Microsoft’s patent on the File Allocation Table disk format has been rejected by the US Patent Office, on the grounds that it should never have been granted in the first place. The Patent Office has ruled that, although the patent was granted in 1996 and is not due to expire until 2013, the technology was obvious and there was prior art. Two big no-nos if you want to register a patent, basically.
The re-examination was prompted by the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT), a non-profit legal services organisation that aims to protect the public from miss-use of the patent system.
Although first introduced in 1982, and largely superceeded by file formats like NTFS, the decision is a blow to Microsoft. FAT is currently enjoying an extended lifespan because it is used in Flash memory cards and by Linux to read DOS and Windows drives, and Microsoft were using the patent as a revenue stream by charging a licensing fee to those who wanted to use the technology. If you buy a Lexar Flash card for your camera, US$0.25 (€0.20) of the cost is for the FAT technology.
Dan Ravicher, PUBPAT’s executive director said: “The Patent Office has simply confirmed what we already knew for some time now, Microsoft’s FAT patent is bogus. I hope those companies that chose to take a license from Microsoft for the patent negotiated refund clauses so that they can get their money back.”
Microsoft have 90 days to put their side of the story forward or lose the patent claim altogether.