Microsoft is beating the Linux patent drum again, this time against TomTom. Apparently the Linux part of this is TomTom's use of FAT, which would make you laugh out loud if it weren't so sick.
TomTom uses FAT to make it easy for Windows users to copy stuff to or from their GPS and their computer. Cameras do the same thing. So does OS X. Unless you want to annoy Windows users, that's pretty much your choice.
Interoperability is of course part of what makes Microsoft a popular choice among the technologically illiterate. Many companies deliberately adopt open standards to encourage other products to work more easily with theirs; Microsoft deliberately chooses just the opposite. Will your Windows XP machine recognize any open source file systems? You can mount NFS with their "Services for Unix" but I'd guess that's far beyond a typical Windows user's skill set. No, TomTom and everybody else needs FAT, and Microsoft is going to make them pay for the privilege.
Not that they have to pay much. I couldn't find current rates at Microsoft's site, but a few years back the fee was a mere twenty five cents per unit with a cap at $250,000. That's peanuts. You'd eat up more than that in lawyer fees before you got anywhere near to a court date. That, of course, is why everybody Microsoft has sued before has just caved in and paid up. So.. why is TomTom fighting back? That makes no sense.
Groklaw says says it makes no sense for Microsoft either. They seem to think that the Bilski decision of late last year changes everything and that Microsoft's FAT patents are toothless now.
These patents won't be around much longer anyway: by 2017 the last of them will have expired.
Notice this: when Microsoft talks about this case, they seem to want to mention "Linux" much more than "FAT". That's probably because most people would agree with us that suing over FAT use does seem kind of ornery and nasty. Gosh, it makes Microsoft look like a bunch of rapacious, money grubbing s.o.b's with no sense of fair play. Mentioning Linux also doesn't hurt in the FUD department - better stay away from that Linux stuff because you might get sued! So from Microsoft's point of view, it's almost all upside: their legal costs are incredibly small (the team is already up to speed; this is a cookie-cutter suit for them), they get to test FAT against Bilski if TomTom is silly enough to stand up and fight, and in the mean time it's more mud spattered at Linux.
But.. I still don't see why they'd risk the Bilski test. There has to be more to this because it seems to me like the smart move for Microsoft would be to ignore TomTom. Is it worth risking a bad turn on Bilski grounds for a lousy $250,000 or so? Of course it also seems like the smart move for TomTom would be to just pay up because again, it's small money. So here we are: it seems silly on all sides, doesn't it?
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More Articles by Anthony Lawrence © 2012-07-10 Anthony Lawrence
Simplicity is a great virtue but it requires hard work to achieve it and education to appreciate it. And to make matters worse: complexity sells better. ((Edsger W. Dijkstra)