MS’s FAT patent may threaten Linux

Worries over intellectual property can make for strange bedfellows. In the case of Microsoft Corp.’s nearly ubiquitous FAT (file allocation table) file system, it’s Microsoft and the Linux community.

The open-source community has an enormous interest in the outcome of last week’s decision by the United States Patent and Trademark Office to re-examine the patent Microsoft holds on the FAT file system, a format used for the interchange of media between computers and digital devices.

The FAT file system, first developed by Microsoft in 1976, has become the ubiquitous format used for interchange of media between computers and, since the advent of flash memory, also between digital devices. The FAT file system is also used by the open-source Samba software that lets Linux and Unix computers exchange data with Windows computers, and by Linux itself to read and write files on Windows hard drives.

Some in the open-source community, like Eben Moglen, who is a Columbia University law professor, the general counsel for the Free Software Foundation and a board member of the Public Patent Foundation (PubPat), are worried that Microsoft could in the future decide to allege that Linux infringes on those patents and seek a royalty.

That could threaten the very core of Linux, which is licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL) and may not be distributed if it contains patented technology that requires royalty payments.

News source: eWeek


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