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Microsoft loses Linux patent battle

Antony Savvas

Microsoft has lost a US Patent Office battle over its ownership of two patents widely used in Linux and Unix environments to store and exchange data.

Microsoft can appeal to the government agency over one of the patents, although the decision on the other is seen as final. However, Microsoft could take both decisions to court.

There is concern that if the patents are confirmed in Microsoft’s name, the software giant will be able to demand royalties from a large number of suppliers in the open-source and Unix environments.

The case for the patent objections was brought by the Public Patent Foundation, which said they were invalid because of “prior art” – in other words, Microsoft tried to register patents after others had already developed similar technology.

Microsoft has rejected the US Patent Office’s decision not to uphold the patents because of issues connected to the filing of its FAT file technology.

The FAT technology is widely used to store files on computers. It is also used by Linux and Unix developers to exchange data between their systems and Windows, and used in the Linux operating system itself to read and write files on Windows hard drives. 

The patent office did not uphold the Public Patent Foundation’s claim that there was prior art in relation to FAT, originally developed for Windows, but said that Microsoft’s current patent registrations were invalid because it had not adequately shown which Microsoft developers had actually developed the technology.

The Public Patent Foundation is a pressure group that campaigns for a fairer patenting process. Microsoft announced its plans to license the FAT format at the end of 2003. So far, few organisations have licensed the technology from the company.


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