Monday, May 30, 2005

Red card for Microsoft?

from mathabanet through ZDnet:

It looks like more people are noticing the ridiculousness coming out of the patent system lately. ZDNet in the UK has spotted some of Microsoft's questionable patents that seem to keep showing up including a new one for looking up phone numbers on your mobile phone. The article puts it best: "It may be that nobody involved in that patent has ever seen, owned or operated a mobile phone. It may be that Microsoft's patent lawyers are genuinely unaware of the concept of prior art. It may be that Microsoft is gaming the system, taking advantage of patent office docility to create a legal minefield disguised with only the very faintest veneer of innovation." And this all comes from a company that claims it wants to reform the patent system. Maybe all of these patents are just being filed to prove their point? Either way, the ZDNet article concludes by suggesting that entities that repeatedly file frivolous patents be given a "red card" and be banned from taking part in the patent system. This sounds like a great idea, except for one tiny detail. The patent office still doesn't seem to think any of these patents are "frivolous." They just keep approving them, and leaving it for the courts to sort out down the road. No wonder lawyers love the patent system.

Microsoft has been criticized over a recent patent on XML (US 6,898,604)

from ZDNet:

The patent, which was granted by the US patent office on Tuesday, May 24, is for XML serialisation and deserialisation — the conversion of a programming object into an XML file and vice versa. It was criticised by software developers as it is a basic programming concept that is essential for applications using XML to share data.

But Microsoft denied that any of its patents are of low quality and claimed that its patents have been praised in research studies.

"As a result of our industry leading commitment to research and development, Microsoft maintains thousands of patents," said the spokesperson. "Studies routinely rank our innovations among the most significant across any industry. A study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2003, which provided an overall assessment of Microsoft’s intellectual property, found that Microsoft continues to develop relevant patents and gave us one of the highest scores on the list of technology companies in that category."

Microsoft did not provide more details on the MIT report, and didn't say why it believes the XML patent is innovative.

Various ZDNet UK readers were angered by the news that Microsoft had been granted a patent for XML serialisation. One reader pointed out that Microsoft should not have been allowed this patent as it is obvious.

"XML was born as a particular format for data storage. A programming object is made up of data. Where is the patentable 'innovation' in using XML for the purpose it's born for?" said one reader.

Software developer Roderick Klein laid the blame at the door of the US patent office. "It just seems people who review patents at patent offices seem to have no skill sets at all when it comes to IT... when you see the incredible amount of crap that gets approved," said Klein.

The first claim of the '604 patent:

A method for serializing an object instance to a serial format, the method comprising steps of:

generating a mapping between an arbitrary annotated source code file and a schema, the arbitrary annotated source code file containing at least one programming type that describes a shape of an object instance and the schema describing a format of a document having a serial format, the mapping defining a correspondence between the shape of the object instance and the format of the document having the serial format; and

converting an object instance corresponding to the arbitrary annotated source code to the serial format by converting at least one of a public property, a public field and a method parameter of the object instance to a document having the serial format based on the mapping.

The "background" contains the statement:

A portion of the disclosure of this patent document contains material that is subject to copyright protection. The copyright owner has no objection to the facsimile reproduction by anyone of the patent document or the patent disclosure, as it appears in the Patent and Trademark Office patent file or records, but otherwise reserves all copyright rights whatsoever.

As an aside, here is an interesting Microsoft patent:

6,754,472 Method and apparatus for transmitting power and data using the human body

First claim:

A network of devices comprising:

a first device for generating a first electrical signal;

a second device including first circuitry requiring an electrical signal from an external source to operate, wherein the second device generates initialization information including at least power requirement information; and

a body of a living creature for coupling the first device to the second device and for conducting the electrical signal from the first device to the second device and the initialization information from the second device to the first device, wherein the first and second devices establish a master and a slave relationship there between.

And another
6,584,185 Telephone abstraction layer and system in a computer telephony system

first claim:
A computer-readable medium having computer-executable components, comprising a telephony component providing core telephony functions, said telephony component including a telephone abstraction layer which transmits abstract telephone control commands in response to operation of said core telephony functions.


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