Microsoft FAT Patents Rejected

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2005-10-10 Print this article Print

File allocation table submissions denied over inventorship issues.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has rejected two key Microsoft Corp. patent applications relating to the companys file allocation table file system. But Microsoft officials still hold out hope that the company ultimately will succeed in the quest to patent FAT.

In June of last year, the USPTO said it would re-examine the patent Microsoft holds on FAT, a format used for the interchange of media between computers and digital devices.

That followed the request to re-examine the FAT patent, made in April by the Public Patent Foundation, a nonprofit public service organization.

In September of last year, the patent office initially rejected Microsofts FAT patent application. Last week, the USPTO rejected what are known as the Microsoft 517 and 352 patent applications, involving the long-file-name technology that is central to FAT.

Microsoft officials said the USPTO rejected the applications over an inventorship issue.

"The examiner has requested evidence that all six of the named inventors are properly named as inventors on the patent," company officials said in a written statement. "Microsoft has an opportunity to submit evidence in response to the examiners request and remains optimistic that these issues will be resolved in its favor."

Microsoft officials said their reaction was upbeat because the USPTO did not reject the patent applications on the basis of prior-art claims. In fact, according to David Kaefer, Microsofts director of business development, the USPTO ruled in Microsofts favor on all the FAT prior-art claims, including the prior art submitted by Pubpat.

"Although Im pleased that the PTO has maintained its rejection of the FAT patents, Im disappointed they have withdrawn the prior-art-based portions of the rejections," said Dan Ravicher, executive director of Pubpat, in New York.

"The question over whether these [517 and 352] are quality patents has been settled," said Kaefer in Redmond, Wash. "The public was called in [to submit their Opinions], and these patents stood up."

FAT is used by some open-source software to facilitate the exchange of data between Linux or Unix computers and Windows computers.

Some in the open-source community, such as Eben Moglen, who is a Columbia University law professor, the general counsel for the Free Software Foundation Inc. and a board member of Pubpat, have expressed concern that Microsoft could in the future decide to allege that Linux infringes on those patents and seek a royalty.

That could threaten the very core of Linux, which is licensed under the GNU GPL (General Public License) and may not be distributed if it contains patented technology that requires royalty payments.

"If Microsoft successfully commercializes its six FAT patents—we attacked the oldest and narrowest of them—then it could be possible for Microsoft to argue that anybody using a free-software system that reads and writes to the MS-DOS FAT file system also has to pay a royalty," Moglen told eWEEK previously.

Mary Jo Foley is the editor of

Peter Galli has been a financial/technology reporter for 12 years at leading publications in South Africa, the UK and the US. He has been Investment Editor of South Africa's Business Day Newspaper, the sister publication of the Financial Times of London.

He was also Group Financial Communications Manager for First National Bank, the second largest banking group in South Africa before moving on to become Executive News Editor of Business Report, the largest daily financial newspaper in South Africa, owned by the global Independent Newspapers group.

He was responsible for a national reporting team of 20 based in four bureaus. He also edited and contributed to its weekly technology page, and launched a financial and technology radio service supplying daily news bulletins to the national broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which were then distributed to some 50 radio stations across the country.

He was then transferred to San Francisco as Business Report's U.S. Correspondent to cover Silicon Valley, trade and finance between the US, Europe and emerging markets like South Africa. After serving that role for more than two years, he joined eWeek as a Senior Editor, covering software platforms in August 2000.

He has comprehensively covered Microsoft and its Windows and .Net platforms, as well as the many legal challenges it has faced. He has also focused on Sun Microsystems and its Solaris operating environment, Java and Unix offerings. He covers developments in the open source community, particularly around the Linux kernel and the effects it will have on the enterprise.

He has written extensively about new products for the Linux and Unix platforms, the development of open standards and critically looked at the potential Linux has to offer an alternative operating system and platform to Windows, .Net and Unix-based solutions like Solaris.

His interviews with senior industry executives include Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Linus Torvalds, the original developer of the Linux operating system, Sun CEO Scot McNealy, and Bill Zeitler, a senior vice president at IBM.

For numerous examples of his writing you can search under his name at the eWEEK Website at


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