This is simply an illustration of what’s wrong with the American patent system. (See Groklaw, http://www.groklaw.net.) The patent law clerks are simply rubber-stamping everything because they don’t know what to do, or because their hands are tied.
There are lots of absurd problems with this…
(1) If the work was done in 1976, how can you claim patent protection based on a patent issued twenty years later, and first begin to do so ten years after it was filed? That’s thirty count’em thirty years, pal.
(2) The “Doctrine of Laches” (see WikiPedia) prevents anyone from “waiting until the opportune time” to assert proprietary rights, and/or to “pick their targets.”
Vigilantibus non dormientibus æquitas subvenit.
Equity aids the vigilant, not the negligent (that is, those who sleep on their rights).
A defense lawyer raising the defense of laches against a motion for injunctive relief (a form of equitable relief) might argue that the plaintiff comes “waltzing in at the eleventh hour” when it is now too late to grant the relief sought, at least not without causing great harm that the plaintiff could have avoided.
If Microsoft wished to assert proprietary rights with regards to FAT32, it is required by law to have done so … consistently and impartially … since the very beginning. Each time, every time, and timely, it must have acted to notify violators as soon as they were identified … and, further, to be constantly vigilant for such violators.
An intellectual-property rights holder is not allowed to “pick and choose” either his targets or his timing. If you intend to prevail at-bar with the assertion that your race-horse was worth a million dollars, you must be prepared to show that you consistently treated the animal like a million-dollar horse… and when you noticed that the horse was out of the barn, you didn’t wait twenty years to do something about it. You might have to demonstrate that the fences were repaired; that prominent signs were displayed; that you didn’t let the neighborhood kids play with the horse. You might have to present the log books from the night-watchman, proving “due diligence,” and so on.
This is why, when a nursery-school paints Peanuts characters on the side of their buildings without a license, they soon-enough get a cease and desist letter. It’s not that United Feature doesn’t like nursery schools… it’s because if they don’t consistently enforce their rights with regard to everyone, they can lose those rights with regard to anyone!
(3) The purpose of this action is clearly to maliciously damage the business of literally thousands of companies which, in good faith and for many years, have used and developed software and hardware that uses the FAT32 file-structure. This is tantamount to abuse of process: it’s a crime to use the Honorable Court as your “Big Stick.”
MS, in the form of SCO, is already doing just that … and it is well known that they have the resources to fight a protracted legal battle with the sole purpose of forcing a defendant to capitulate; essentially extortion.
These abuses are, unfortunately, inherent in the “software patent” system.