A little-known public interest group this week asked
the U.S. government to revoke a Microsoft patent that
covers the company's Windows file system.
The Public Patent Foundation on Thursday asked the
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to revoke one of
Microsoft's patents related to the FAT (File Allocation
Table) file system, the older of two main systems used
by Windows to store files.
"We are concerned that there is a potential for
Microsoft to use its patent portfolio to foreclose
competition from free and open-source software,"
Public Patent Foundation founder and executive director
Dan Ravicher said in an interview.
The FAT file system is widely used by Linux-based
Samba servers, which use the FAT file system to serve
files to Windows-based PCs as well as by flash memory
drives and digital cameras.
While regulators have forced Microsoft to license
some of its Windows communications protocols, the
software maker has come under pressure to license other
parts of its intellectual property. Last year, Microsoft
said it would seek to license the FAT file system on
reasonable terms, announcing flash memory maker Lexar
Media as its first licensee. However, some in the
open-source community maintain that even a small royalty
to Microsoft is incompatible with distributing software
under an open-source licence.
"Any royalty is not reasonable for free and
open-source software," Mr. Ravicher said.
A Microsoft representative said the company had not
seen the specifics of the PPF's claims, but noted that
the company started licensing the FAT intellectual
property at the request of other technology companies.
"We're unfamiliar with this organization and
unclear why they are so interested in this one
patent," a Microsoft representative said.
"Companies asked Microsoft to license our FAT
specification and patents to help improve
interoperability and we have entered into a number of
Mr. Ravicher said his organization chose the patent
because it was the oldest of the FAT-related patents.
"Typically the oldest [patent] is the narrowest,
the hardest to prove invalid," Mr. Ravicher said.
"If that patent is invalid, we think that sheds a
similar light on the entire portfolio."
Mr. Ravicher said his organization was founded last
fall and is aimed at correcting flaws within the patent
system and has, among other activities, challenged a
wide-ranging patent in the biotechnology area. Mr.
Ravicher said he is the only full-time staffer, while a
number of other attorneys and former patent examiners
work part-time for the group.
"We're not against the patent system in
theory," Mr. Ravicher said. "We're just
against its failures."
Of note, Eben Moglen, a law professor and general
counsel for the Free Software Foundation, is one of the
Free Patent Foundation's two outside directors. The
organization was started with seed money from the
Echoing Green Foundation, Mr. Ravicher said.
In the Microsoft case, Mr. Ravicher said his
organization said it submitted new examples of
"prior art," or previous work that he believes
should render the patent invalid.
The patent office did not have a comment on the
specific case, but a representative said the agency
reviews all such claims and typically decides within
three months whether a complaint raises a substantial
question of patentability. If so, the agency could order
a re-examination of the patent.