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07.07.14

Despite SCOTUS Ruling, Microsoft Still Extorts Companies and Product Buyers Using FAT Software Patents, Latest Victim is Canon

Posted in GNU/Linux, Kernel, Microsoft, Patents at 4:50 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

The FAT police is at it again

Steve Ballmer FAT

Summary: Canon and Microsoft sign a patent deal which relates to patents on FAT file systems and impacts some of Canon’s products, potentially Linux products as well (Canon makes drivers for Linux but does not develop products with Android or GNU/Linux just yet)

While we are unaware of any Android- or Linux-based products from Canon, the company does deliver drivers for FOSS platforms, especially since under a decade ago (we covered this quite often at the time of a turnaround). Therefore it is regretful to learn about FAT patents, which were disgraced by entities and people including Torvalds (there is prior art and TomTom never pushed the case to the end), are used to tax Canon products or legitimise FAT patents.

Linux-centric sites hardly paid attention to it last week, but someone in IRC told us about it. Looking it up very quickly we found Microsoft’s booster Mary Jo Foley at ZDNet saying: “Today’s patent agreement isn’t the first forged by the two companies. Canon previously licensed Microsoft exFAT file system technology for an undisclosed amount.”

Sometimes companies pay for it via Microsoft partners such as Tuxera, but sometimes there are deals like this one. The OIN’s CEO told us over the telephone that Microsoft has been using FAT patents while calling them “Linux-related” or something along those line in the case of LG and maybe Samsung also (Samsung’s deal seems to have been broader than that the second time around).

Nikon's deal with Microsoft was quite different and the booster correctly pointed out: “Today’s agreement also is not part of Microsoft’s ongoing campaign to convince companies using Linux, Android and ChromeOS to license its patents. Nikon announced an Android-related patent licensing deal with Microsoft in February 2013.”

This is not entirely true because the deal practically serves to legitimise exFAT, which is a common attack vector on embedded Linux. The post from the booster (hogwash of sorts) attracts comments from Microsoft sceptics, who know a lot better what Microsoft has been up to. There are comments such as: “Do we need a repeat of FAT? If I see a product’s filesystem using exFAT I will return it.”

Another person says: “The fact the the US Supreme Court recently re-addressed software patents is a move in the positive direction, even though it was not a large move. While much damage has already been done since these huge giants like Microsoft and IBM already have an enormous software patent portfolio, at least there is hope in future software patent releases. Eventually, technology will advance forward and the current software patent portfolios will probably start to become stale, at which point I can see the general public begin to feel the advantages if we make the right decisions today moving forward. But, we must end the monopolies that this huge companies get with their enormous patent portfolios. The trend in software patents granted within the past 30 years or so is staggering, just do some searches on this subject as it is well worth the reads. My hope is that we don’t continue to make the same mistakes moving forward.”

Canon has many patents on physical and mechanical or optical things like lenses. Microsoft has mostly software patents, which may be utterly worthless in the eyes of SCOTUS, as opposed to the USPTO that granted them without scrutiny. The USPTO has just become even more zealous about patents and it approves almost every patent application, even though SCOTUS deems many of those patents too abstract to be patentable (patent lawyers don't quite agree).

Carl Erickson, the “co-founder and president of Atomic Object, a software design and development company founded in 2001,” (based on his introduction) says that “Investors in software startups need to understand that such companies are unlikely to have strong IP protection through patents. Instead, investors should look for evidence of engaged, delighted users, significant market share or the potential for rapid growth, exclusive relationships or special market channels. For a software startup and their investors, these will beat patent pending, any day.”

His whole analysis, however, sometimes (in the text) claims that patents too are needed, with phrases such as:

As I wrote in my last post, protecting your intellectual property isn’t just about patents. It’s important for companies to ensure they own the copyright on their software.

Copyright protects a particular expression, patents protect an idea. The nature of software is such that an idea can be implemented in many different ways, in many different languages, and therefore patent protection on an idea is potentially legitimate and important. So when should you worry about a software patent?

If you’re confused by software patents, you’re not alone. While our legal and business structures will eventually adapt, technology, as usual, is moving faster, and the results aren’t always good or predictable. A recent Supreme Court decision didn’t radically alter the status quo, but reinforced a trend away from some of the sillier past decisions.

Software patents should be dragged to courts and defeated there. There is a valuable precedent now. All these FAT patent deals (Microsoft has been signing them for years) may be as valuable as estate on the Mars.

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