Microsofts FAT File Patents Upheld

 
 
By Matt Hines  |  Posted 2006-01-11 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office reaffirms two Microsoft patents related to its File Allocation Table technology, which is under dispute by some open-source software supporters.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has reaffirmed a pair of patents held by Microsoft related to its File Allocation Table system, which allows for the use of certain file names in its Windows operating system as well as in many electronic devices and forms of removable media.

In a filing posted to its Web site late Tuesday, the USTPO reversed its previous refusal to uphold the two patents, handed down in October 2005, and said that it would issue new certificates for the intellectual property holdings, ending two years of examination of the patents.

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FAT is an index that Windows or another operating system retains on a hard disk that serves as a point of reference for the clusters of data that has been saved onto the device. While data is stored in clusters distributed across a hard disk in nonsequential order, the FAT system allows records to be organized in a structured manner and for data to be assembled from information distributed across a storage system to be displayed as a single file.

In addition to Windows and some Linux programs, FAT is used in a number of electronic devices such as cameras, and portable media products including USB memory fobs.

The dispute over the validity of Microsofts FAT properties was touched off by the Public Patent Foundation, which argued that it held the "prior art" rights to technologies included in the patents, which are numbered as 5,579,517 and 5,758,352 by the USTPO.

While Microsoft contends that it created the technologies covered by the two patents in the mid-70s, the Public Patent Foundation maintained that the software giant has no right to demand royalties for licensing the FAT system to other companies. The nonprofit organization is focused on pursuing what it believes to be "wrongly issued patents" that make it harder and more expensive for developers to build new technologies.

"Microsoft is very pleased with the decision from the USPTO to uphold the validity of our FAT File System patents," David Kaefer, Microsofts director of business development, said in a statement. "This result underscores the validity of these patents but also the importance of allowing third parties to request re-examinations."

As part of its announcement over the patent win, Microsoft also endorsed a new effort led by IBM to promote higher patent quality along with the USTPO. Officials from the the Redmond, Wash., company have increasingly stumped for broad patent reform to decrease legal disputes among technology providers.

One of the significant problems faced by open-source developers, which use FAT most often to help Linux programs communicate with Windows, is that the widely observed GPL (General Public License) issued by the Free Software Foundation forbids the distribution of programs that use patented technologies necessitating payment of any royalties.

Patent watchdogs expressed dismay over the USTPO ruling, arguing that Microsoft could use the decision to cause major headaches to Linux vendors and users by demanding payment for use of the technology in existing products. Florian Mueller, founder of the NoSoftwarePatents.com Web site, which scrutinizes patents in the European Union, said the ruling sets a dangerous precedent even if Microsoft doesnt pursue such a strategy, and that it illustrates a desire on the part of the software company to become more disruptive to open-source efforts.

Patent watchdogs expressed dismay over the USTPO ruling, arguing that Microsoft could use the decision to cause major headaches to Linux vendors and users by demanding payment for use of the technology in existing products. Florian Mueller, founder of the NoSoftwarePatents.com Web site, which scrutinizes patents in the European Union, said the ruling sets a dangerous precedent even if Microsoft doesnt pursue such a strategy, and that it illustrates a desire on the part of the software company to become more disruptive to open-source efforts.

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