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PUBPAT Challenges Microsoft's FAT Patent 396

An anonymous reader writes "The Public Patent Foundation filed a formal request with the United States Patent and Trademark Office today to revoke Microsoft Corporation's patent on the FAT File System, touted by Microsoft as being 'the ubiquitous format used for interchange of media between computers, and, since the advent of inexpensive, removable flash memory, also between digital devices.' In its filing, PUBPAT submitted previously unseen prior art showing the patent, which issued in November 1996 and is not otherwise due to expire until 2013, was obvious and, as such, should have never been granted."
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PUBPAT Challenges Microsoft's FAT Patent

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  • About time... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 16, 2004 @12:42AM (#8878221)
    ... somebody did this. FAT's been around and is now somewhat of a standard. Maybe some of MS's other patents can be challenged as well.
    • Re:About time... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by r4bb1t ( 663244 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @12:46AM (#8878243)
      I don't mean to play devil's advocate, but is it ok to challenge patents just because they become standards?
      • Re:About time... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Bronster ( 13157 ) <> on Friday April 16, 2004 @12:49AM (#8878275) Homepage
        I don't mean to play devil's advocate, but is it ok to challenge patents just because they become standards?

        If they were standards before they were patented, then yeah - I would say that's grounds for challenging them.

        If they were a stealth patent on an idea that was common knowledge at the time (and I'm thinking especially of things that just weren't practical due to lack of CPU power that are blindingly obvious as well) then yeah, definitely.

        Anyway, all the devil's advocates are on loan to SCO at the moment, raking in megabucks from the warchest.
        • Re:About time... (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 16, 2004 @01:24AM (#8878462)
          The microsoft patents aren't about all of the FAT file system. Rather the method of storing short and long file names in the FAT file system.

          Interestingly, the request for reexamination is based partly on what Microsoft might do, and has made no attempt to do. Their assertions are that in light of other patents the specific combination of techniques would have been obvious. This strikes me as less than genuine because of how patents are done, particularly in this day in age. If the combination of ideas was so obvious, why didn't the last of the submitted prior art patent it, since they're so skilled they can claim worthy patents when there is significant pressure to claim everything thing concievable at the time of the filing?

          But more importantly; in the case of the invention of polyamides, with their logic the claimed invention of one precludes others from claiming the invention of others of similar structure. In light of Nylon, Kevlar is obvious.

          This of course is not what happened.

          I'm not saying that shouldn't have happened. It's an interesting demand to make of would be inventors, and certainly a considerable demand to make of the patent office. (I guess we know that when they play Stars! 2 they always click the bleeding edge technology box.) But the fact that their line of reasoning isn't followed, really at all, and has many billions, possibly trillions, of dollars in property bet against it doesn't bode well I would think.
          • by Bronster ( 13157 ) <> on Friday April 16, 2004 @01:56AM (#8878568) Homepage
            Rather the method of storing short and long file names in the FAT file system.

            I.e. they're patenting a work around for a stupid shortcoming, for which the only reason nobody else was doing it was that they designed their systems to be more flexible in the first place?

            1) design inflexible system

            2) patent bandaid

            3) profit

            I think I've discovered the underpants gnomes' secret business model - patent bandaids. Unfortunately the ubiquitous triple questionmark logo is prior art.

            • Re:About time... (Score:5, Insightful)

              by omicronish ( 750174 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @03:26AM (#8878843)

              I.e. they're patenting a work around for a stupid shortcoming, for which the only reason nobody else was doing it was that they designed their systems to be more flexible in the first place?

              FAT was originally designed in the 1980's, and although long filenames might've been considered, hardware limitations may have made them infeasible at the time. Also, FAT wasn't initially designed by Microsoft; the first version was released with QDOS [].

              Saying FAT sucks is like saying Minix (the file system) sucks. They're both old, and better file systems supercede them. The only problem is that Microsoft decided to use FAT and extended it for Windows 9x, but that's somewhat understandable from a compatibility standpoint.

              • Re:About time... (Score:5, Informative)

                by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 16, 2004 @03:50AM (#8878928)
                Even the Commodore 64 / 1541 had "long" filenames, at least compared to FAT. Not 256 chars, like most *nix systems, but 14 chars, which is enough for most uses. If filenames get much longer than that, they take too long to type, and you would need grep to find the right file anyway.

                No, it was not a hardware limitation, just as the Cobol Y2k problem was not a hardware limitation. Just a stupid design.
              • Re:About time... (Score:4, Interesting)

                by Flyboy Connor ( 741764 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @07:15AM (#8879511)
                4DOS was a DOS alternative that supported long filenames. So hardware limitations are no argument.

                Limiting filenames to 8.3 is just laziness. Even worse: all filenames used those 11 bytes, even if they didn't need them: how's that for efficiency?

                The best option would be to allow the user filenames of any length, and telling him: hey, you can use 255 characters for a name, but remember it costs disk space.

                This would require a bit of programming from the side of Microsoft. They didn't do that. They didn't need to, because they sold someone else's creation. And that was, as you mention, QDOS, which isn't named for nothing "Quick & Dirty Operating System". 8.3 is the quick way, not the right way.

                And it took Microsoft only twenty years to make it right...

          • Re:About time... (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Danse ( 1026 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @02:04AM (#8878601)

            If the combination of ideas was so obvious, why didn't the last of the submitted prior art patent it, since they're so skilled they can claim worthy patents when there is significant pressure to claim everything thing concievable at the time of the filing?

            Perhaps they didn't patent it because it *was* obvious. The idea that every idea or hack or workaround or anything else that pops into someone's head should be patented is just ridiculous. It doesn't matter if you did something first that nobody else has done. Perhaps nobody else needed to do it. That doesn't make it patent-worthy. Hell, it's getting so that you can't do a damn thing without major financial backing just to try to figure out if you're violating someone, somewhere's, patent. Even if you're not, you'll still need the financial backing to fight off the inevitable lawsuits from all the vague and overbroad patent holders out there that are trying to hustle anyone that tries to create anything these days.

            • Re:About time... (Score:5, Insightful)

              by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 16, 2004 @02:27AM (#8878672)
              After companies got burned by people reading their patents and adding inventions that were a shade of obvious, they took the tack of patenting everything and variation they could concieve of. That became the standard, and it predates the patents cited as prior art.

              The good and bad of that, I'll leave to wiser people that myself to discuss, but that is the status quo. And that is exactly what PUBPAT is challenging. If they can beat Microsoft with that argument, all the 'little' inventions can/will get overturned too. And I assure you that after many years, PUBPAT will probably be one of the very exceptional David's on a field of Goliaths.

              It's a huge change, and in the long run I would predict it would chill innovation in the US, lead to more draconian NDAs & Non-Compete agreements, aid the big guys in consoladating IP to be used against the market more than each other, encourage more secrecy, less patenting, more espionage, and possibly give rise to a preference to patent inventions in other countries. If I had played a lot more Elevator Action, I might see this as a positive development.

              Maybe the small inventions like this lead to the larger more important inventions and abstractions. I don't know. Maybe they get brighter less flexible more ambitions people thinking about the true solutions to succeed the collections of hacks. And the publication and protection of those inadaquate hacks, as well as the promissed protection for the imagined invention are a necessary step to the launching pad. Maybe no one does. Maybe the idea of the perfect solution to the mess is an illusion, and we've just got to find the mess that's the best. Maybe we've already found it marveling at the green-ness of grass we might have had.
              • Re:About time... (Score:5, Insightful)

                by Danse ( 1026 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @03:38AM (#8878890)

                It's a huge change, and in the long run I would predict it would chill innovation in the US, lead to more draconian NDAs & Non-Compete agreements, aid the big guys in consoladating IP to be used against the market more than each other, encourage more secrecy, less patenting, more espionage, and possibly give rise to a preference to patent inventions in other countries. If I had played a lot more Elevator Action, I might see this as a positive development.

                Well, the way things are now, if you're not a big corp, you can't afford to innovate in many areas. You have nothing to bargain with (no patent portfolio to cross-license), so the big boys can simply trample you with lawsuits if you seem like even a minor threat to them. There are such a huge number of vague, broad, and obvious patents that they can probably find a million and one things that are somewhat similar to some aspect of your invention or process. So yeah, maybe your scenario actually would be an improvement. But then again, I played a lot of Elevator Action, so that may have warped my view :)

              • Re:About time... (Score:4, Informative)

                by pjt33 ( 739471 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @05:56AM (#8879326)
                possibly give rise to a preference to patent inventions in other countries
                In which other countries? A lot of stuff that's patentable in the US isn't patentable in many other countries.
              • Re:About time... (Score:5, Insightful)

                by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @06:19AM (#8879371) Homepage
                t's a huge change, and in the long run I would predict it would chill innovation in the US,

                yup just like software piracy has cause a almost stoppage in new software, and music trading has decimated the record industry...

                In fact, I remember hearing that someone using that same argument against the printing press....

                and Argh said the same thing to Ogg about that damned wheel of his... it will destroy the dragging industry in the village...

                If your company can not adjust to change then you deserve to be put out of business when a minor change like this comes along.
          • Re:About time... (Score:5, Informative)

            by bluephone ( 200451 ) < minus bsd> on Friday April 16, 2004 @03:33AM (#8878872) Homepage Journal
            Right, it's really about the VFAT overlay, but there's still prior art in the form of 4DOS, and there was even a Win3.1 specific utility called LongfileNames or something. I rememebr seeing it on CompUSA in a long thin box (kinda like square/triangular poster tube). So there's plenty of prior art for the concept.

            Their specific implementation however might not be challengable, seeing as how they DID invent it. There's a chance however since IIRC patent law gives you only 1 year after public introduction to patent said invention or you lose the right to patent it. The problem then becomes a game of dates and when it was "public" (do wide spread betas count? It WAS indevelopment for 4 years), and when did they submit the patent.

          • Blind loyality (Score:5, Insightful)

            by RoLi ( 141856 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @03:45AM (#8878908)
            If the combination of ideas was so obvious, why didn't the last of the submitted prior art patent it ...

            How can a workaround/extension of a filesystem to implement a feature that was in other filesystems for decades be not obvious? Despite what this AC might think, long filenames weren't invented by Microsoft.

            Playing catch-up with the competition and implementing their features is the most obvious thing you can do.

            This blind Microsoft loyality is really amazing. I don't say that Microsoft shouldn't be allowed to get ideas from others, everybody does it - but getting a patent for an extension for a feature the competition had decades before? That's just ridiculous.

      • Re:About time... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Grail ( 18233 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @01:16AM (#8878419) Journal
        I think patents should be treated the same way as copyright - if you don't enforce it, you obviously don't want it. Why is Microsoft going to enforce FAT patents now? If they'd enforced them earlier, noone would have used FAT, they'd have found something else to use.
      • Re:About time... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Vicegrip ( 82853 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @01:25AM (#8878465) Journal
        Let me suggest this question then:
        If it becomes a standard, is it in society's interest to let the patent last so long?
      • Re:About time... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by OrangeTide ( 124937 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @02:53AM (#8878753) Homepage Journal
        Really? And all this time I thought companies actually wanted piles of patents that nobody ever uses.

        i was hoping people would stop using FAT because of the patent and use UFS or some kind of journaling flash filesystem. If they just defined it as part of the standard when they defined a flash interface (or the next USB revision?) then maybe microsoft's hand could be forced. Infact I think MS would be for a more stable and reliable filesystem (because even they admit that FAT isn't very good by not recommending using it when NT got NTFS)
    • Sadly... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Sheetrock ( 152993 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @12:49AM (#8878272) Homepage Journal
      This only weakens the concept of intellectual property. Why invent if you're just going to have to fight legal battles for the length of your patent?
      • If you don't have a problem to solve, then please don't invent. Save me some work. Sheesh.
        • by bennomatic ( 691188 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @01:03AM (#8878357) Homepage
          Too true, too true. And some of these companies invent problems to solve. Take razor companies like BIC and Gilette, for example. Do you know how many patents they have on the razor head for the Sensor XL? Something like 20. And half of them are on the mechanism for holding the head to the handle.

          Why do they do this? It's not really to make a better shave like they say. It's so that once they've spent millions of dollars pushing a particular product, someone else can't come out with "Sensor-compatible" heads to take away their massive profits.

          I understand that companies need to protect themselves, but it's one thing when they make something different that's better, and quite another when they've made something that's different and just better marketed. This sort of patent activity is a waste of time and an abuse of the system which makes it more difficult for legitimate inventions to be properly considered.

          OK, I'm done with my little soapbox rant. It's just that I know some people who are small inventors and have a few patents having to do with radiation detectors, and I've seen the work that he's gone through to protect his inventions, and it makes me sick to think that some huge company with a big IP law department can force through some ridiculous patent while it takes a little guy years to get the final paperwork on truly innovative concepts.


          • I thought it was hilarious when Gillette (I think it was them) came out with some gimicky QUAD-blade razor just a little while ago, and they had to get people to stop laughing by having a commercial that went something like "yeah, yeah, I know what you're thinking: 'Four blades? Come on!' But trust me... it's GREAT. No, really! Stop laughing"

            Probably bogus patents up the wazoo on that too.

            (Patents aren't going to mean much anyway once anyone can do desktop manufacturing for next to nothing.)


      • by Elpacoloco ( 69306 ) <elpacoloco@dDALI ... om minus painter> on Friday April 16, 2004 @12:53AM (#8878302) Journal
        On one hand, no patents means that inventing something immediately gets stolen, evil corporation profits millions of dollars, joe inventor gets squat.

        However, too many patents means that when joe inventor makes something, evil corporation sues him for violating patent 284958390*pi^12, "Use of energy to propell machine," and steals his work anyway, making millions of dollars while give the original invetor squat.
        • The number of "joe inventors" in the whole recorded history of humanity who got rich inventing can be counted on fingers of one hand.

          Most of patents are filed today by megacorporations, as a weapon against competition, and many of those patents are trivial extensions of known principles and ideas.

          • by zero_offset ( 200586 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @06:50AM (#8879443) Homepage
            I don't know what you consider "getting rich", but you might be surprised at how many people out there make a few million off one dumb idea or another. For instance, the guy who thought up those automatic pet-food dispensers is worth something like $3M purely from licensing that silly little idea.

            In fact, it probably says a lot that a multi-millionaire simply flys below the radar of "rich folks" these days. Granted, there are lots of people who are vastly more wealthy for other reasons, and certainly there is more money being made off patents by medium and big companies -- but that doesn't mean individual examples are particularly rare.
        • by gerardrj ( 207690 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @03:26AM (#8878845) Journal
          Patents do not prevent other people from "stealing" an idea. A patent is just a recognition that the inventor was the first to write down and send the idea. That recognition grants but does not guarantee the inventor exclusive use of the idea for a period of time.
          Unlike copyright where MPAA, RIAA and other SIGs have purchased legislative insurance, there are not ( to my knowledge) any criminal penalties for patent infringement.
          • by surprise_audit ( 575743 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @03:44AM (#8878905)
            There may not be criminal penalties, but a patent holder can still sue a patent infringer. And unfortunately, the little guy doing the suing has to have a big warchest simply to start the process. If he wins (or settles out of court), he may get a settlement that looks like a big pile of money, but is in fact mere pocket-change to big business.

            Which prompts the question: is the patent holder obliged to license his patent to anyone that asks, or can he grant licenses to some applicants and not to others??

      • Re:Sadly... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Bronster ( 13157 ) <> on Friday April 16, 2004 @12:55AM (#8878310) Homepage
        This only weakens the concept of intellectual property. Why invent if you're just going to have to fight legal battles for the length of your patent?

        Um - because if it really is a novel invention worthy of patent protection then all the later judges are going to throw it out of court immediately based on the previous decision, and if you're a scum sucking pond scum who's standing on the shoulders of the giants before you and setting up a toll gate to stop those who really are innovating then you bloody well deserve what you get.

        The concept of intellectual property was never designed to protect the sort of arsewipe who patents every piece of common knowledge they can slip under the noses of the patent office and makes a business out of milking their "valuable IP portfolio". If you're in the business of buying other people's ideas for the purpose of extorting money from people building the future on top of them, then I say good riddance to you - our current technology is built on the ideas of our predecessors, and who are we to stop our successors from learning from us?

      • Re:Sadly... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Daniel Dvorkin ( 106857 ) * on Friday April 16, 2004 @01:04AM (#8878365) Homepage Journal
        How many truly original inventions have been the subject of high-profile patent litigation recently? None that I can think of. It seems to me that the vast majority of patent cases lately have been corporations (corporations don't invent things; people do) trying to milk money out their competitors over unoriginal "inventions" that represent blindingly obvious and/or widely-used technologies that should never have been patented in the first place.

        And truly innovative people invent because they want to make the world a better place. If they make money off it, that's gravy, not the motivating force. It's the suits, who have never had an original thought in their lives, who go to court to try to squeeze a few more bucks out of the fruits of the labor of the people with brains.
      • Re:Sadly... (Score:5, Informative)

        by NortWind ( 575520 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @01:08AM (#8878374)
        This only weakens the concept of intellectual property.
        There is no such thing as intellectual property. Ideas are free, and always have been. There are copyrights, which restrict commercial use of original works. There are also patents, by which the governments grants the inventor of a novel idea a monopoly on the use of that idea for a limited time, for the express purpose of placing the idea into the public domain. Once an invention is patented, the patent is public record and anybody can read it at anytime, and come to understand the ideas contained in it if they wish.
      • Re:Sadly... (Score:3, Informative)

        by sharkb8 ( 723587 )
        First, It's not a legal battle. It's just a request that the USPTO take another look at the patent in light of the prior art. If I'm not mistaken, Microsoft has the right to rebut the request, and PubPat doesn't gat to respond to Microsoft.

        Second, If it wasn't a bogus patent being weilded for compeitive advantage, no one would have requested a re-examination.
      • Re:Sadly... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by composer777 ( 175489 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @02:04AM (#8878599)
        I can tell that you aren't an innovator, if you were, you wouldn't buy into the pro IP arguments that are made by slick businessmen like Bill Gates. The majority of innoviation is done by Phd's and undergrads working in university research departments, many of them vastly underpaid, and who receive 90+% of their funding for this innovation from the government, not corporations, with undergrads often living below the poverty line. Perhaps if you want to understand why they perform valuable research, for stipends that would made a junior high teacher blush, then maybe you should quit watching tv and ask one of them, the answer might surprise you. But, you're probably too lazy, so I'll give you the short answer. They innoviate, write software, design buildings, perform research, because they have a love for science and creating ideas, systems, etc.. Then once enough research is performed, in the pharmaceutical industry, for example, then the giant megacorp completes the last 1% of work required to test said drug and patent, and then rip off taxpayers to the tune of billions. Most of the "innovation" done by drug companies is developing better search engines so that they can more efficiently mine the public literature. That's right, you pay for the majority of the research through government grants, and then said corporation rips you off. Pretty neat, huh? And you wonder where your taxpayer money is going.... *smirk*

        Just as an aside, my handle is composer777, and yes, I have another degree in music. Much the same thing happens in music. Musicians practice and play because they love what they do. They get really good, then megacorp comes along, picks and chooses who they want, makes a bundle off the hard work of that musician, and tosses them away. If you ask them why they are so greedy, they'll tell you because it's the only way to motivate people to create good music. Bullshit, the best musicians would play no matter what they are getting paid. They charge $20 for a CD because they know morons like you are dumb enough to buy into their propaganda.
    • Re:About time... (Score:5, Informative)

      by pilgrim23 ( 716938 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @12:50AM (#8878282)
      Was not FAT12 (DOS 2.0) not actually an extension of the CP/M file system? Does not ProDOS, MFS HFS and all most all the other early file systems behave in similar fashions? FAT16 was merely a hacked to 2gb extension of the orignal 32mb limited FS. a Patent on FAT makes NO sense.
      • Re:About time... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by emtechs ( 770821 ) * on Friday April 16, 2004 @01:12AM (#8878396)
        The patent only applies to the method used to store long filenames without much change to the underlying 8.3 file name system.

        Scary: That's patent worthy.

        Scarier: There were three prior patents covering the technique...

      • Was not FAT12 (DOS 2.0) not actually an extension of the CP/M file system?

        So you're saying MS grew FAT on other people's work?
      • Re:About time... (Score:4, Informative)

        by ratboy666 ( 104074 ) <> on Friday April 16, 2004 @10:42AM (#8880813) Journal
        FAT12 and extension to CP/M file system?


        "FAT" systems store the allocation table as a singly linked list on disc. Two copies, in case one gets mangled (but they are adjacent, which is not good). The directory is a list of names, and starting indexes into the allocation table. This makes random access bad, because you have to keep traversing the singly linked list to find blocks. (DOS of early vintage).

        CP/M also uses an allocation table, but it is not stored on disk. Instead, a file is broken into "extents". Each extent has a directory entry, and a fixed number of pointers to disk clusters. A single file will have more than one directory entry, if it contains multiple extents.

        CP/M built the allocation map for the disc when the disc is "mounted" (used the first time). It does this by reading the directory, and marking blocks that are in use by files.

        With FAT, you can have "cross linked" files. The singly linked lists representing the data blocks point into each other. With CP/M you can have multiple directory entries refer to the same data blocks as well. CP/M allows "sparse" files, which FAT doesn't. CP/M has better random access (two levels of index), although many programs pre-built access lists for DOS to improve random file performance (I did that for one application).

        CP/M limited file names to emulate PDP-10, FAT limited file names to emulate CP/M -- it's a push.

        And, finally, the patent is NOT on FAT, it is on the long file name extensions introduced with Windows 95.

        A "FAT" system was in place with Microsoft Disc Basic (AFAIR), Zilog also used a singly linked list block map in their Z80 development platform. I am sure that there is plenty more "prior art" for FAT.

        The idea of stored a hash long name into a fixed length directory in multiple pieces, using keys and checksums -- that is what is being contested.

  • by ATAMAH ( 578546 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @12:45AM (#8878231)
    I for one am sick of this patenting frenzy. What will they do when there is nothing left to patent? ...oh, hold on, i know - they'll start suing.
    • Re:I don't know... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Dejitaru Neko ( 771563 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @12:53AM (#8878300)

      I really hate to sound like a troll (and I left out any "???" step), but...

      1. Patent random, generic idea
      2. Sit on patent
      3. Sue people
      4. Profit!

      It seems to me to be a trend all too often in the world today, particularly with software. Heh, I wonder what the world would be like if the first caveman to make fire had patented the process of creating friction by rubbing two sticks together.

      In regards to this context, I do not see why Microsoft should hold any power with this patent, seeing as how they sat around and let people adopt the format as a de facto standard. It's not like there is any secret to it, and I see it as just another plan of theirs to make people dependent on them and then extort them. The first hit is always free, huh?

      • Re:I don't know... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by sql*kitten ( 1359 ) * on Friday April 16, 2004 @02:01AM (#8878589)
        1. Patent random, generic idea

        You CANNOT patent an idea. You can only patent the IMPLEMENTATION of an idea. You're only looking at the title of the patent, which will be something generic like "A method for doing X". That's only to make them easy to search, the thing that matters is the text of the patent. In this case, MS doesn't have a patent on the idea of a filesystem, they have a patent on one specific filesystem, FAT. That's all.

        Patent discussions on Slashdot at meaningless, because 99% of the Slashbots think that the title of a patent is the entirety of the patent.
  • by sharkb8 ( 723587 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @12:47AM (#8878256)
    If you're a lawyer-type interested in technology, send them an email.

    They have several interesting projects on patent re-examination, commentary on the patent process, etc.
  • by KarmaOverDogma ( 681451 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @12:47AM (#8878258) Homepage Journal
    until now, but I love what I see as the idea behind the work they are doing: Fighting unwarranted, unfounded and/or improperly sworn/filed patents

    Go get 'em!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 16, 2004 @12:48AM (#8878265)
    Microsoft has annouced it's purchase of United States Patent and Trademark Office.....SCO has been issued a patent for unix....the RIAA has been issued a patent for sound .....the MPAA has been issued a patent for light.....
    • by bergeron76 ( 176351 ) * on Friday April 16, 2004 @03:30AM (#8878860)
      You guys laugh now, but keep your eyes on the prize.

      I recently saw a thread here on /. about port-knocking and it occurred to me that there should be a an OPEN-SOURCE/EFF style Patent Attorney Leauge dedicated to preserving Innovations that come from the Open-Source Community.

      We're paying BIG BUCKS for litigation attorneys in a DEFENSIVE role in protecting Open-Source / Free IP; why not take an offensive stance? The EFF should partition a portion of it's income (or otherwise hire some IP attorneys) for the purpose of protecting free IP.

      Organizations CAN obtain patents in the same way that Corporations can. As such, we should FIRST push innovation through a valid legal representative (the EFF comes to mind), and ask that they help Patent or otherwise "secure" the Intellectual Property. When the patents are granted, it will provide the open-source community with OFFENSIVE rights against companies like MSFT, et al.

      Why should we sit back and play "catch up" with the great industry marketers and non-innovators? We need to organize, re-group, appropriate resources and act like an adult - not a group of children chanting about things we believe in but aren't willing to back up.

      I know it might sound counter-intuitive to not get coolness-points by having your idea/project "slashdotted", but ultimately I think it will help the greater good to have our IP reviewed by a legit IP attorney (represented by the EFF or other org that is in our best interests) before posting it publicly (and INVALIDATING OUR VERY OWN Intellectual Property by demonstrating PRIOR ART).

      Why do we continue to post great ideas publicly and not preserve the rights to those ideas?

      Why do we continue to bitch about how we're getting FSCK'ed by the big corporations?

      I'll tell you why - it's because WE (the innovators) are giving our Ideas and Intellectual Property to the big corporations. We're handing it over to them on a silver platter. A perfect example can be found with the TCP/IP stack that IS Microsoft Windows 95-XP... That code is undeniably *BSD CODE!

      While I see no problems with the BSD licenses, I do see a problem when a company like MSFT that has the resources to buy a massive amount of Patents and the Open-Source community sits back and waits for the fallout.

      Do you guys not see the big picture? They can't beat us in the marketplace. They CAN beat us using legislation / regulation / lobbying / etc.

      Here's the bottom line:

      Software Patents suck - but they are the new reality. We need to either beat them or join them.

      Since WE'RE the origination point of the vast majority of thier "innovation", I say we beat them at their own game.

      • by John Starks ( 763249 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @04:48AM (#8879073)
        That's the most ridiculous post I've ever read on Slashdot. It's probably a troll; I mean, the majority of your sentences are coherent, but there's just no logic from sentence to sentence. I imagine you like this guy [], only with foam coming out of his mouth as well. But I'll respond anyway.

        You claim that Microsoft keeps stealing our ideas, that if they didn't have their patents, but we had patents, we'd win in the marketplace. Or something like that. It's not really clear. But allow me to refute that anyway. Look at GNOME. Look at Mono. Look at KDE. Now look at Microsoft Windows. Who is innovating, again? Who is copying who? And don't give me that crap about the BSD TCP/IP stack. Whether or not Microsoft "stole it," I'd hardly say that the TCP/IP stack is the "vast majority of [Microsoft's] 'innovation'". Whether or not you like their products, you'd have to be foolish to claim that all their good ideas came from open source software.

        It sounds like what you're calling for is a GPL for patents. I'm not sure how you'd word it. You can't sell products using this patent unless you release the source code under the GPL? Something like that? Get a clue. Not everyone likes the GPL. BSD folk will want to release code using your patents. Mozilla will want to include your new algorithms and whatnot. People such as myself will want to put code using your patents in the public domain. Oh, but too bad. We should extend the GPL virus.

        And if you meant that instead we should licence the patent to anyone, what's the point of paying the fees? You might as well just publish your software and not worry about paperwork. You'll have established prior art for the future by doing so. After all, patents are relatively easy to knock down with obvious prior art. It's the "obvious" part that's tough to claim.

        But let's say that we still think patents will help the open source community. Let's say that we manage to come up with some innovative idea and we patent it. Let's say Microsoft really wants/needs this technology. What will we gain? Microsoft has the funds to buy us off fairly easily. They also have the funds to get the patent invalidated without much hassle. But the small business software writer does not. He just can't use our technology. So he suffers, and Microsoft wins the day again. Who have we helped, again?

        No, patents for open source ideas is a horrible idea. It would merely make writing software more difficult for everyone, and especially for non-GPL fans. It would delay the development of open source software, hurting one of the key benefits of open source -- fast turnaround and constant development. And in the end, it would solve nothing.

        How did your post get a +5?
      • Amen, brother! (Score:4, Insightful)

        by motown ( 178312 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @06:09AM (#8879351)
        I wholeheartedly agree with the idea that we must "beat them at their own game".

        In fact, I suggested something very similar less than a week ago [].

        I even mailed around an initiative based on this idea to a couple of prominent people in the Open-Source/Free-Software world.

        I received a response from Richard Stallman.

        He mentioned having considered something like a defensive patent foundation before, to come to the conclusion that it would cost [b]a lot of money[/b] to gain patents, and even more money to enforce them.

        Still, I am convined that if enough people would be to join such a foundation, we would still have enough clout to make a difference.

        If, like me, you're serious about such an initiative, then please contact me at
      • by richieb ( 3277 ) <[richieb] [at] []> on Friday April 16, 2004 @07:06AM (#8879489) Homepage Journal
        Software Patents suck - but they are the new reality. We need to either beat them or join them.

        Not really. Patenting things just makes lawyers richer. The best way to fight patents is to publish your ideas and make sure that prior art is well established.

  • by naden ( 206984 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @12:48AM (#8878267)
    But doesn't this just validate that the patent system albeit a little broken generally works.

    Surely everyone has to realise that patent officers can't be geniuses in their respective fields, because the genuieses are off inventing and discovering things.

    Hence the onus should be on making it easy to revoke granted patents the minute prior art is discovered. Otherwise it could take patent officers years to validate each patent.
    • by Daniel Dvorkin ( 106857 ) * on Friday April 16, 2004 @12:57AM (#8878317) Homepage Journal
      Surely everyone has to realise that patent officers can't be geniuses in their respective fields, because the genuieses are off inventing and discovering things.

      Well, there was this guy named Einstein, ever heard of him? ;)

      Seriously, no, most patent examiners aren't geniuses, nor should they need to be. They should definitely be technically competent, though. It occurs to me that with all the out-of-work techies, and the flood of tech patents coming through (many of which should never be granted) there's a real opportunity here ...

      And the system that gives the patent applicant the responsibility for the search for prior art seems absurd to me. Who the hell is going to put effort into finding something that will invaildate his own application?
    • by DarkZero ( 516460 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @01:29AM (#8878483)
      Correct me if i'm wrong ..

      But doesn't this just validate that the patent system albeit a little broken generally works.

      If giving a patent to anyone for anything that sounds vaguely technical and then waiting for the real inventor to come and prove himself, in spite of the fact that there are many people on the government's payroll with the job title of "patent examiner", is a system that "generally works", then I'd like to know what qualifies as "broken".
  • heh (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DarkHelmet ( 120004 ) * <mark@seventhc[ ] ['ycl' in gap]> on Friday April 16, 2004 @12:49AM (#8878276) Homepage
    was obvious and, as such, should have never been granted

    Like really... I mean, parts of the human genome are "obvious" and therefore shouldn't be patented.... no wait...

  • The ubiquitous format for exchanging mediums between computers? What about CD-ROMS? *coughISO-9960cough*

    It can't be a MS format, otherwise all my Microsoft-approved CDs from 10+ years ago wouldn't work in my new Microsoft CD-ROM drive with my Microsoft operating system.
  • Donate! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Dwonis ( 52652 ) * on Friday April 16, 2004 @12:51AM (#8878289)
    Don't forget to donate []!
  • by code_echelon ( 709189 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @12:52AM (#8878290)
    One down, hundreds to go!

    The patent process has become a hindrance to software development in many cases and it should definitely be much harder to get patent of this kind. Hopefully more patents in the U.S. and worldwide get challenged and discarded.

  • new != original (Score:3, Interesting)

    by acidrain ( 35064 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @12:52AM (#8878294)
    How about a law that says a typical individual trained in the relevant art cannot reinvent the patented material in less than an hour? Just because you thought of it first does not make it original.
  • Erghh (Score:4, Funny)

    by l0ungeb0y ( 442022 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @12:52AM (#8878295) Homepage Journal
    I'm not too up on Windows but isn't FAT depricated?
    IIRC it's all about NTFS these days and FAT is mainly used for dual-boot linux situations or where you need backward compatabilty. So if correct, this dispute shouldn't be monumental, but still interesting. Good to see some one's out there trying to kill off as many bogus patents as possible, though I'm sure no one envies that job.
    Also I'm still surprised no ones show up with archaeological evidence showing that Windows was first used in earthen hovels eons ago.
    • Re:Erghh (Score:5, Informative)

      by kasek ( 514492 ) <> on Friday April 16, 2004 @12:57AM (#8878316)
      sure, NTFS is the file system of choice for newer windows boxes. but there are still plenty of other devices using the FAT system, such as digital cameras, mp3 players, personal video recorders, etc. still plenty of money to be made.
    • Re:Erghh (Score:4, Informative)

      by MinusOne ( 4145 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @12:59AM (#8878336)
      > I'm not too up on Windows but isn't FAT depricated?

      Maybe for PC OSes, but have you used a CF or SD card in a digital camera? Or a memory stick? or any other small portable data container? They all use FAT32 or some related FS. The inneficeincies of teh format don't really apply to the media like that.
  • by FrYGuY101 ( 770432 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @12:52AM (#8878296) Journal
    Microsoft's patent on SUGAR and PROTEIN also being reviewed after a mysterious figure known only as 'god' claimed to invent them...
  • Bless PUBPAT (Score:5, Insightful)

    by emtechs ( 770821 ) * on Friday April 16, 2004 @12:54AM (#8878307)
    I hadn't heard of PUBPAT before but in a cursory glance at their site they seem to be making the 'DUH!' exclaimations so many of us do when we see a dumb patent - but in formal requests to the USPTO.

    It has been quite frustrating to see companies not bother to take these steps. Corporations with significant IP portfolios tend to let it slide knowing that they can just exchange usage of their own silly patent rights if there was ever friction. In the end only the new players (aka innovators!) are victims.

  • by Atario ( 673917 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @12:54AM (#8878308) Homepage
    Is it possible to make patent approvals open-source? Which is to say, volunteers (preferably, whole teams thereof) would do the work done now by individual patent clerks (Patent reviewers? Whatever they're called), with all decisions publicly reviewable and modifiable.
    • by Ieshan ( 409693 ) <> on Friday April 16, 2004 @01:02AM (#8878348) Homepage Journal
      It's called Science.

      Here's how it works.

      You discover something. To let everyone know about it, you write a paper, and you send it off to a journal. That Journal has other experts in the field read what you've done. If they like it, they tell everyone else about it by printing it up in this little book. If they don't, they tell you to a) revise it, or b) go away.

      Yeah, I'm pretty sure thats what you're looking for.
      • by perlchild ( 582235 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @01:45AM (#8878535)
        That's why the patents process normally applies to technology, not science. But ever since patents started covering ideas, and not the technological items that represent them, tne line has been blurring...
        Software patents(and the dreaded algorithm patent sure to come out someday if the trend doesn't stop) further blur the distinction.

        *steps on soapbox*
        now it appears to me that part of the problem with patents and copyright is that the public instinctively associate them with the inventor/discoverer/original author, and we're fine with them, until such rights are sold then we become not so fine with it. For one, it's a lot simpler/more instinctive to sort out who disovered something, if it's an individual making the discovery, not a corporation. In that same line of thought, what happens when those rights are transferred, and for instance, how to get the original author to unlearn what he sold, gets a lo more confusing.
        Trademarks, as a rule are purely corporate/marketing concepts and have far less contestation going on... They also have to be defended constantly...
        Copyrights are especially problematic, as copyright ownership gets regularly extended for corporations (technically, you could even view the legatees of an author as a corporation, THEY DIDN'T WRITE THE BOOK) to protect little mouses, and such... Yet the author in many cases is long dead... before the first lawyer gets paid... (Not that I object to heirs of authors and such to benefit from the work of their forebears... I do however insist on the fact that by that point, the original intent of copyright: to encourage the author to produce more work, because his rights are protected, will take a lot of doing to respect: he's dead, he won't write that many books anymore...
        You might say part of the problem is that the public recognizes a right to a discoverer/author as an individual, for a limited duration, but it becomes a lot less instinctive when those are transferred. Perhaps making them non-transferrable would keep the legislation on this topic, at least understandable by someone without a major in minor in intellectual property...
    • by sn2k ( 749579 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @01:19AM (#8878429)
      Is it possible to make patent approvals open-source?
      No I can hardly believe somebody could seriously sugest this. There is no way that everybody is going to agree on whether or not every patent is valid. In fact, a bigger problem is what would stop people with a conflict of interest in getting involved. I could just imagine Microsoft or another company paying people to "volunteer" and aprove every one of their patents. Or you could look at it the other way. I'm sure that slashdot and a bunch of other anti-microsoft sites could go and invalidate every one of microsoft's patents.
      • by ecartz ( 771792 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @02:32AM (#8878690)
        "I'm sure that slashdot and a bunch of other anti-microsoft sites could go and invalidate every one of microsoft's patents"

        You say that like it's a bad thing.

        Anyway, I'll try to come up with a "open source" patent system that addresses your concerns:

        1. Anyone can submit a patent. The patent is publicly available immediately. The patent is assumed to be valid (no initial review).

        2. Anyone can contest a patent by submitting prior art (or bringing up another weakness in the patent application). The original submitter(s) have a choice: admit the prior art (which invalidates the patent) or argue the point. If they argue, the disagreement goes to a patent examiner. The loser pays for the patent examiner's time.

        3. Normal legal appeals apply.

        This system should actually be cheaper than the current system. The patent examiner is no longer expected to look for prior art. Instead, it will be submitted by the contesting party. Thus, the patent examiner doesn't have to spend a lot of time on the case. The loser pays method encourages the parties to come to an agreement prior to the examination.

        This system also encourages sharing more than the current system. Since the initial filing no longer requires an expensive application, there is no reason not to submit the patent (and its enclosed information). This avoids the current problem of people not having the resources to pursue a patent application, so they simply keep it secret and hope for more resources in the future.

        The biggest weakness? Noise. There would be a lot of junky patent filings. Of course, some would ask how that is different from the current system.

        There is also an argument in favor of eliminating patents except for pharmaceuticals. Many patents are defensive (to protect against others patenting one's invention). Other patents are just moonshine (i.e. they will never be licensed or used by anyone else). The primary purpose of invention is for one's own patent needed for that.
    • There are two problems here.

      One is the type of technology being patented. We're seeing more and more patents on procedures (business, medical, software etc). Procedures can be described in terms broad enough to cover situations that didn't even exist when the patent was filed, and it's hard to know what term will be too broad tomorrow: "computer network" was specific enough 15 years ago but too vague 5 years later.

      Two is the way patents are used today. The goal of a patent was to allow the inventor to lic
  • About time (Score:5, Informative)

    by davmoo ( 63521 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @01:02AM (#8878349)
    I remember file systems based around the ideas of FAT at least back to the Apple II+. And if I'm not mistaken, Apple's literature referred to it as "FAT" (I wish now I hadn't given all that old stuff away a few years ago).

    I don't see how this patent could possibly be held valid...well...wait a minute...this is the US Patent Office we're talking about here. We should be afraid.
  • by mistshadow ( 35753 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @01:09AM (#8878382)
    If you go to their "Activities" page and read the request itself, they are talking about:


    which covers the "long file names" stuff Windows 95 introduced, and they site two patents:

    5,307,494 to Yasumatsu et al., and
    5,367,671 to Feigenbaum et al.

    as new prior art.
  • by kcbrown ( 7426 ) <> on Friday April 16, 2004 @01:15AM (#8878409)
    ...I mean, really works.

    Before, the patent (on browser plugins) being challenged belonged to an individual who was suing Microsoft and even managed to get an injunction (can't remember whether they actually ordered Microsoft to pay or not).

    That patent was quickly challenged and nullified. While the w3c and other groups initiated the challenge, I think the reason the patent was nullified was that it belonged to someone who was being used to (successfully) target Microsoft.

    Now the patent being challenged belongs to Microsoft, and is being challenged by some small-time nobody (as far as Big Business is concerned).

    My prediction is that either the challenge itself will be rejected, or the patent office will "review" the patent and find it "valid". Not because of any merits the patent may have, but because of who owns it. The guys running the patent office know who butters their bread, and it ain't organizations like PUBPAT.

  • Don't buy into it. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pb ( 1020 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @01:16AM (#8878413)
    Microsoft's 'FAT' patents do not patent FAT... specifically, they patent the VFAT extensions to FAT. And, as was previously mentioned on slashdot, there's much prior art to using long file names on FAT as well.

    So don't call them 'FAT' patents, because they aren't. Call them VFAT patents. Or call them by their names, which also makes it obvious.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 16, 2004 @01:28AM (#8878477)
    Here's the arithmetic: 2013 - 1996 = 17 - the standard patent lifespan (unless you're a pharmaceutical company, but that's another story for another day).

    FAT was in use well before 1996 but 1996 is when the patent was approved|awarded (which is what everyone needs to pay attention to when they scream bloody murder in other postings.

    Now, you have to wonder how long a business has to sit on material before they submit it to the patent office. This is generally one year. Even in spite of this, that's 1995. That's still much later than when FAT was first used.

    I know we all like to see Micro$oft get slapped around, but I think this is another case of jay walking and faking being hit by car to file a law suit. If this [even] gets past the preliminaries, it'll be settled out of courts for a reasonably small, undisclosed sum of money.
  • 4DOS? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Cryptnotic ( 154382 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @01:35AM (#8878500)
    Didn't 4DOS [] support long filenames on top of FAT long before VFAT (Windows 95) did?

    I'm pretty sure I remember using 4DOS around the DOS 3.3 to DOS 5.0 days.

  • by micron ( 164661 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @01:39AM (#8878508)
    These patents are not for the FAT file system. IANAL. The Microsoft one is for long file name support that goes on top of the FAT file system. The "prior art" one (5307494) describes some sort of long file name support augmenting a specific file system, but does not state which file system from what I can tell.
  • Give Them Money (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Bob9113 ( 14996 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @01:40AM (#8878514) Homepage
    I just gave them the $72.38 I had sitting in my PayPal account. Stupid software patents have cost me a lot more than that in time reading Slashdot articles alone. Give till it hurts.

    The "Online" link on this page [] will take you straight to PayPal.
  • by VernonNemitz ( 581327 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @01:41AM (#8878517) Journal
    As you may have read in a prior Slashdot article [], no ordinary fine is going to stop Microsoft from changing its anticompetitive ways. But suppose the next time Microsoft was fined, the fine was this: "All your patents are hereby revoked, and you will never be granted another! Furthermore, the next time your actions are brought before this Court and found to be illegal, all your copyrights will be revoked!"

    I bet THAT would get Microsoft's attention!
    • Well, yeah, that'd get their attention, but it's never going to happen, even if it's entertaining to imagine. It won't happen because the crime doesn't fit the punishment. And you're not allowed (and should not be allowed) to craft a punishment for a crime that only applies to one person.

      It seems to me that what you're suggesting is roughly equivalent to sentancing amputation to a known, non-repentant jay-walker - just because you know he's non-repentant. The law against jay-walking never described suc
  • by teamhasnoi ( 554944 ) <> on Friday April 16, 2004 @01:43AM (#8878527) Journal
    Do you want to lose 10, 20, even 30 megs of data? Then you need new patented MS Cortislim! MS Cortislim works by blocking the use of FAT by your computer when it is under stress, running SETI@home, or any Open Source software.

    Remember, MS Cortislim isn't for everyone - only those who want to lose 10, 20, 30 megs of data or more should use MS Cortislim.

    Call now and you'll receive an extra 1 month license for every 2 months you purchase!

  • by baywulf ( 214371 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @02:32AM (#8878688)
    From what I understand, the patent is on a way of storing long filenames with the FAT filesystem. This first came out with Windows 95 and is implemented in a backward compatible manner.

    Basically the issue is this... in FAT there are a fixed number of bytes to each file entry in the directory. It is only enough for 8+3 character filename. They could not just expand on this data structure because it would not be backward compatible. What they realized is that if you created a filename with the system, hidden and some other attributes set, the old versions of dos would never display the filename. So what they do to store a long filename is create multiple file entries each storing a few bytes of the long filename plus some additional data to piece it together. Basically in a old version of dos, these extra file entries would never be displayed but in windows 95 or newer, it would read and maintain both the short filename entry and the long filename entries.
  • by EnsilZah ( 575600 ) <EnsilZah AT Gmail DOT com> on Friday April 16, 2004 @03:03AM (#8878782)
    Microsoft's FAT patent?
    I didn't know Microsoft patented Ballmer.
  • Hmmm (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Tokerat ( 150341 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @03:04AM (#8878784) Journal

    Shouldn't they not be issued a patent on this if they allowed people to use their filesystem method? It seems like it's in such common use by many devices now...

    Some other posts have indicated that the patent only covers the storage of long filenames associated with the FAT filenames for use by Windows...if this is true, isn't that an obvious invention (i.e. database relating short names to long names)? You can't patent a relational database based on purpose, can you? If so, I will be submitting my patent for databases that store telephone numbers in relation to adressee names within a matter of days, and get rich of the phone companies alone...

    I wonder if HFS could be considered prior art...each file as I understand it, is given a unique ID with which is can be referenced by, regardless of path. This (as I am to understand) is how Mac apps can still save to any file if it is moved while opened. Could the ID number be considered a short name? Then again, FAT came before HFS, but HFS came before long Windows filenames...

    IAONAL, anyone with definitive answers is more than welcome to correct me.
  • by Gary Destruction ( 683101 ) * on Friday April 16, 2004 @03:24AM (#8878838) Journal
    Anyone remember the DOS Device names exploit in Windows? C:\con\con or C:\con\clock$ crashed the DOS filesystem driver in Windows. Could you imagine PubPat sending MS a malicious email with that exploit and someone with an unpatched version of Windows 98 opening it? Subject Line: DOS patent infringement. *click* A fatal exception 0E has occurred in VxD VFAT...
  • by dcrouch ( 770238 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @07:21AM (#8879532) Homepage
    Microsoft's patent application was originally filed in 1993. So, the question is whether their claims (see below) were novel and nonobvious as of that date.


    1. In a computer system having a processor running an operating system and a memory means storing the operating system, a method comprising the computer-implemented steps of:

    (a) storing in the memory means a first directory entry for a file wherein the first directory entry holds a short filename for the file, said short filename including at most a maximum number of characters that is permissible by the operating system;
    (b) storing in the memory means a second directory entry for a the file wherein the second directory entry holds a long filename for the file and wherein the second directory entry includes an attributes field which may be set to make the second directory entry invisible to the operating system and the step of storing the second directory entry further comprises the step of setting the attributes field so that the second directory entry is invisible to the operating system, said long filename including more than the maximum number of characters that is permissible by the operating system; and
    (c) accessing the first directory entry with the operating system.

BLISS is ignorance.