Microsoft FAT Patent Claim “Bogus”

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.

Public Patent Foundation

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Fraser Lovatt

Fraser Lovatt has spent the last fifteen years working in publishing, TV and the Internet in various capacities, and believes that they will be seperate platforms for at least a while yet. His main interests at the moment are exploring where Linux is taking home entertainment and how technology is conferring technical skills on more and more people. Fraser Lovatt was born in the same year that 2001: A Space Odyssey was delighting and confusing people in the cinemas, and developed a lifelong love of technology as soon as he realised that things could be taken apart, sometimes put back together again, but mostly left in bits or made into something the original designer hadn't quite planned upon. At school he was definitely in the ZX Spectrum/Magpie/BMX camp, rather than the BBC Micro/Blue Peter/well-behaved group. This is all deeply ironic as he later went on to spend nine years working at the BBC. After a few years of working as a bookseller in Scotland, ("Back when it was actually a skilled profession" he'll tell anyone still listening), he moved to England for reasons he can't quite explain adequately to himself. After a couple of publishing jobs punctuated by sporadic bursts of travelling and photography came the aforementioned nine years at the BBC where he specialised in internet technologies and video. These days his primary interests are Java, Linux, videogames and pies - and if they're not candidates for convergence, then what is?