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Junk patent stops MS Word sales!?

Carl Sassenrath, CTO
REBOL Technologies
12-Aug-2009 2:46 GMT

Article #0419
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You've probably seen this news: Injunction Blocks Microsoft From Selling Word. Yes, it's quite amazing. Out of personal curiosity, I've scanned the patent, #5787449, and it's complete junk. Garbage.

What they've done is changed the word "symbol" to "metadata" and patented the concept processing of symbols embedded within data using a symbol table and a mapping tree. Yes, straight out of 1962-based language processing software technology, or perhaps even older. This is what happens when you introduce new terms for old ideas. The judge can't see past the words.

You know... I never liked the word "metadata." I knew it was going to be trouble someday. Come on, it's all really just data, interpreted in different contexts. (And, if you want, you can have as many contexts as you need! Hey, where have I heard of that idea before? Quick, patent it.)

The patent (unbelievably being called the "XML patent" by some) was filed in 1994 and was granted in 1998 despite the fact that the web, among with many other software technologies, already existed and used the same methods. Of course, that wasn't called XML, nor did we refer often to tags as metadata. Also, I guess back then patent examiners didn't need to know anything about computer science, the general concepts of language processing, symbolic programming, or even be familiar with how hundreds of existing applications already worked.

It's funny, because the patent claims that it "removes dependency on document encoding technology", but what is metadata anyway? It is document encoding technology! Not that it matters to judges and juries who have a difficult time sending SMS on their phones let alone needing to comprehend prior-art legal arguments made by highbrow lawyers. That's like the mumble on the jumble to most folks.

What's even more surprising is that with such a huge history of prior art related to such techniques the MS lawyers could not prevent the injunction, a major victory for the plaintiff. I guess maybe they didn't save their Lisp Machine, Symbolics, or Emacs documentation. Yep, too precious few of those excellent books are still floating around. Replaced by C# and PHP docs.

Well, you know I'm no MS fan, but the practice of this kind of uncivil law is absolutely tragic for all practitioners of software technology and invention. I actually feel a bit sorry for Bill. (No, not really.)

Hey, did I tell you I have a method of storing values into named cells that have a specific location and address in RAM? It's hot technology, real cutting edge. Patent #76543210.

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