Microsoft Licenses exFAT to Third Parties

In a move aimed at supporting future large memory capacity flash devices, Microsoft has started licensing its follow-up to the FAT file system to third parties, the company said Thursday.

Dubbed “exFAT” for “Extended File Allocation Table,” the technology is designed to enable flash memory devices to handle orders of magnitude more memory than the previous file system, known as simply FAT. Microsoft also has a file system used by Windows called NTFS but that is reserved for hard disks.

“The old file systems are not up to standards,” David Kaefer, general manager of intellectual property licensing at Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), told “What we’ve seen is a change in what consumers need,” he added.

As digital devices such as camcorders, cameras, flash memory cards, and mobile phones have proliferated, the size of files and folders has burgeoned as well. Users increasingly want to store and transfer larger amounts of data in the form of pictures, video, and audio.

“The exFAT file system not only facilitates large files for use of audio/visual media, it enables seamless data portability and an easy interchange between desktop PCs and consumer electronic devices,” according to a Microsoft statement.

FAT has been around as long as MS-DOS but can only address up to 32GB of data. By contrast, exFAT supports up to 256TB. “It greatly expands the size of files that flash memory devices can handle,” the statement said.

That translates into storage for “more than 4,000 RAW images, 100 high-definition (HD) movies, or 60 hours of HD recording in a single directory,” the statement added. It also expands the maximum file size above 4GB.

The technology is used in Windows Vista Service Pack 1 as well as in Windows 7. Recently, however, Microsoft has started licensing exFAT to third parties.

The company has already cut licensing deals with Sony, Canon, and Sanyo, Kaefer said. In addition, SanDisk, as a member of the SD Card Association and the Memory Stick standard, has endorsed the adoption of the exFAT file system for use in the new extra capacity storage media, he added.

Microsoft has two different ways that it licenses exFAT. For single-purpose devices like digital cameras or camcorders, licensees pay a flat fee of $300,000. For volume-based devices such as mobile phones, netbooks, and PCs, the company has a different licensing model based on a volume royalty rate, Kaefer said, although he declined to provide any further detail on licensing.

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