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TomTom Settles With Microsoft 273

Surrounded writes "It appears TomTom bowed to the pressure and settled with Microsoft over the recent patent infringement claims from the Redmond software giant. In the agreement, TomTom will pay Microsoft for coverage under the eight car navigation and file management systems patents in the Microsoft case. Also as part of the agreement, Microsoft receives coverage under the four patents included in the TomTom counter-suit. TomTom also has to remove functionality related to two file management system patents (the 'FAT LFN patents')."
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TomTom Settles With Microsoft

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  • by pak9rabid ( 1011935 ) on Monday March 30, 2009 @04:50PM (#27393281)
    ...weak sauce.
  • by dwheeler ( 321049 ) on Monday March 30, 2009 @04:53PM (#27393321) Homepage Journal
    I wish TomTom had fought this; the FAT patents are utter nonsense. But patent fights are notoriously expensive, so I understand why TomTom did this instead. In the long term, I hope that software patents get eliminated [], but that will have to wait for another day.
  • True, a settlement out of court says nothing about the patents' validity or other merits of the case. But it does say something about the conditions under which a patent holder is willing to license a patent.
  • by Amazing Quantum Man ( 458715 ) on Monday March 30, 2009 @04:57PM (#27393377) Homepage

    I understand why TomTom settled, but (IANAL) I'd give odds that the FAT LFN patents are invalid under Bilski.

  • by SirGarlon ( 845873 ) on Monday March 30, 2009 @04:57PM (#27393383)
    FAT is so... 1980's. Although it's a pity TomTom had to settle, FAT support seems like a feature unlikely to be missed.
  • by should_be_linear ( 779431 ) on Monday March 30, 2009 @04:58PM (#27393405)
    I believe they needed to settle, because of maps. There are only two companies owning global map data, one is owned by TomTom and another by Nokia. Nokia is already competitor, so there was no way for MS to alienate TomTom for a long time. Without maps MSN would collapse under the weight of Google more then it already does.
  • I wish TomTom had fought this; the FAT patents are utter nonsense. But patent fights are notoriously expensive, so I understand why TomTom did this instead. In the long term, I hope that software patents get eliminated [], but that will have to wait for another day.

    What really need to happen is something similar to what happened to the GIF file format. In that case it was decided to develop a new image file format called PNG. There is room for doing the same thing with the file system. Although FAT is common, if everyone could agree an open alternative, and then encourage hardware manufacturers to provide the necessary drivers to Windows users, then we could finally move forward.

  • by codepunk ( 167897 ) on Monday March 30, 2009 @05:07PM (#27393521)

    The US govt does not have enough money to fight MS how do you expect TomTom to do it.

  • by Viol8 ( 599362 ) on Monday March 30, 2009 @05:10PM (#27393553) Homepage

    in fact so many that the choice itself could be the problem. Manufacturers can't see a single other format they could settle on that everyone else will agree to so they choose the lowest common denominator - FAT.

  • by Zombie Ryushu ( 803103 ) on Monday March 30, 2009 @05:15PM (#27393607)

    Samba doesn't implement vFAT, it implements SMB. So Samba has nothing to do with this.

    However, F/OSS could have a huge fight on its hands. The fact is, that everything uses vFAT. Nobody really supports anything else. The Linux Kernel has a vFAT module in it. Microsoft could say the vFAT Module has to be removed from the Kernel. If M$ Does, then, the entire Linux population is infringing. (Face it, we all HAVE to have FAT.)

  • by cheesybagel ( 670288 ) on Monday March 30, 2009 @05:17PM (#27393627)
    Because it seems in the end TomTom has to remove FAT LFN support after all. I also note that in cases where one of the offending parties has less or less notable patents than the other there is usually a cash offset. I hope this drives to the home that FAT is *not* suitable has a standard filesystem for interoperability and people start using ISO9660, or whatever.
  • by jmorris42 ( 1458 ) * <> on Monday March 30, 2009 @05:20PM (#27393663)

    It is time for Microsoft to decide what it wants more. Collect a few cents here and there and spread some FUD or keep all memory cards shipping as FAT.

    All the SD trade group would need to do is put together a new spec. It would call for a tiny FAT12 partition on each card sold with an IFS driver for a new file system. No it couldn't be ext2/3/4 because of the GPL. It just couldn't so give that idea up. But there ARE a lot of other proven file systems that support long file names and large filesystems. Getting a Windows IFS written would be cheaper than what the industry is paying Microsoft in one year and it would eliminate the FUD attacks. Writing one would probably be cheaper than what Tom Tom just paid their lawyers. So pick a BSD licensed file system that is available (or could easily be) for OS X, Linux and BSD. Supply the driver for Windows on every piece of media along with a README file explaining to customers why all this is going on.

    That readme could say something like:

    "The SD industry has previously used Microsoft's FAT filesystem due to it's uniquity. Microsoft has decided to reward us for helping drive their monopoly by suing us. So we have adopted one of the many other competing file systems for (whatever cute name of new standard). All other popular operating systems support this format out of the box. We offered a driver to Microsoft for inclusion in Windows 7 and they refused to include it. So you will need to click (here) to install the copy we include on each drive/memory card if you have not previously done so."

    Now take this proposed new standard to Microsoft and offer them a choice. Then let them choose their future. A royalty free perpetual license for vFAT for any implementation that supports removable flash based media or see FAT gone within a couple of years.

  • by renoX ( 11677 ) on Monday March 30, 2009 @05:31PM (#27393781)

    [[ What really need to happen is something similar to what happened to the GIF file format.]]

    Given that the GIF format is still more used than the PNG format, I wouldn't use this as a basis for what 'need to happen' more of an example of the *success* of 'submarine patents' (let something patented be used for free for a long time then make users pay): even when there is a better technical solution, it most probably won't be used due to the 'network effect'.

  • by Millennium ( 2451 ) on Monday March 30, 2009 @05:36PM (#27393837)

    Unfortunately, open alternatives are only feasible for a limited time: once the proprietary lock-in "standard" gets too common, open alternatives are pretty much condemned to also-ran status.

    Consider PNG. It's a great format, and I prefer it over GIF whenever possible, but the fact remains that by the time real PNG support got widespread enough matter, the GIF patents had expired and so the original point of PNG was moot.

    FAT, sad as it is, seems to be in the same position as GIF was. It's so widespread that by the time any open alternative could possibly take hold, it won't matter anymore because the invalid patents on FAT will be dead anyway.

  • by kyz ( 225372 ) on Monday March 30, 2009 @05:42PM (#27393975) Homepage

    The reason they don't is that the only format which works out-of-the-box almost ubiquitously on desktop computers is FAT. That's why FAT is the de-facto standard flash memory filesystem.

    Microsoft Windows only supports FAT and NTFS for reliable read-write access. That's about 90% of all desktop computers. Most other popular operating systems support FAT well, but few support NTFS well. Hence FAT.

    It's entirely Microsoft's doing. If you wanted some other filesystem to replace FAT, it could only be another filesystem fully supported by Microsoft Windows, otherwise it wouldn't be out-of-the-box compatible with over 90% of desktop computers and thus would be trounced by anything that was.

  • by afidel ( 530433 ) on Monday March 30, 2009 @05:49PM (#27394143)
    Going forward you should be able to use UDF across all platforms since Vista, Linux, BSD, Solaris, and OS/2 all have read/write drivers for it, but it might be a bit of time before it's universally accepted since XP can't write to it or read version 2.5+ volumes.
  • by Chas ( 5144 ) on Monday March 30, 2009 @05:51PM (#27394161) Homepage Journal

    Repeat after me.

    America. Land of opportunity.


    TomTom may be a great, profitable-as-fuck company. But litigation of this sort is STUPIDLY expensive. And Microsoft could drop the actual value TomTom (debt and all) on the litigation several times over and never miss it. TomTom, OTOH, has to be more circumspect (since they don't have access to the next best thing to God's pocketbook). They can burn all the money on the suit OR they can settle and get on with business, using aforementioned money to build the business more.

    While it's not as fun as seeing Microsoft bitch-smacked by "some plucky young upstart", it's not MY investment (see MONEY) they're playing with.

  • by Niten ( 201835 ) on Monday March 30, 2009 @06:01PM (#27394361)

    No it couldn't be ext2/3/4 because of the GPL. It just couldn't so give that idea up.

    Absolutely wrong. It couldn't be the *Linux implementation* of ext2/3/4, because of the GPL. But there's nothing to stop someone else from creating a new extN implementation under an arbitrary, non-GPL license: in fact, it's already been done [].

  • UDF (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tepples ( 727027 ) <tepples@gmail.BOHRcom minus physicist> on Monday March 30, 2009 @06:13PM (#27394559) Homepage Journal

    True, but this is where someone has to find something that offers something equivalent and easily implementable.

    I believe it's called Live File System [] by Microsoft and Universal Disk Format [] by everyone else. Any OS with DVD-ROM support can read UDF. Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows Vista can write UDF, and so can Windows 5 (2000 and XP) with common CD-RW software.

    Of course, the sad reality is that waiting for the patent to expire might just be the easiest solution - BTW does anyone know when the patents expire?

    They were filed during the development of Windows 95; add twenty years.

  • by cavtroop ( 859432 ) on Monday March 30, 2009 @06:28PM (#27394797)

    um, what about using it on machines that I don't have admin access on?

    Machines I may not want another file system driver on?

    Library machines, corp machines, etc.?

  • Re:this is fail (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Monday March 30, 2009 @06:31PM (#27394859) Journal
    Wrong. It doesn't set a legal precedent. Microsoft can still go to other device managers and say 'look at this settlement; TomTom agreed that our patents on FAT LFN were valid. It would be cheaper for you to just pay up, or switch to Wince for your embedded device, than to fight us in court.'
  • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Monday March 30, 2009 @06:49PM (#27395117) Journal
    Of course they won't sue Linux users, that would be bad PR. Fortunately for them, the GPL means that they don't have to. All they have to do is find some proxy with code in the Linux kernel (or in Samba) who has standing to sue anyone distributing their code for violating clause 7 of the GPL by distributing their code linked against code which requires a patent license. Microsoft can then stand there and say 'we're not suing anyone, look what a legal minefield that nasty Linux thing is'. As a bonus, this also lets them discredit the GPL, since this strategy would not have worked if Linux had been BSD licensed or similar (Microsoft could still have sued for patent infringement, but it would have had to have been overt).
  • by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Monday March 30, 2009 @07:11PM (#27395343)

    No it couldn't be ext2/3/4 because of the GPL. It just couldn't so give that idea up.

    Just what does the GPL do to restrict data formats?

    The answer, of course, is it doesn't do anything.
    The GPL is about distributing copies of code, not data structures.

    There would be absolutely nothing stopping a company from coming up with an alternate implementation of ext2fs code and giving it a proprietary license, or even just an LGPL license, suitable for use by any closed-source implementation.

    Hell, didn't Tso fund part of his work by selling ext2fs code to one of those proprietary partition resizers like 10 years ago?

  • by slash.duncan ( 1103465 ) on Monday March 30, 2009 @07:34PM (#27395601) Homepage

    TomTom's problem wasn't FAT, the 8.3 filename version, but LFN aka VFAT, and AFAIK, reading them isn't covered, only writing. The MS patents are specifically on the long file name stuff, apparently only on writing, and any patents on the original 8.3 format will have expired by now. Since with USB it's the host that controls the writing, TomTom's window of patent vulnerability on that particular patent is quite small anyway, and it's entirely possible to avoid infringement, especially since from all reports I've seen the TomTom devices themselves don't expose the filenames they are working with.

    It's actually quite possible that TomTom wasn't actually using the LFN code anyway, but was simply shipping it as it was configured in their default Linux kernel load. As such, it should be fairly trivial to simply avoid turning on that option, and if necessary, rewriting any other code that they had internally that expected the LFN so it works with the 8.3 name.

    Thus, the case never really was about the FAT LFN patents in the first place. It was simply one more arrow in the legal quiver that MS unloaded on TomTom. It was the other patents, including the broad mobile computer mounted in a car patent and a couple of the navigation patents, at issue.

    That's why it's possible for TomTom to take the easy way out of this one. The GPL "live free or die" clause need not be invoked since they can simply toggle off the VFAT functionality (and if necessary entirely patch the code out of what they ship) in their shipping kernels, and they can license the other patents without triggering the "live free or die" clause since their userspace code didn't need covered under the GPL.

  • by KwKSilver ( 857599 ) on Monday March 30, 2009 @07:48PM (#27395781)

    Well how are your usb sticks formatted?

    ext2. fsck -U /dev/MS ;-)

  • by Tacvek ( 948259 ) on Monday March 30, 2009 @08:41PM (#27396305) Journal

    Nonsense. A single file is all it takes to boot Linux. (Or to boot virtually anything for that matter.) Since "bzImage" is a valid 8.3 filename, as is "kernel", "boot.img", or hundreds of other possible filenames for the kernel, I'm not sure what the issue is.

  • by petermgreen ( 876956 ) <.plugwash. .at.> on Monday March 30, 2009 @10:07PM (#27397003) Homepage

    (note: FAT in this post reffers to FAT12, FAT16 and FAT32 which all handle filenames in the same way, exFAT is completely different afaict)

    "8.3 filenames" are the type of filename that FAT natively uses.

    The character encoding is either ascii or the "OEM" character set of the machine (I don't remember which) all filenames are uppercased. Only one . is allowed (which isn't actually stored on the disk so "FILENAME" and "FILNAME." are equivilent) with up to 8 characters before and 3 characters afterwards.

    MS added support for long filenames to FAT with windows 95 (and later NT) using a dirty hack (storing the long filename in specially crafted "volume label" entries and filling the filename with an autogenerated 8.3 alias (e.g. PROGRA~1). Somehow they managed to convince the patent office to accept a patent on their dirty hack. Worse after issuing some priliminary rejections during a reexam the patent office turned round and upheld the patent.

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