Patent issues with card storage

I read from Slashdot that Microsoft is taking legal action against TomTom over a number of alleged patent violations. Three of these are apparently targeted at the Linux kernel in use by TomTom.

Much of the focus of the discussion revolves around the use of FAT and FAT32 storage systems on media cards, and I have to confess this is an issue I hadn't previously considered very deeply. Microsoft has patents on these filing systems, and in fact it is important to note that Windows does not currently support any filing system that isn't one of Microsoft's own, patent entangled file systems.

There are very important, highly anti-competitive consequences to this.

  • In order for media cards to work with Windows - still a practical monopoly offering in the operating system market - these cards have to support a MS entangled filing system.
  • This likely means Microsoft is obtaining a revenue stream for all the licensing on many of these cards and their associated readers.
  • Other operating systems, if they wish to be equally convenient to those using media cards, cameras, media players have no choice but to try and include support for these filing systems, even if they are not technically superior.

I would tend to agree with the observations of many that litigation here seems to be all that remains in a sad absence of innovation, but I would hope that if various legislatures have seen the browser issues as anti-competitive that they will consider issues like these too, especially if Microsoft starts throwing its weight around. It's not in any consumer interest for a single company to enjoy such dominance on such a wide range of products.


Bruce Perens has written a good insightful analysis of this issue that also neatly encapsulates his well thought out view points on software patents in general.

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One thought on “Patent issues with card storage

  1. Philip Herron says:

    Yeah this kind of sucks alot i mean the fat filesystem is widely used and taught because its nice and simple to understand and its quite protable to things like NAND flash etc so it affects much much more than just TomTom etc and linux what about all those digital camera's using fat32 etc for picture storage because is nice and portable 🙂 I hope something is done about this. But i guess microsoft invented it and own the patent but its pretty annoying and awkward and pushes things away for people and other companies making devices and gadgets for windows users even! 🙂 Nice overview colin!

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