Linux developers have discovered a way to implement the FAT file system’s method of operation while possibly invalidating any claims to royalties from Microsoft.

Though it might be possible to develop a file system that would completely sidestep the problem, it must be remembered how many devices use some form of the FAT file system, as devised by Microsoft.

from Ars TechnicaNew Linux patch could circumvent Microsoft’s FAT patents

A Linux developer has published a new kernel patch that provides a workaround to avoid Microsoft’s patents on the FAT file system. The patch, which has undergone extensive legal review by patent lawyers, could make it possible to use FAT on Linux without having to pay licensing fees to Microsoft.

look at him, so cute, Tux didn’t mean to do anything wrong!

Microsoft’s recent lawsuit against TomTom, alleging infringement of file system patents, has left many questions unanswered about the legal implications of distributing open source implementations of Microsoft’s FAT file system. A new Linux kernel patch that was published last week offers a workaround that might make it possible to continue including FAT in Linux without using methods that are covered by Microsoft’s patents.

The patent dispute erupted in February when Microsoft sued portable navigation device maker TomTom. Microsoft claimed that TomTom’s Linux-based GPS products infringe on several of its patents, including two that cover specific characteristics of FAT, a file system devised by Microsoft that is widely used on removable storage devices such as USB thumb drives and memory cards. The dispute escalated when TomTom retaliated with a counter-suit, but it was eventually settled in March when TomTom agreed to remove the relevant functionality.

The outcome of the lawsuit created ambiguity around the legal status of the Linux FAT implementation. Microsoft contends that the suit was a largely isolated incident and that there are no plans to pursue litigation against individual Linux users. For commercial Linux adopters, however, the situation is murkier. Linux is widely used on mobile and embedded devices, and many of these need to be able to read FAT-formatted removable media.

he Linux Foundation says that the best solution at this point is for vendors to ditch FAT and come up with a new vendor-neutral format that can be used without having to pay licensing fees. Although that might be a viable long-term solution, there is still a clear need to support FAT in Linux today. To facilitate this, developers are evaluating technical workarounds while the Open Invention Network is seeking prior art for the purpose of invalidating the patents.

The specific patents in question describe techniques for implementing a “common name space for long and short filenames.” It is a hack for preserving backwards compatibility with the filename munging scheme that was used in MS-DOS when filenames could not exceed 11 characters and were displayed in the so-called “8.3” format.

The odd thing is that the entire file system is not being called into question, it is simply the long to short naming convention that is the problem. If no need was felt to make the system fully compatible, there would be no problem.

The file naming problem that killed off many DOS and Windows 3.1 programs, is the problem of many things using Linux now. There is certainly something ironic about that.

If the patches that have been developed survive the scrutiny of the court system, it would be a great victory for the Open Source community, and, after all, Microsoft doesn’t really need the money.




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