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Microsoft The Courts

Microsoft Gets Back Its FAT Patent In Germany 113

Dj writes to let us know that Microsoft has regained its FAT patent in Germany. (We discussed it three years ago when the German Federal Patent Tribunal ruled that Microsoft's patent on the FAT file system, with short and long names, was not enforceable.) "The [German] appeal court's decision brings it into line with the US patent office's assessment of the FAT patent. In early 2006, after lengthy deliberations, the latter confirmed the rights to protection conferred by [US] patent number 5,579,517, claiming that the development was new and inventive."
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Microsoft Gets Back Its FAT Patent In Germany

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 23, 2010 @01:19PM (#31957534)

    MS has patented Steve 'Sweaty' Ballmer??
    I wonder if I can I patent turtle-necked geek with a messiah/god complex.

    • by mkiwi ( 585287 )

      This just proves that once you get fat, you never go back!

    • I wonder if I can I patent turtle-necked geek with a messiah/god complex.

      Nicht im Deutschland, es gibt Früher Kunstmittelstoffwerken [].

    • Well, I don’t know about neck features, but I bet $100, that Jobs already has a least a dozen patents on himself. ^^

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 23, 2010 @01:22PM (#31957584)

    just saying.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 23, 2010 @01:26PM (#31957642)

    Just too bad that software patents can not be inforced in germany. They only exist for a possible future change of german or european patent law. A change which is currently rather unlikely.

    • I want to agree with you based on the fact that I have to believe that Europeans are better educated in things Technological. However, given enough money thrown at the problem with enough motivated entities it becomes an inevitability even in such an environment.
    • Software patents certainly are enforced, that's kinda what this story is about. The only issue is that the patents may not apply to all European countries, but even so everybody pays more or less the same fees as in the US.

  • Timelines (Score:3, Insightful)

    by coniferous ( 1058330 ) on Friday April 23, 2010 @01:27PM (#31957648) Homepage
    Isnt there a statue of limitations in germany? I mean, FAT is like 20 years old.
  • by Palestrina ( 715471 ) * on Friday April 23, 2010 @01:27PM (#31957654) Homepage
    What am I missing?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by H.G.Blob ( 1550325 )
      The European Patent Office usually does not grant software only patents but that doesn't mean that each country can't have a diverging policy. If you RTFA, the original decision was in part motivated by the EU policy on software patents.
    • They do. At least, they're not very rigorous about taking them down. The courts get to interpret the law. Because of the uncertainty, Europeans have to license much the same patents as Americans.

    • You're missing the fine print loophole. Yes, software applications are not patentable.

      However, the loophole is that an invention that solves a "technical problems" in a non-obvious way (rather than just a "business problem") is still patentable - which according to this court decision includes file systems.

      As far as this non-lawyer can see, that makes the law a paper shell because it protects only software that is obviously not patentable anyway (Say, Microsoft getting a patent on word processors*) but leaves algorithms unprotected. (Ironically, algorithms are also considered unpatentable in the narrowest sense, which is why patents have to replace the word "algorithm" with one that the Patent Office does not understand.)

      (*Or Amazon getting a patent on a web shop UI... OH WAIT. :P )

  • I wonder (Score:1, Flamebait)

    by Jaysyn ( 203771 )

    I wonder how much that cost MS. Bribes aren't cheap.

    • The geek mind-set (Score:3, Interesting)

      by westlake ( 615356 )

      I wonder how much that cost MS. Bribes aren't cheap.

      Loose talk about bribery is for losers.

      Given the importance of complex legal codes, {German] judges must be particularly well trained. Indeed, judges are not chosen from the field of practicing lawyers. Rather, they follow a distinct career path. At the end of their legal education at university, all law students must pass a state examination before they can continue on to an apprenticeship that provides them with broad training in the legal profession ov

      • Ah, so, your counter to talk about bribery is about how judges "follow a distinct path (where they choose at the end of said path, just like a bad open-ended game)", and are exceptionally well trained?

        Did you forget that judges will meet quite a few people who choose "lawyer" at the end of that path? Also, did you forget that judges will know other people?

        • by westlake ( 615356 ) on Friday April 23, 2010 @03:39PM (#31959482)

          Ah, so, your counter to talk about bribery is about how judges "follow a distinct path" and are exceptionally well trained?

          Consider how many years you have invested in becoming a judge-for-life. That it is the only life you have ever known. How likely is it that you will consider throwing it all away?

          Did you forget that judges will meet quite a few people who choose "lawyer" at the end of that path?

          The judge in a German court is more than a referee:

          There is no such thing as a jury trial in Germany.

          Under German law, as under American law, the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty. In minor [criminal] cases there may be only a single judge presiding. Or, if the charges are severe and the accused faces heavy penalties, there may be five persons hearing the case - three professional judges and two lay judges.

          Though he has the duty of defending the accused to the maximum of his ability, a German lawyer is not as active in court as an American lawyer. In a German trial, the judge, not the defense counsel or the prosecutor, obtains the testimony of the witnesses. After the judge is finished, the prosecutor and the defense counsel will be permitted to question witnesses. The aim is to obtain the truth from witnesses by direct questioning rather than through the examination and cross-examination generally used in a US trial.
          German Justice: 2 Days per Murder [] [2003]

      • That's all well and good, but doesn't it mean that they're not one but two steps removed from the real world that they're ultimately passing judgments on?

        Also, it neither refutes nor proves the GP's accusations of bribery. Especially if they have to pay for all those years of schooling themselves.

  • Retroactive (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 23, 2010 @01:30PM (#31957690)

    This seems fucked up. The patent was invalidated, which allowed anyone to implement the technology from the patent. Now, they're saying that the patent is valid, which means that anyone who implemented technology from the patent has been retroactively made a criminal. They will have to pay royalties on anything they sold, and they will be unable to sell their product anymore, even if they spent millions on developing it (unless they get a license from Microsoft).

    • Do you have anything to support that FUD?

      • Do you have anything to support that FUD?

        WTF? Man... That is not FUD, but logical reasoning.

    • No, they retroactively made people patent infringers, that's not the same as being a criminal. It's up to Microsoft to sue or not sue.
    • If you spent millions developing a product based on the original ruling you must have hired at least one legal expert. And he would have told you that the case is under appeal in a higher court. Which still means that it can go either way.

      So if you spent money developing a product with no clear legal standing, you're the idiot, not the courts. T

  • FAT is antiquated (Score:3, Interesting)

    by clone53421 ( 1310749 ) on Friday April 23, 2010 @01:32PM (#31957726) Journal

    Does this have any practical significance? Am I missing something? Is FAT still worth enough for them to bother fighting to have their patent in Germany?

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Friday April 23, 2010 @01:39PM (#31957804) Journal
      FAT is, indeed, an antique; but it is still pretty much the only FS that is trivial enough to implement in your cheap digital camera or USB MSC MP3 player, or whatever, that is also supported out of the box by MS operating systems.

      That is why FAT is still worth something to Microsoft. Even for fairly fiddly embedded systems, there are plenty of free filesystems that are easily good enough. For real computers, FAT would be absurd. If, however, you are making a fiddly embedded system that also has to share a filesystem with a real computer, FAT is basically your choice(or exFAT, which is newer and more evil, and will be patent protected even longer).

      Microsoft has absolutely no incentive to support ext2, 3, or 4, or HFS, or any of the others, and NTFS is a bit much for the lighter-weight embedded systems.
      • by jedidiah ( 1196 ) on Friday April 23, 2010 @01:42PM (#31957836) Homepage

        FAT is needed because Microsoft has effective control of it's OS platform and any other new filesystem standard is going to create a similar patent and support nightmare.

        Microsoft is going to do it's hardest to trap it's users and make everyone else seem like 2nd class (just like Apple does).

        • My understanding is that there isn't any real technical obstacle to implementing other FSes on Windows(though to work with the newest ones, you might well need to play the WHQL/driver signing game, which isn't free, and would give MS the option of stonewalling you); but that, in practice, there is basically no way that that is going to happen.

          Customers(sensibly enough) are going to balk at being asked to install a kernel driver just to get a flash drive or generic MP3 player to work and, even if they wou
          • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Microsoft did not invent FAT (and they where not the first to use it). The German patents are about a specific FAT extension that make it possible to store both the 8.3 "DOS" filename as well as the long "Windows" filename in a FAT filesystem. Linux (and other open-source projects) now have a simple trick to avoid licenses: they store the short OR the long filename. This works transparently for short filenames, and (now rare) devices that can't handle the long filenames don't use long filenames anyway.

    • by G00F ( 241765 )

      More than just it being an old stepping stone tech, I would think with this patent close to expiring (filed 95, granted in 96), it would not be pursued.

  • Why would anyone want to be stuck with FAT? There are several great file systems in use these days.

    • Re: Who Cares (Score:5, Informative)

      by mr_da3m0n ( 887821 ) on Friday April 23, 2010 @01:40PM (#31957812) Homepage
      Tell this to cameras, PDAs, consoles, embedded devices... In a windows-dominated world, what else would you use that everyone could read from write to? NTFS? Ha, no.
      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        There are windows ext2 drivers. And damn near every camera, pda, and MP3 player in the world comes with an (often useless) driver/install disk. Maybe this market should push back. Maybe this is why we have laws regulating monopolies. Its not like there are no options here.

        • <sarcasm>You are always welcome to create your own drive and sell it in the market place without FAT. In this free market, if you make a better product, then you should be able to wipe out the rest of the market or at least be able to compete to a level of profitability. So far, the market has cried loudly that FAT is the best of the best having nearly crushed all the competition. Furthermore, in a truly free economy, monopolies should be allowed to exist as long as they provide the best product fo
      • UDF? Granted, writing to it is finicky under OS X and I'm not sure how well Windows works but it has been a full FAT replacement for ages. Except people don't seem to bother even perceiving it.
        • That would require packet writing (UDF 1.50+, I believe?), and that feels somewhat tacked on as an afterthought.

          Maybe it could indeed be used, but I'm not sure what the limitations and performance issues would be, if any, but perhaps it could be a viable replacement -- only, it's not nearly as universal as you make it sound like, unlike FAT.

          • Actually, no. It requires the "Plain" build (random read/write access), which is the most basic UDF build that all UDF implementations should support. Packet writing is a means of making it transparent to the user whether he's using a write-once or a rewritable medium, using either the "VAT" or the "Spared" build.

            Annoyingly, proper support of plain UDF is not universal and operating systems may or may not properly work with plain UDF filesystems. For example, even though OS X is supposed to properly suppo
    • Why would anyone want to be stuck with FAT? There are several great file systems in use these days.

      Because pretty much everything uses it, that's why. You can put forward a well-argued case about why ext69 is a better filesystem because it can store 1GB of data in seven bits, still be readable after a direct hit with a hydrogen bomb leaves only three atoms of the drive remaining, and solves world peace- but it won't be compatible with every random Tom, Dick and Harry device out there.

  • Stupid Headline (Score:5, Informative)

    by fm6 ( 162816 ) on Friday April 23, 2010 @01:39PM (#31957798) Homepage Journal

    The patent is not for the FAT filesystem itself. The patent is for the kludge that allows FAT to support both long filenames and 8.3 filenames. []

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by hvdh ( 1447205 )

      The patent is not for the FAT filesystem itself. The patent is for the kludge that allows FAT to support both long filenames and 8.3 filenames.

      Kludge is quite right. I was pretty surprised to find out that on CDROMs, a long filename had a different 8.3 name when listed in pure DOS vs. in a Windows 98 (?) command shell.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by fm6 ( 162816 )

        CDs don't use FAT. Probably ISO 9660. In which case the bug would be in Microsoft's implementation of that standard.

        • Windows uses Joliet (an extension to ISO9660). And before you cry about Windows using proprietary extensions: Linux uses the Rockridge extension to ISO9660.

          • by yuhong ( 1378501 )
            And Apple has it's own extension to ISO 9660 too.
          • by fm6 ( 162816 )

            It takes more than that to bring me tears.

            So, is the problem in the Joliet spec or MS's implementation of it?

            • Basically, Joliet is a completely separate directory structure. Since Windows 98 didn't come with its own CD burning application, it's nost likely the problem of whatever program created the CD. I guess the problem is related to the fact that Windows uses the tilde for the short file names on FAT, but the tilde is not an allowed character for file names on original ISO9660. I guess the burning application copied the original short file name into Joliet (so you'd get a consistent experience under Windows), b

              • by fm6 ( 162816 )

                A most informative post. Pretty good for a guy who spends all his time sitting around waiting for fast molecules to come along, so he can open a tiny door.

      • CD's don't use FAT... They have their own confusing and conflicting set of standards. Long file names on CDs are not strictly portable according to standards, though most systems are flexible enough accept them even w/o ugly Joliet extensions.
    • True... but many folks who would use FAT these days would want to use long file names as well. Otherwise, your filenames get munged when moving data from a "real" FS to the FAT based one (e.g. transferring data between computers using a USB key, etc.)

      As a result, this patent does a pretty effective job of locking up use of FAT as well.
    • Is this what passes for innovation these days? Kludges to ensure backwards compatibility?

      Makes me want to patent all the clever hacks I've put into my own code, instead of getting rid of them.

      • by fm6 ( 162816 )

        Makes me want to patent all the clever hacks I've put into my own code

        That is, in fact, a common practice. I've worked at two different software companies that did it routinely. The purpose is not so much to force people to pay you for using your hacks as to use your patents as leverage against other companies in your various legal battles.

        Not really practical unless you have a bunch of lawyers on the payroll to figure out what's patentable.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by anonum ( 1057442 )

      Yes and there's a linux kernel patch that should cleverly circumvent that patent [] []
      It hasn't apparently been tested in court so far though.

      On U.S. soil, one wouldn't probably want to acid-test the above patch in court, somewhere was mentioned that it may cost up to $5M to defend yourself in court for a single patent infringiment, even if you would not turn out to be infringing a patent at all.

  • So... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ProdigyPuNk ( 614140 )
    Correct me if I'm wrong, but Microsoft was basically granted a patent for throwing metadata in unused volume labels ? Why would anyone even WANT to violate the patent ? According to the Wikipedia entry on Long Filename, too many files with the same first six letters will cause issues. Man, that is one hell of a hack.
  • by viralMeme ( 1461143 ) on Friday April 23, 2010 @01:54PM (#31957974)
    `Similar 8.3 file naming schemes [] have also existed on earlier CP/M, Atari, and some Data General and Digital Equipment Corporation minicomputer operating systems'
  • Isn't that patent close to expiration now?

  • by steveha ( 103154 ) on Friday April 23, 2010 @02:35PM (#31958626) Homepage

    The patent issue here is not how to store a long filename in a FAT directory. The patent covers the technique for making a file system where each file has two names, and 8.3 "short" name and a "long" name.

    This was crucial back in the day. Your Windows 3.1 system could read the floppy disk written by your Windows 95 computer; that file you saved as "ode to a summer day.txt" would wind up as ODETOA~1.TXT in Windows 3.1, and you could access the file.

    But these days, nobody really cares about the 8.3 "short" filenames. Windows XP, Windows 7, Mac OS, etc. all just look at the long filenames.

    So, Andrew Tridgell made a change to the Linux VFAT driver, and now Linux writes a valid long filename, and puts horrible junk in the space for the 8.3 filename. The horrible junk includes illegal characters for a filename. Thus, Linux is not writing both a long and a short filename, and thus isn't infringing.

    And Linux still has the FAT driver, in addition to the VFAT driver. The FAT driver reads and writes 8.3 filenames only. In the event that you have a volume with nothing but 8.3 filenames, you can still use it with Linux. []

    The FAT long filenames patent should expire sometime around 2015, at which time Linux will return to full compatibility. (I presume that in countries that don't enforce software patents, people are still using Linux with full compatibility.)


    • Well, that's interesting. If that works, then there's no reason why ANYONE should be paying MS royalties. Who cares at all about 8.3 file names anymore? If you want an 8.3, put an 8.3 in the long name.

  • The court actually meant that Microsoft could patent fat, you know, the stuff that so many of you think fills the space between Mr. Ballmer's ears. Now that they have the patent, they can charge 89 euros per pound above a BMI of 18. In Germany, that adds up to about 200 billion euros. Now, why would Microsoft get a patent on fat? It is soft ware.

FORTRAN is the language of Powerful Computers. -- Steven Feiner