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Data Storage Microsoft Patents

German Court Invalidates Microsoft FAT Patent 192

Posted by Soulskill
from the exercising-their-patent-rejection-muscles-to-get-rid-of-the-fat dept.
walterbyrd sends this news from Techworld: "A Microsoft storage patent that was used to get a sales ban on products from Google-owned Motorola Mobility in Germany has been invalidated by the German Federal Patent Court. Microsoft's FAT (File Allocation Table) patent, which concerns a 'common name space for long and short filenames' was invalidated on Thursday, a spokeswoman for the Federal Patent Court said in an email Friday. She could not give the exact reasons for the court's decision before the written judicial decision is released, which will take a few weeks."
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German Court Invalidates Microsoft FAT Patent

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  • by rossdee (243626) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @10:30AM (#45626297)

    Does this ruling cover FAT32 or just FAT16

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by peppepz (1311345)
      The patent doesn't mention the width of FAT entries. It doesn't mention FAT at all, only directory entries.
    • by DarkOx (621550)

      Not certain buy I would guess FAT32 because of this 'common name space for long and short filenames' as FAT12 and FAT16 did not support LNFs. Hopefully and this what actually matters at this point it also covers exFAT

      • Re:What about FAT32 (Score:4, Informative)

        by queazocotal (915608) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @10:37AM (#45626337)

        As I understand it, exfat has been carefully designed to be rather patent laden, and rely on multiple patents - not just this one that is due to expire soon.

        • Re:What about FAT32 (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 07, 2013 @10:43AM (#45626365)

          Every camera, phone and tablet manufacturer should use UDF to format flash cards. It's patent free and supported by all major operating systems. The only thing missing is write support in Windows XP, but it would cost Google pennies to write a free driver, compared to the billions they pay Microsoft for FAT patents.

          • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

            by shentino (1139071)

            most likely MS would refuse to issue new patent licenses to any OEM supportung UDF

            • by peppepz (1311345)
              Wouldn't this violate the F in FRAND [wikipedia.org]? If anything, the problem is that UDF is probably patented as well. Still, UDF is a better file system than *FAT feature-wise, and perhaps the relevant patents aren't in the hands of patent trolls like Microsoft.
            • by leuk_he (194174)

              No MS will not refuse it. It will include this in the patent license needed for a android phone.

              It is suspected that MS receives 10 dollar/euro (not sure) for every sold android phone, in patent licenses.

              However as part of the license it is sealed exactly what is licensed. So you cannot work arround this. And nobody is usre about this. And since fighting of a pantent is a long and expensive proces, most suppliers just pay, because is has the least risk, and most economic outcome. The FAT [swpat.org] patent is needed

              • Re: What about FAT32 (Score:2, Interesting)

                by Anonymous Coward

                Apples earns money with Android as well. HTC for example signed a license agreement with Apple and pays them several dollars per device.

                Apple wanted to sign such an agreement with Samsung as well. Before all this litigation stuff. But Samsung refused. That's why they got sued.

              • There is a simple way around it. Sell some model of phones without firmware at all or with some primitive firmware with limited functionality but not covered with patents. And supply it with an URL of source code that you can compile yourself. If at least some of routers take this model (they use OpenWRT) and (in Russia - with FreeDOS) with computers - why it cannot be done with phones?

                See also: http://neo900.org/#main [neo900.org]

        • by symbolset (646467) *
          This is one of the few patents in exFAT left that hasn't been invalidated. Not that it matters. Microsoft will still sue over one of 10,000 other patents.
    • by Zimluura (2543412)

      iirc the vfat extension to fat16, was introduced with win95 and had lfn support, while still not being fat32. even-so, the patents should be close to death assuming 20 years (not really sure what the term is in germany. anyone? ). the eu patent was filed for in 5.10.1994 and relates to lfn support.

      from wikipedia:
      1977 (Stand-alone Disk BASIC-80)
      FAT12: August 1980 (SCP QDOS)
      FAT16: August 1984 (IBM PC DOS 3.0)
      FAT16B: November 1987 (Compaq MS-DOS 3.31)
      FAT16X: August 1995 (Windows 95)
      FAT32/FAT32X: August 1996

      • by Zimluura (2543412)

        scratch that, VFAT was introduced with NT3.5 (September 21, 1994), so the patent was probably filed for in anticipation of the NT3.5 release.

        from the same wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File_Allocation_Table [wikipedia.org]

        OS/2 added long filename support to FAT using extended attributes (EA) before the introduction of VFAT; thus, VFAT long filenames are invisible to OS/2, and EA long filenames are invisible to Windows, therefore experienced users of both operating systems would have to manually rename t

    • by jonbryce (703250) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @11:14AM (#45626525) Homepage

      It covers long filename support in FAT. Digital cameras that stored photos with 8.3 filenames were never affected by this patent regardless of which version of FAT they used.

    • by cpghost (719344)
      It concerns patent EP0618540 [freepatentsonline.com]. Looks like FAT-32 to me, at first sight.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 07, 2013 @10:35AM (#45626329)

    There goes Microsofts Android extortion profits...

    • by Andrio (2580551)

      Maybe this means that Android phones (non high end ones anyway, and especially Nexus ones) can go back to including SD card slots.

      • There are lots of current Android phones with SD card slots.

        Nexus devices don't have them because somebody at Google doesn't seem to like them.

        High end devices of other companies sometimes don't have them because the manufacturer wants you to buy the model with 32 or 63 gig rather than the model with 16 gig and a cheap MicroSD card.
        But the mid-level devices of the same manufacturers usually come with a CD card slot as they cut down the onboard flash memory to reduce the price.

        • Nexus devices don't have them because somebody at Google doesn't seem to like them.

          Unfortunately I get the impression sometimes that there are influential people at Google who think that the iPhone is popular because you can't insert an SD card, can't change the battery, and because the battery life is crap, rather than because it's user friendly.

        • by chihowa (366380) *

          Nexus devices don't have them because somebody at Google doesn't seem to like them.

          SD cards reduce your reliance on "the cloud". It's not surprising that Google doesn't like them.

    • by zlogic (892404) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @11:38AM (#45626631)

      MS gets FAT32 royalties from pretty much every device with SD cards. GPS devices, MP3 players, TVs, digital cameras, car audio etc.
      Most "modern" Android devices don't have memory expansion slot (which sucks) and use ext4 internally. Most of the other MS patents taxing Android cover Exchange connectivity and that's unlikely to be invalidated soon.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Why do we need MS filesystems at all? None of my USB sticks is FAT -- what a shitty filesystem.

        And who the fuck is connecting to exchange? How about removing the exchange connectivity and offering that via a paid app?

        Any other aspect of Android that Microsoft is fraudulently attempting to obtain patent taxes from?

        • by Patch86 (1465427)

          Because it is near-as-damn-it universally supported. You plug a FAT USB stick into any machine, whether it be Windows XP, Windows 8, Ubuntu, OSX, FreeBSD...you can be pretty sure it will work right out of the box. On a minority of niche systems which don't support FAT out of the box, you can be sure that a driver exists and is stable and easy to install.

          Yes that's true of a few other file systems too (UDF I'm looking at you), but that's still the reason why FAT remains so popular over other common formats.

        • by zlogic (892404)

          Exchange is the de-facto standard for mail in companies with 1000+ employees (probably smaller companies as well), and compared to IMAP offers
          * push email
          * contacts (and calendar) sync via the same account
          * enforcing corporate policies such as a requiring a device password and a maximum lock timeout.

          Support for Exchange on Android and iPhone has provided a huge boost to the popularity of BYOD [wikipedia.org] and is one of the main reasons why Blackberry is now failing. Previously companies had to buy RIM servers and device

  • by putaro (235078) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @10:42AM (#45626363) Journal

    There should be a way to get a refund if you paid license fees for an invalid patent. Anyone have a guess as to how much money Microsoft has made off this patent?

    • by truedfx (802492)
      No, there really shouldn't be, that would be worse than the current situation. That would mean that to go after any infringers at all would be financial Russian roulette, no matter how valid the patent may be.
      • by putaro (235078) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @12:06PM (#45626765) Journal

        Patent validity shouldn't be random. The patent office should be examining them properly. If you start suing people over your patents you should be sure that you've checked prior art, etc. Many of them patents are obviously bogus but because there's no real penalty for extracting licensing fees for them patent trolling is a viable business.

      • by sjames (1099)

        How is that worse? At least the plaintiffs have the ability to opt out of the mess, defendants do not. I would up the ante a bit more and require that the fees be paid back with interest and that if the holder should have known the patent was invalid they pay back triple.

        When you go around shaking people down for money, you better be damned sure it is owed to you.

    • by houghi (78078)

      This is not about how much they make, but how little the others make.

    • Doubtful. Most likely, as part of the "settlement", there was a license agreement, a contract.

      Not only would it be difficult to overturn in court, it would also be embarrassing to admit they were snookered.

  • by bogaboga (793279) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @10:51AM (#45626417)

    ...that is at least in Germany. Google never wanted to pay any licensing fees. It's been Google's modus operandi for years.

    • by jonbryce (703250)

      This ruling is valid across the whole of the EU. When local courts hear patent cases, they sit as European courts.

      • That is nonsense, the ruling is only valid in germany.
        To have a ruling over whole europe you need to appeal to a european court.

        • by kthreadd (1558445)

          And you're saying that this German court is not european?

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by jonbryce (703250)

          The German court is a European court when it hears patent cases, therefore the ruling does apply all over the EU. We don't have the same separation between State and Federal courts that they have in the USA.

          • A german court is a court in germany. A european court is an EU court.
            German rulings have no effect in any other european country. If that court in particular was an EU court, that happens to reside in germany, than you would be right. But as far as I understood it, that court was a simple german court, in other words its ruling is only valid in germany.

          • Ah, I understand you now. You want to say a german court is in case of patents 'special' and rules as an EU court.
            I was not aware of that.
            Of course we have the seperation of national and EU courts. If you are right, then patent courts are an exception.
            I will read up on that :)

            • by jonbryce (703250) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @06:42PM (#45629229) Homepage

              Yes, that is what I am trying to say.

              In terms of actual EU courts, we have the EU General Court, but that only has competence to hear cases against the EU itself. For example, if the European Patent Office refuses to grant your patent application, you can go there to appeal your decision, or if the EU competition authority thinks you are behaving in an anti-competitive manner, you will face trial in that court.

              Most other cases involving EU law are heard in national courts, with the European Court of Justice as the final court of appeal. Generally speaking, judgements in national courts are binding only in that country, but persuasive elsewhere in the EU. ECJ judgements are binding in the whole of the EU. The exception is cases involving copyrights, patents, trademarks and registered designs (known as design patents in the US). For those cases, the national court sits as an EU court, and judgements are binding throughout the EU. Another exception is the EU small claims procedure, where consumers can take cases against suppliers in other EU countries in their local court, and the local court will work the the court local to the supplier to sort out the dispute. Small claims cases are not legally binding, but can be appealed to the European Court of Justice, who's judgements are legally binding.

              • Interesting. Funny is, that this is obviously not made public in the EU. At least I never heard about this.
                (And it is also hard to google for tis information).
                Thanx again for your insightful information!

                • by Patch86 (1465427)

                  I've heard of it (UK citizen), and I'm not exactly a legal expert.

                  Just because you've not heard of something, it doesn't mean it isn't public knowledge. Sometimes it's easy for smart people to forget that there are some things they just haven't learned yet :)

    • by citizenr (871508) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @11:28AM (#45626597) Homepage

      Haha, you really think it was about patents and not about forcing users into uploading everything into Google cloud.

      • by tepples (727027) <tepples&gmail,com> on Saturday December 07, 2013 @12:26PM (#45626893) Homepage Journal
        The practical problem with "forcing users into uploading everything into Google cloud" is that carriers limit uploads and downloads per month to Google cloud. A lot of people would rather purchase an SD card one time than pay the carrier every month to have access to a larger library while away from Wi-Fi.
      • by mjwx (966435)

        Haha, you really think it was about patents and not about forcing users into uploading everything into Google cloud.

        So thats why Android has had USB On The Go (OTG) in there since version 4, it works on my Galaxy Nexus and Nexus 7 (2013).

        The reason why Google doesn't like SD slots is because SD slots are encumbered by patents Microsoft are continually trying to bash over their heads. If you want more storage on a Nexus device, use USB.

  • I thought file formats were not patentable anyway. And why hasn't this expired yet?
    • I thought file formats were not patentable anyway. And why hasn't this expired yet?

      According to the article it expires next year.

  • Not useful (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Waffle Iron (339739) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @12:16PM (#45626833)

    One of the important requirements for a patentable invention is that it must be "useful".

    This patent originally covered a way to provide compatibility between short and long file names. But nobody has used short file names in decades.

    So now, the "feature" continues to be necessary only so that FAT can provide compatibility with itself. That's like begging the question. The feature no longer has any intrinsic usefulness, and in fact just serves to make the file system format more convoluted and less efficient.

    The patent system ought to be changed so that any patent should be revoked once it is no longer useful for its intended purpose. This particular patent has recently been "useful" solely as a way to give Microsoft leverage in the media device market. The covered feature provides zero benefit to end users.

    • But nobody has used short file names in decades.

      In VFAT, the long file names are interleaved with the counterpart to inodes under UNIX. Each inode contains an 11-byte short file name, and these must be unique within a directory.

      So now, the "feature" continues to be necessary only so that FAT can provide compatibility with itself. That's like begging the question.

      It's to provide interoperability with the billions of other devices using FAT. How is a network effect [wikipedia.org] necessarily begging the question?

      • by Waffle Iron (339739) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @01:10PM (#45627209)

        The network effect is similar to begging the question.

        Something is popular because it's popular.

        • So how would one go about breaking the network effect of FAT if, say, existing business-critical devices rely on a particular patented file system?
          • Sorry, but I'm unable to parse your question in its entirety, nor do I see how any of its fragments are relevant to the discussion.

            • by tepples (727027)

              Sorry, but I'm unable to parse your question

              Then let me rephrase: New features of FAT exist to provide interoperability with devices containing older implementations of FAT. To escape this network effect, one would have to forgo interoperability with these devices. But a lot of these devices that only speak FAT are critical to business operations, such as a digital camera used by an online merchant to prepare product photos for its website or for its eBay store. So how should one continue to do business while forgoing this interoperability?

              • You wouldn't forego the interoperability. It's fine to continue using FAT.

                I was simply saying that the patent system should be changed so that the patent on the short file name feature should have been revoked long ago (even if it had not been found to be obvious), due to the fact that nobody needs to interoperate with DOS machines any more, which was the original point of the invention. Having to use the patented feature so that FAT can interoperate with FAT is just a tautology that provides no benefit to

    • Re:Not useful (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ledow (319597) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @12:36PM (#45626963) Homepage

      Sorry, but you describe a useful function. Whether it's relevant any more or not is neither here nor there. If I invent a way to make a clockwork mechanism work more efficiently, that's still an invention, still patentable. And, as Trevor Bayliss shows, still something that should be protected by patents even if it's "old hat".

      The real crux of the matter is whether FAT is "obvious to one skilled in the art" which is a much, much, much more relevant and important test of patentability. Fact is, it pretty much is. If you're a filesystem designer and you're handed FAT and told to make it store long file names, FAT LFN's are pretty much one of a million ways to do them - and not even a particularly effective or perfect one.

      Lacking such "inventiveness", and being just something that anyone with half a brain could come up with, AND being in a jurisdiction where software patents shouldn't be allowed by the EU courts anyway, that's what means it should be invalidated. By the same token, BTW, Trevor Bayliss would also fail. What he did wasn't invention, just quite a smart combination of two existing technologies. But at least it was a physical invention and not a way to get Linux-based vendors (e.g. TomTom) to pay Microsoft money for Windows-only inventions.

      • Whether it's relevant any more or not is neither here nor there.

        I was arguing that it should be.

        If I invent a way to make a clockwork mechanism work more efficiently, that's still an invention, still patentable.

        And it's useful to someone. People still buy mechanical timekeeping devices, often at a very high price premium.

        Short file names aren't useful to anyone in this day and age.

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          Short file names aren't useful to anyone in this day and age.

          I would like to pretend that DOS is not still with us today, but that would be false. There's still people out there using short file names today. They're useful to someone. The test that FAT and VFAT should fail is obviousness. It's an obvious hack to stick the long file names in between the short file names. FAT itself is similar to other filesystems of its day, so it's obvious too.

          • I would like to pretend that DOS is not still with us today, but that would be false. There's still people out there using short file names today. They're useful to someone.

            Ok, so there are a few embedded industrial controllers still running DOS, and a few dorks running retro games in their moms' basements.

            That doesn't mean that any of them are loading media files off of today's hardware gadgets into these relics. (In fact, a single one of these media files typically exceeds the entire addressable storage capacity of a DOS machine.) Yet Microsoft extracts royalties from the gadget manufacturers as if compatibility with short file names were an essential feature of the media li

  • Forget the Slashdot editor.

    Does the Slashdot poster read to the end the stories he cites?

    The expected appeal will be interesting because the same senate of the BPatG had previously invalidated it but the BGH then reversed that decision. A reversal may happen again. Despite my longstanding opposition to software patents I have to say, just to be realistic, that this patent is far from finished. Counsel for Microsoft argued today that a finding of nullity for a lack of technicity by the BPatG would be inconsistent with the aforementioned April 2010 ruling by the BGH, paragraphs 31 and 32 of which stated that the patented invention met the technicity criteria under Article 52 of the European Patent Convention, the article in European patent law that prohibits patents on computer programs "as such".

  • It is rather incomprehensible that /. keeps on quoting F*SSpatents, even though it is known that this site is created by a well-known Microsoft/Oracle/anyone-else-who-cares-to-pay-him shill. There will be plenty of readers here who don't realise that everything written there should be taken with a ton of salt while half of what he writes is patently untrue or taken out of context in the first place.

    Quoting F*SSpatents on patent issues is like quoting McDonalds on healthy eating habits or deBeers on the real

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