Comments on: Junk patent stops MS Word sales!?
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Comments on: 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.

6 Comments

Comments:

Ladislav
13-Aug-2009 9:57:43
"What's even more surprising is that with such a huge history of prior art related to such techniques the MS lawyers lost their case." - maybe I am not that good at reading, but I thought, that MS lawyers did not lose their case yet?
Carl Sassenrath
13-Aug-2009 13:15:40
Yes, that is true. It's not over, and I probably should not imply that it is. (I will correct the posting.)

However, having been a small bit involved in such large-scale patent cases, I can say that the injunction to stop selling a major product is a strong indication that the court "thinks" you are in a losing position. Substantial deposition, testimony, and arguments have already been presented. Normally a judge would not take such actions lightly unless he had a strong belief that the case would be in favor of the plaintiff, or that the plaintiff was being seriously damaged in the meantime (which is clearly not the case here).

But, of course, we can speculate all day long... the final outcome will be interesting to watch.

EricB
14-Aug-2009 17:11:21
Patent rights and inventions have done more to drive wealth creation and development in United States history, than any other factor. Yes, so much economic value becomes realized in real estate, but what makes the real estate more valuable is those standards of living made possible by the social adoptions of technological developments.

Issues specific to software publishing threaten to upend this admired, two-century old system of precedence that has served us well, to the detriment of historically established individual property rights, and economics of many other industries, as well.

"PATENT TROLLS"?! Did you allow a 15-second soundbite to determine your thinking on this extremely important issue? This straw-dummy tactic may make for appealing headlines, but it conveniently ignores the true underlying problem: starvation of USPTO resources in an era of an explosive increase in the number of applications.

What is needed, is to drastically improve those resources; especially the training, qualifications, and staff size of patent examiners themselves; rather than dismantling a bulwark of our new wealth creation. Current legislative initiatives read as a corporate "wet dream" laundry list set against the historically well established rights and roles of the smaller U.S. inventor. It is a shame to see the IT industry being used to shill this way, without even addressing the actual problem.

Ladislav
17-Aug-2009 2:46:28
"Patent trolls"? - taking into account all the circumstances in this case it may indeed look too harsh.

Putting that aside, to apply the above mentioned patent is "patently nonsense", since:

The option to put formatting into a separate file than the data to which it applies has been used in the IT "industry" long before such a patent was issued, which is well known, so the patent should not be valid in the first place. This practice predates computers, since the examples of storing formatting instructions separately from the manuscripts were frequent even before computers became available.

Generally, the software is protected by copyright laws and that protection has proven sufficient.

The effect of "software patents" is exactly the opposite of helping the progress in IT.

shadwolf
17-Aug-2009 5:25:14
Carl it's not new...

Many are the cases now in day where "industrial" are more turned into grabbing monney through the justice and computing area is completly a mess in that topic.

Most acknoledged cases are Netscape Vs Microsoft or Rambus vs Jedec foundation (samsung, micron etc... they argued the SDRAM was a copy of their RSDRAM just arging the SDRAM design in both sides was the same and blah blah ... in the end those case where disolved in the nature...)

Like richerd mary Stallman would say:" LGPL and public domain are the only way now in days to name a cat a cat without having to face the blind justice ^^"

Henrik
18-Aug-2009 0:51:42
EricB:

Patent rights and inventions have done more to drive wealth creation and development in United States history, than any other factor.

I don't believe it ever has driven software development anywhere but into the ground. If anything, it has scared many small software innovators without a buckload of money out of the US, and possibly to Europe or China instead. Patents for hardware or non-computing related areas could be different, though.

To me, the patent system seems to be a completely artificial way of buying pieces of paper, which you then can use to sue people with to make more money. That's it. It's about ripping money out of your opponent's pocket. You don't have to create anything and sell him anything! Pretty clever. You don't even have to submit patents anymore, because you can trade existing ones. What's written on that paper is less important.

There is an entire self-sustaining ecosystem here (see? just like what exists thanks to MS Office... complexity, complexity) of lawyers, accountants and people of the court. These are people that do not directly work with the software. They have not created it, not thought it up, they are not selling it and they have contributed nothing to testing it, but are paid to "protect" it anyway.

The shuffling of "ideas" on paper and trading money for it, is a systematic waste of time that sustains itself, thanks to the people being paid to manage it. This money comes from customers, who are paying for your software. In a sense, software prices could in many cases be lowered, if it wasn't necessary to pay patent lawyers. Instead it could be used to hire more engineers or spend more time quality testing your software.

It's also why it pisses me off, when even small US software developers have to waste time and money submitting patents to defend themselves from people who want to sue them, simply because, it's possible to sue over trivial software methods, that any decent software developer can come up with in a few minutes over the cost of half a cup of coffee.

"What is needed, is to drastically improve those resources; especially the training, qualifications, and staff size of patent examiners themselves."

Increasing the size of this metasystem might do something for the job situation in short term, but it would be better simply not to allow patents on software at all, and let people work more sensible jobs, freeing up resources for existing patent examiners.

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