The Public Patent Foundation has some news for us. They just filed a formal request with the USPTO today, asking them to revoke Microsoft's patent on the FAT file system because, they say, it's causing significant public harm. "Microsoft is using its control over the interchange of digital media to aid its ongoing effort to deter competition," the request states. With the request, they filed some prior art to demonstate that the patent was obvious and shouldn't have been granted in the first place.
Interested to see what such a request for reconsideration looks like? They have it online, so we can learn. Just go to the page and click on the top PDF on the page, "REQUEST FOR EX PARTE REEXAMINATION OF A PATENT."
The first paragraph says PubPat respectfully requests ex parte reexamination under 35 U.S.C. Sections 302-307 and 37 C.F.R. Section 1.510 of every claim of US Patent No. 5,579,517 issued Nov. 26, 1996 to Reynolds et al. ("'517 patent") and assigned to Microsoft Corporation "because they are all invalid under 35 U.S.C. Section 103 and their existence is causing significant public harm." On page 4, there is a chart, with what the patent is for on the left side and prior art showing the same thing being done on the right. If you'd like to read about patent law, Bitlaw has some information. Here's the referenced U.S.C. Section 302, which is the part about a request for reconsideration, and for the rest, 303-307, just click on "Next Section". Section 103, which is about a patent having to be non-obvious, is here. And 37 C.F.R. (Code of Federal Regulations) Section 1.510 is here. Here is the patent.
PUBPAT CHALLENGES MICROSOFT PATENT TO PROTECT COMPETITION IN SOFTWARE MARKETS
Patent Office Shown New Evidence Proving FAT Technology was Obvious
NEW YORK -- The Public Patent Foundation filed a formal request with the United States Patent and Trademark Office today to revoke Microsoft Corporation's patent on the FAT File System, touted by Microsoft as being "the ubiquitous format used for interchange of media between computers, and, since the advent of inexpensive, removable flash memory, also between digital devices." In its filing, PUBPAT submitted previously unseen prior art showing the patent, which issued in November 1996 and is not otherwise due to expire until 2013, was obvious and, as such, should have never been granted.
"Microsoft is using its control over the interchange of digital media to aid its ongoing effort to deter competition," states PUBPAT's Request for Ex Partes Reexamination of U.S. Patent No. 5,579,517. "The '517 patent is causing immeasurable injury to the public by serving as a tool to enlarge Microsoft's monopoly while also preventing competition."
Last fall, Microsoft began to demand royalty bearing licenses for the entire portfolio of patents around the FAT File System. However, the fact that Microsoft has not offered licenses for use in Free and Open Source Software has led some to speculate that Microsoft intends to use its patents to fight the competitive threat posed by Free Software.
"We'd like to give Microsoft the benefit of the doubt and believe that they are not adopting a strategy of foreclosing competition through the use of dubious patents," said Dan Ravicher, PUBPAT's Executive Director and Founder. "Unfortunately, their past anticompetitive behavior combined with their recent launch of a comprehensive patent assertion campaign causes us to have serious concerns about their intentions."
Although PUBPAT's filing only directly deals with one patent, the fact that it is the oldest of the patents in the FAT File System portfolio makes it more likely that, once it is held invalid by the Patent Office, each of the other patents will be viewed similarly.
"In the end, our beef is not with Microsoft per se," says Ravicher. "It's with our broken patent system that is completely failing to ensure only deserving patents get issued."
The Request for Reexamination can be found at
Daniel Ravicher, Executive Director, Public Patent Foundation: 212-545-5337;
The Public Patent Foundation ("PUBPAT") is a not-for-profit legal services organization working to protect the public from the harms caused by the patent system. PUBPAT provides the general public, particularly those persons or businesses otherwise deprived of access to the system governing patents, with representation, advocacy, and education. To be kept informed of PUBPAT News, subscribe to the PUBPAT News List by sending an email with "subscribe" in the subject line to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I asked Dan what happens next, and here is his reply:
"The Patent Office has three months to decide whether or not our filing raises 'a substantial new question of patentability.' If they believe it does, then they will order a reexamination of the patent. Microsoft can submit an opening statement regarding the substantial new question, if they want, to which PUBPAT is allowed a response. After that, or if Microsoft doesn't file an opening statement, the reexamination begins and proceeds according to the exact same process as regular examination of a patent application, meaning that PUBPAT is excluded from any further correspondence with the patent office about the matter."
Andrew Orlowski has done a piece on this for The Register, and it includes this additional explanation:
"'Free software is licensed in a way that prohibits royalties - you can't pay Microsoft a license and distribute your software under a free software license,' says Dan Ravicher, executive director of the Public Patent Foundation which has filed the request to invalidate the patent. . . .
"According to the Public Patent Foundation's request, 'the '517 patent is causing immeasurable injury to the public by serving as a tool to enlarge Microsoft's monopoly while also preventing competition from Free Software.' 'Microsoft is using its control over the interchange of digital media to aid its ongoing effort to deter competition from Free and Open Source Software. Specifically, Microsoft does not offer licenses to the '517 patent for use in Free Software. As such, the '517 patent stands as a potential impediment to the development and use of Free Software because Free Software users are denied the ability to interchange media with machines or devices running Microsoft owned or licensed software.'
"Ravicher told The Register that he'd welcome a move by Microsoft to license their portfolio for use in free software under reasonable royalty-free terms."