a piece of software in one EU country there's no guarantee that it will be respected in another.

  • One way to look (Score:3, Insightful)

    by CSHARP123 (904951) on Thursday March 15, 2007 @10:29AM (#18361609)
    From the second article link - Emphasis mine

    If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today's ideas were invented, and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today. I feel certain that some large company will patent some obvious thing related to interface, object orientation, algorithm, application extension or other crucial technique. If we assume this company has no need of any of our patents then they have a 17-year right to take as much of our profits as they want. The solution to this is patent exchanges with large companies and patenting as much as we can.

    Now that large company is MS and is trying to patent the obvious.

    • by pimpimpim (811140)
      Yes, I think that is what he wanted to say there anyway. Do it before someone else does it. Put in another way, they say that they also know that their patent requests are obvious.
    • by sconeu (64226)
      <SARCASM>
      No it IsNot [slashdot.org]!!!
      </SARCASM>

      Sarcasm tags added for the sarcasm-impaired, in compliance with the ADA.
  • Patents cannot prevent, limit or contrain the production and distribution of products made using patented technologies and methods provided that said product is distributed without financial or material recompensation either directly or for supporting good and services.

    1) The market is improved by keeping patents from harming free distribution of goods and services that in general better the lives of others. [i.e. patents cannot become tools of anti-generocity and anti-benevolacne]
    2) The patent holders cann
  • FAT Patent? (Score:5, Funny)

    by TheVelvetFlamebait (986083) on Thursday March 15, 2007 @10:35AM (#18361677) Journal
    I thought it was only slightly chubby...
  • This is great... fta (Score:4, Interesting)

    by micromuncher (171881) on Thursday March 15, 2007 @10:41AM (#18361763) Homepage
    FTA "[Prevents company from] lay claim to basic computing procedures that in the final analysis are trivial."

    And, FAT is a trivial format, (as are Apple DOS 16, ProDOS, CODOS, and other ancient formats) but FAT has the caveat it is commonly used today in devices such as digital cameras (So pfffft on the person who said its not used.)

    I completely agree with the german PO that a patent has to be on something innovative and inventive. Every time I see a patent for a double-linked list or radix sort I get the shivers.
    • FAT is old (Score:5, Informative)

      by gr8_phk (621180) on Thursday March 15, 2007 @10:58AM (#18362005)
      FAT itself was documented in 1983 (or earlier?) in Byte magazine. It can not be and is not patented today as I understand it. My understanding is that MS patented the long filename feature that came along later. Lets not confuse basic FAT functionality with long file names. It's also more interesting to call it a long filename patent, as it sounds even dumber than a FAT patent.
      • It's also more interesting to call it a long filename patent, as it sounds even dumber than a FAT patent.

        Didn't Apple do something like this to network ProDOS machines onto AppleShare file servers?

        (ouch, several of those neurons haven't fired for 15 years)
  • by LaughingCoder (914424) on Thursday March 15, 2007 @10:41AM (#18361777)
    ... that this is a don't care for MS. FAT is ubiquitous - thumbdrives use it, digital cameras use it, mp3 players use it. In fact it's hard to find a piece of solid state media that doesn't come pre-formatted with FAT. Because of that, I guess I was always under the impression FAT was in the public domain; it really surprised me to see there was a patent at all. Does anyone out there know if MS collects royalties or license fees from this patent?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by herve_masson (104332)
      really surprised me to see there was a patent at all

      You [slashdot.org] must [slashdot.org] be [slashdot.org] new [slashdot.org] here [slashdot.org]. The last link is the reason why Germany likely felt necessary to cleanup that particular junk patent. I don't think they are in a process to cleanup the whole insane system anytime soon :) I wonder why they have to though, knowing that EU don't recognize such patent (yet).
      • Interesting. I am not new here, but I didn't happen to see those other discussions - thanks for the pointers.
  • FAT patent (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rongage (237813) on Thursday March 15, 2007 @10:58AM (#18362003)

    You guys know how Microsoft folk like to toss about that Linux violates Microsoft's patents...

    You guys know how "we" like to shout out "put up or shut up"...

    Opportunity is right in front of our noses - right now!

    Whether we think the patent is valid or not is irrelevent - it's been held as valid by the USPTO. The existance of a patent is considered prima facie evidence of validity in a court of law. It takes LOTS of money and time to get a patent declared invalid in court. LOTS of money - a million dollars would not be unusual for legal costs in a patent fight. Unless YOU have the money to put up for the fight, the battle is already lost here.

    Microsoft has a valid patent on FAT (or more specifically FAT32). Linux implements FAT and FAT32. Unless someone has a signed document from Microsoft stating that Linux has a royalty-free license to use the patented technology, we are violating the patent - period.

    Time to get coding - people talk about "coding around" a patent issue should one be found. Well, one has been laid directly at our feet. Time to get coding...

    • Re:FAT patent (Score:5, Informative)

      by Todd Knarr (15451) on Thursday March 15, 2007 @01:47PM (#18365069) Homepage

      Well, what Microsoft holds the a (purportedly valid) patent on isn't FAT or FAT32. It's on the particular algorithm for mapping long filenames into an 8.3 format and (I think) storing the long filename where it can be found. What the German court found was that a) the idea of doing such a mapping isn't original enough to be potentially patentable, and b) even if it was, the Rock Ridge extensions to the ISO-9660 filesystem (specifically the parts that allow mapping of Unix long filenames to the 8.3 upper-case-only native 9660 names) are similar enough to be prior art and invalidate MS's patent (as it would be simply an obvious extension of that prior art).

  • Isn't this the patent on the hack that allows Windows 95 file systems to be used in MSDOS? It's a hack for back compatibility for a system that's completely obselete. And I'm not sure where its used. All cameras I've used use MSDOS 8.3 filenames. Mayeba few portable devices use FAT on flash, and maybe flash relies on this method or something ut I'd have thought this would have been thought of before. Why didn't the standards organisations come up with a better, free filesystem for USB filesystem device
  • Asking my elders here :

    Isn't FAT a rip-off from CP/M ?
    Wouldn't it be considered prior art if presented in court ?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by LWATCDR (28044)
      No. The concepts behind FAT way predate CP/M. My guess is IBM probably developed most it. They did invent the floppy disk and they had to have some kind of format. CP/M used the 8" Floppy standard that IBM developed so I would guess it was IBM.
  • by RembrandtX (240864) on Thursday March 15, 2007 @11:12AM (#18362223) Homepage Journal
    Just in case anyone was interested, here is a full list of Microsoft's Issued Patents [Current as of a week or two ago].
    Its hosted at a free patent searching tool, so don't blame me if their servers melt. :)

    Microsoft's Patents [patentmonkey.com]
  • Its not FAT, its Big Boned.
  • According to Wikipedia,a patent filer gets 20 years before the patent expires, typically. Clearly there are many companies/organizations that are currently running software that has been in production use for more than 20 years. Couldn't a company using software that has lost patent protection take that software, make a few changes and call it their own new product and then cancel any licensing/maintenance contracts with the vendor?
  • It wasn't just Gates.

    I was working at a Fortune 500 minicomputer company in 1991, and the corporate law office sent around a memo that was posted on every department's bulletin board. It read something like this:

    "Many progammers believe that software cannot be patented. The message of this memo is simple. They are wrong:" and then, in 144-point type that could be read from across the room:

    "IT CAN BE." ...and then continued with what to do if you thought you had a patentable idea.

    Similar things were probably
  • Wow, that sure sounds like a lot. Oh, except that IBM [ibm.com] has that beaten into a cocked hat.

    I know that the general opinion here is that MS is evil, and (software) patents are evil, but IBM is still by far the largest patentee in this field, and some of us still remember when Big Blue was as evil and hated as MS is now.

    Point being don't single MS out for criticism, as they're all doing it, even our "friends".

You know that feeling when you're leaning back on a stool and it starts to tip over? Well, that's how I feel all the time. -- Steven Wright

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