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What Are ClearType, FAT Files?

Microsoft on Wednesday announced plans to pursue a royalty-bearing licensing strategy for technologies developed internally, starting with the FAT Allocation Table (FAT) file system and the Subpixel Rendering (SPR) technology within the ClearType brand.

The move comes as part of the software giant's new "overarching policy" to share more of its intellectual property with others -- including competitors -- in the technology industry and company officials announced that two companies had already inked deals to license the FAT file system and ClearType Technologies.

Fremont, Calif.-based Lexar Media will license Microsoft's FAT file system specification and associated intellectual property for use in its digital imaging products, especially in the area of file-system compatibility across computing and consumer electronic devices.

What is FAT File?

The FAT file system is used to keep track of the location and sequence of specific files stored on a PC's hard drive, a floppy disk or a flash memory card. Most operating systems store computer files by dividing the file into smaller pieces and storing them in separate clusters. The FAT file system, first developed back in the 1970s by Microsoft boss Bill Gates, lets the OS keep track of each file within the clusters and identify unassigned clusters for new files.

When a computer user wants to read a file, the FAT file system then reassembles each piece of the file into one unit for viewing. Microsoft explained that the FAT file system was based on the BASIC programming language and was developed to allow programs and data to be stored on floppies.

"Today, the FAT file system has become the ubiquitous format used for interchange of media between computers, and, since the advent of inexpensive, removable flash memory, also between digital devices. The FAT file system is now supported by a wide variety of operating systems running on all sizes of computers, from servers to personal digital assistants," according to information from Microsoft's research unit.

"In addition, many digital devices such as still and video cameras, audio recorders, video game systems, scanners, and printers make use of FAT file system technology."

Pricing for the Fat file system license has been set at 25 cents per unit with a cap on total royalties of $250,000 per manufacturer. The 25 cents per unit fee is available for devices that use removable media to store data, including PDAs, digital cameral, digital camcorders, portable digital audio players.

The FAT file system license, which includes four Microsoft-owned patents, is perpetual.

The company also announced a deal with Wilmington, Mass.-based Agfa Monotype to license the ClearType technology for use in LCDs (Liquid Crystal Displays) -- laptops, tablet PCs, Pocket PCs and flat panel monitors.

ClearType Explained

ClearType was born out of Microsoft's Subpixel Rendering (SPR) technology, which improves text resolution and increases the sharpness of tiny details in displayed text.

The SPR technology, which is used in a variety of Microsoft products under the ClearType brand, works by accessing the individual vertical color stripe elements in every pixel of an LCD screen. Prior to ClearType, Microsoft Research explained that the smallest level of detail that a computer could display was a single pixel. With ClearType running on an LCD screen, features of text as small as a fraction of a pixel in width can now be displayed.

ClearType has been integrated in Windows, Windows-powered devices and the latest Office 2003 productivity suite which means potentially licensees will come from companies looking to build products that do not already run Microsoft software.

Pricing for the license, which includes 10 Microsoft-owned patents, has been set at $1 for PDAs and mobile phones, $2 for flat screen monitors and notebooks and $3 for tablet PCs.

Microsoft said pricing for other device types can be negotiated but would generally fall within the $1 and $3 per unit range.



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