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Microsoft Patents 'Phone-Home' Failure Reporting 361

Posted by michael
from the uspto-funding-based-on-number-of-patents-granted dept.
theodp writes "On Tuesday, the USPTO awarded a patent to Microsoft for its Method and system for reporting a program failure, although a much more sophisticated version of this technology has been standard on IBM mainframes for years. Maybe prior art searches will improve once the USPTO moves into the new two million square foot USPTO campus, which includes five interconnected buildings, a twelve-story atrium, a landscaped two-acre park, and a museum."
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Microsoft Patents 'Phone-Home' Failure Reporting

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  • by Chemisor (97276) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @08:29AM (#7112427)
    I'm sorry, ET; I'm afraid we can't allow you to send that signal... Microsoft, you know...
    • If Windows phoned home, and nobody answered, did the error really occur?

      In other news, after the release of Windows XP service pack 947, Microsoft has suffered a complete DDOS attack as every Windows XP based computer in the world tried submitting a bug report at the same time.

  • by Feztaa (633745) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @08:29AM (#7112429) Homepage
    By awarding obvious and unoriginal patents, the USPTO's plan was to amass a ton of money so they can have wasteful, luxurious campuses...

    Next we'll be reading about how each patent clerk gets his own stripper and lapdances are mandatory every hour on the hour.
    • You know, I have heard that strippers and lap dances were part of the employee benefits program at a lot of dot coms!

      Later,
      -Slashdot Junky
    • strippers and lapdances are punishment, not benefits, so let em have them
    • by Speare (84249) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @08:43AM (#7112519) Homepage Journal
      [RANT]

      Patents are not about who is right, or who is first; patents are about who will sue.

      The US PTO is a money-making service for the government, and this fact is why it operates as it does.

      There is a misconception that it is the central duty of the PTO to form a blockade against granting patents. The PTO can and will block applications where there's heavy similarity with prior art or existing patents, but that's really just a guideline to using the service, not the core function.

      The meager regulatory behavior also weakens further in tough economies, because Big Business believes that having patents, even if they are untenable, will generate revenue; the administrations can open the floodgates at will.

      The PTO's purpose is to grant patents for a fee, and it's wholly suited to do so.

      The application vetting process of the PTO is a cost center for the operation of the PTO. This is akin to saying that customer service is a cost center for the operation of AT&T. It is required, but they'll cut costs as much as they can get away with.

      To fix the patent application vetting process, two things must happen:

      • Congress must stop using the PTO's filing fees as a revenue source for other pet interests instead of the PTO's own budget, and
      • The PTO needs to allow third parties to aid the vetting process by challenging potential patents before they're granted.

      As of 15 March 2001, the USPTO has changed their policies to solve that second problem. They can now publish patent applications before the patent itself is awarded to the applicant. Third parties may now submit "helpful" arguments against controversial applications. The USPTO can then weigh obviousness against challenges without incurring the costs of doing all the searching themselves.

      Breaking patents by finding simple prior art is not enough for most cases. Patents already granted are almost never cracked, certainly not by someone using an independent third party's prior art. In the famous Heinlein/Waterbed case [vt.edu], the patent was denied before it was ever granted by the Patent Office. Once a patent has been granted, the Patent Office rarely will get involved in disputes; that is a matter for the courts.

      [/RANT]

      • by mavenguy (126559) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @09:42AM (#7112937)
        This is absolutely true; it has become even worse since I left the place over 10 years ago. And it goes a bit further than just being in favor of granting patents as a matter of principle; I will just comment on one aspect of the issues raised in the parent.

        Apart from the often discussed issues of patentability of software patents, and, indeed, the whole issue of whether all intellectual property is proper, there is a significant institutional culture issue that has a strong influence on how the Office functions that took root several decades ago and has, regretfully, increased, monotonically, over time. The management attitude, in a nutshell, is that patents aren't "examined", they are "processed". The examination process is driven by production "goals"; to be rated in the key rating category of "Production Goal Achievement" as "fully successful" you must have at least 95%; less than that you are marginal; less then 90% you are "unsatisfactory", meaning your entire rating is "unsatisfactory" meaning a "90 day letter" to get it "fully successful" else you are fired. Also there are other time related requirements to meet, such as no amended application pending more than two months without an action. Persons get fired (yes, this does happen) almost always for low production or exceeding time limits for actions, almost never for improperly allowing claims.

        About the only time you ever get static for improper allowance is when the management doesn't like you (not a team player, being active in the union, etc.) but your "numbers" are all good, so then they will strain and try to misinterpret stuff to make a crappy rejection (which, BTW, is another way they can ding you, if, in their judgement, your own rejections are not "justified")

        I can say, from my experience, that there have been good and consciencous folks, some real turkeys (but who produce > 100% all the time and don't make blatent errors; they are mangement pets and are often groomed as future managers, making the old management culture self perpetuating); the vast majority of the working stiffs want to do a good job, the the management culture is just totally antithetical to a good, healthy and balanced work environment.
      • If successfully filing a patent cost x USD to the submitter and if unsuccessful filing of a patent (due to prior art, obviousness, etc...) cost 5*x USD, it would encourage PTO to seek ways to block a patent to generate revenue. It would also prevent companies from filing too obvious patents because it would just end up costing them.
        Combine this with an independent free-for-all prior art submission period and it just might turn out to be something sane.
      • The US PTO is a money-making service for the government

        Seems pretty obvious to me. Government profits off everything it does, because government cannot "fail" as private business can. When your revenue is acquired through force, rather than voluntary trade, the concepts of risk and loss are eliminated. Even when a government program fails miserably, government still profits. I'll cite the "war on drugs" as an obvious example.

    • "By awarding obvious and unoriginal patents, the USPTO's plan was to amass a ton of money so they can have wasteful, luxurious campuses"

      Then perhaps a business model where they get $5 for approving a patent but $500,000 for finding prior art themselves would get them and the development community working together again, with some level of trust?
      • Perhaps we could develop a Slashdot reading model which understands that a patent is really about the claims, not about the abstract or a simple short phrase summarizing the patent.

        For God's sake, any patent can be summarized into a phrase making it sound obvious, and most patents are actually about some marginally improved twist on a mature technology. That's why they have things like cites of previous patents.

        On Slashdot, any new patent gets described in a way that makes a caveman beating two rocks toge
        • by AJWM (19027) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @11:37AM (#7113948) Homepage
          Most patents are actually about some marginally improved twist on a mature technology.

          Yeah, which is why most patents are obvious to someone skilled in the art. That latter phrase is a key part of the "obviousness" test, and what may well be unobvious to the lay person or the person only casually familiar with an art really is obvious to someone who has practised it for years.

          Oh, and your comparison of subpixel addressing is misguided. Yes, Woz's color generation circuit per se didn't have anything to do with subpixel addressing -- except that it took advantage of the well known (to video engineers, anyway) aliasing effect of a high spatial frequency monochrome signal on the NTSC chroma signal (which is why you shouldn't wear pin-stripes on camera). Inverting that makes a direct relationship between color and specific subpixel areas that get illuminated, just as with the LCD-based subpixel addressing method. They are both a simple mapping of subpixel-area-desired -> pixel-color. The fact that the reasons it works is different for LCDs and synthesized NTSC video is irrelevant to the fact that the same method is used.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 02, 2003 @08:29AM (#7112432)
    Method and system for reporting a program failure

    They patented the BSOD?
  • Museum (Score:3, Funny)

    by allanj (151784) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @08:30AM (#7112436)

    My guess is the museum will hold long gone stuff like "search for previous art".

  • by Max Romantschuk (132276) <max@romantschuk.fi> on Thursday October 02, 2003 @08:30AM (#7112437) Homepage
    A bit from the abstract: Method and system for reporting program failures. The system extracts information about a failure in a program module, such as the location of the failure, and establishes communication with a repository, such as a server.

    Don't you just love how vague this is? It could cover almost anything, including embedded things like elevators, automated ovens and whatnot...

    OK, I didn't read the whole thing, but the abstract just goes to show how little is needed these days to patent software. Argh.
    • by illuvata (677144)
      The abstract is not the real patent. it is only there to make skimming them easier, and judging the value of a patent by its abstract is like only looking at the title of a book before judging it
      • The abstract is not the real patent. it is only there to make skimming them easier, and judging the value of a patent by its abstract is like only looking at the title of a book before judging it.

        I'm sure you are right in every respect, but shoudn't the abstract reflect the contents of a patent in a truthful way? If all abstracts are this general how do we differentiate one patent from another in a similar field at all?
        • by stubear (130454)
          "If all abstracts are this general how do we differentiate one patent from another in a similar field at all?"

          Oh, I don't know. Perhaps you RFTP and not rely on the abstract? If two seem similar you need to do further investigation of the patents themselves, not just stop at the abstract and say "loo, the abstract for patent A says it affects wigets in this manner and the abstract for patent B affects wigets in the same or very similar manner." The patent itself will explain what the difference is and
    • The patents are making no sense at all lately. It seems they want to patent everything under the sun. Maybe they will patent the patent system of awarding nonsensical patents!!
    • Microsoft also will so patent the ability to turn error reporting off. [windows-help.net]

      Thus, you'll have to pay to use it... or pay to not.

      The good news is that slashdot will soon we patenting the right to slam microsoft. Due to the grant demand... slashdot will be rich beyond its wildest dreams and give free subscriptions to us all.

      Davak
    • Stratus prior art (Score:5, Interesting)

      by jesup (8690) * <[randellslashdot] [at] [jesup.org]> on Thursday October 02, 2003 @08:44AM (#7112526) Homepage
      In 1984 our Stratus 200 fault-tolerant 'minicomputer' (68010-based) would let you yank a running CPU, and it would phone home to Stratus, they'd check the system info reported and if needed run remote diagnostics, and the phone would ring and they'd tell you to put the CPU back in (oh, and the system wouldn't even slow down).

      Haven't read the patent, but sounds like prior art to me.
    • On September 24, the European Parliament gave its initial approval to a 'Directive' on the 'Patentability of Computer-Implemented Inventions'. Before it did, however, it threw in loads of amendments, some of which were aimed at stopping these US practice of patenting 'business methods and software'. You can read more on e4engineering here [e4engineering.com].
  • Netscape Talk Back? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bjb (3050) * on Thursday October 02, 2003 @08:30AM (#7112439) Homepage Journal
    Wasn't Netscape's talk back feature available in 1996 when Netscape Communicator 4.0 came out? That was certainly a "phone home problems" system, though you had to enable it first. I haven't seen much difference, from my perspective, between what Windows 2000/XP has and what Talk Back does.
    • by twocents (310492) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @08:39AM (#7112496)
      Netscape is mentioned in the text of the patent:


      To gather more information about a crash, different approaches have been taken. For example, America Online has the ability to determine the location of a crash of Microsoft's "INTERNET EXPLORER" web browser and report this information to Microsoft. However, other information regarding the state of a user's machine at the time of the crash is not known and it is difficult to distinguish between different crashes. Without this valuable information, not much can be done to determine whether there is a bug and, if so, correct the bug. Other approaches have been taken to tackle the problems of failures. For example, Netscape's "COMMUNICATOR" web browser includes a quality feedback agent to report a crash to Netscape, although it is not known what information is reported to Netscape. Moreover, both of these approaches apply to fatal crashes, i.e., when the operating system has decided to kill the application. Thus, there is a need for a method and system for reporting non-fatal crashes, such as when the operating system continues executing the application's code.
      • by Bigby (659157)
        This states in plain text how Microsoft just implemented an idea differently. That doesn't make a patent valid. Patents are for NEW ideas, not new implementations of ideas.
        • by inburito (89603)
          You got it all backwards!

          Ideas are not patentable!!! Only implementations are patentable! Hence, Microsoft making a specific non-obvious implementation of an already known idea does actually qualify as patentable.

          That said, now supposing that the patent is too broad and the clauses encompass prior art then there is a case of stricking out the clauses in question and perhaps invalidating the whole patent.
      • by Mr. Moose (124255)
        Thus, there is a need for a method and system for reporting non-fatal crashes, such as when the operating system continues executing the application's code

        HEY! Windows is able to crash AND continue??? That's a new one. Why didn't they patent this?
    • Yep, Netscape used (and still continues to use, in the Mozilla project (no longer a part of Netscape)) Talkback software from Full Cirle Software (now SupportSoft it seems). It definitely detects a program crash, and then subsequently sends info on the crash back to netscape/mozilla servers. From all accounts, it's been instrumental in getting good data about Mozilla and improving the code. I remember a couple of incidents where talkback data was helpful in fixing crasher bugs and it's also being used to
    • by derossi (174695)
      I am one of the two people who inveted Talkback (aka the Netscape Quality Feedback Agent).

      We showed this technology to Microsoft early in 1998. We outlined the whole process, and nothing in their abstract describes any innovation over what we showed them.

      The discussions in that meeting were held under NDA. As a small company, we had little choice but to use Microsoft's NDA. Their version allows them to use anything they "remember" as long as they don't disclose our specific confidential information.

      We di
  • talkback (Score:3, Informative)

    by smartin (942) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @08:31AM (#7112440)
    Netscape has done this for years.
    • Re:talkback (Score:5, Informative)

      by darkpurpleblob (180550) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @08:47AM (#7112551)
      Netscape has done this for years.
      Yep. This is even noted in the patent:
      To gather more information about a crash, different approaches have been taken. For example, America Online has the ability to determine the location of a crash of Microsoft's "INTERNET EXPLORER" web browser and report this information to Microsoft. However, other information regarding the state of a user's machine at the time of the crash is not known and it is difficult to distinguish between different crashes. Without this valuable information, not much can be done to determine whether there is a bug and, if so, correct the bug. Other approaches have been taken to tackle the problems of failures. For example, Netscape's "COMMUNICATOR" web browser includes a quality feedback agent to report a crash to Netscape, although it is not known what information is reported to Netscape. Moreover, both of these approaches apply to fatal crashes, i.e., when the operating system has decided to kill the application. Thus, there is a need for a method and system for reporting non-fatal crashes, such as when the operating system continues executing the application's code.
      But the key thing is that Netscape's error reporting only occurred in the case of a fatal crash, whereas Microsoft's patent covers non-fatal program failures as well.
      • by roystgnr (4015)
        But the key thing is that Netscape's error reporting only occurred in the case of a fatal crash, whereas Microsoft's patent covers non-fatal program failures as well.

        Well, then it's a good thing they patented that difference so that the rest of us could figure out how to do it, isn't it? Can I patent a version that covers periodic status reports, too?
      • I think to be patentable the invention needs to be non-obvious. Whatever your definition of obviousness is, I doubt, that MS feature can be considered non-obvious.

        If it can, please enjoy the list of things that I am going to patent as soon as I finish this post:

        • 9-button mouse
        • 6GHz processor
        • 130-key keyboard
        • word-processor that can open PDF files
        • etc., etc.
      • Re:talkback (Score:3, Insightful)

        by AJWM (19027)
        Microsoft's patent covers non-fatal program failures as well.

        So, what's a "non-fatal program failure"? Does that mean it's just wounded, but will get better? Does that mean the program is going to phone home every time the user tries to open the wrong kind of file or the app runs out of memory or the user makes an error? I hope Microsoft is planning on increasing their bandwidth...
  • But at IBM (Score:2, Funny)

    by TerryAtWork (598364)
    It's called the Big Blue Screen of Death, right?

  • With Norton products scheduled for product activation starting with Antivirus 2004, I wonder if Mircosoft considers phone home technology part of their greater product activation scheme. It would be amusing watching Symantic and Mircosoft battle it out. :)
  • No need (Score:5, Funny)

    by darkstar949 (697933) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @08:31AM (#7112445)
    However, we all know that Microsoft has no need for error reporting software.
  • Contestation period (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Zarhan (415465) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @08:32AM (#7112454)
    We had a little seminar on patent system and patents in general at our company. As such, I asked some questions about software patents and these seemingly trivial patents like "one-click shopping". The guy responded that even though the Patent Office may grant the patent, all patents have (IIRC) 9 month period when others can comment on it and have it taken down if they have sufficient basis (such as prior art). Even after the period, they can still be taken down with a court ruling, but then the process is of course more expensive.

    He mentioned that most of the more controversial ones, including the one-click shopping, have been contested and thrown away a long time ago. Can someone confirm this?

    I'm not sure whether I should have believed everything, (mostly I think they were trying to goad the developers into thinking that software patents that were-soon-to-be reality here in Europe are a good thing), but just my two cents..
  • Someone needs to point out to the judiciary, if not the USPTO itself, that this is getting beyond a joke.

    Take the car as an example. If Mercedes (or whoever it was who made the first car) had tried to patent the idea of putting four wheels together and putting a box on them to carry passengers, etc on a horseless carriage then, by USPTO standards, a patent would have been granted even though the arrangement was already commonplace - it's just a reworking of a horse-drawn carriage.

    But, because this was a "
  • They're nice buildings but I just can't imagine the traffic they bring. Great now my mornings of taking a 15 minute drive to work, which is already 30 mins b/c of traffic, will now be about 45 mins. Lovely isn't it?

    I guess the one good thing is my dad is doing a lot of the work for planning out the interior of the building. Some huge 3d plans are on his comp at home. Man those things he's built up are awesome!
  • Maybe prior art searches will improve once the USPTO moves into the new two million square foot USPTO campus, which includes five interconnected buildings, a twelve-story atrium, a landscaped two-acre park, and a museum."

    Don't be silly -- once they have the new digs, they'll have even less reason than now to look outside of their own records.

  • by the bluebrain (443451) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @08:36AM (#7112481)
    • 13. The method of claim 12, wherein the new entry comprises the location of the location of the failure.
    errmmmm ... huh?

    / damn. I think MS is trying a buffer overflow on my brain ...
    • 13. The method of claim 12, wherein the new entry comprises the location of the location of the failure.
      errmmmm ... huh?

      what? you've never used handles before?
  • IANAPL nor did I read the patent....

    But, I was doing this in 1997 at a small company just as a best practice.

    For a larger prior art example, how about all those copiers that you hook up to a phone line that calls someone when something breaks so that the repairman will show up with the right parts? Surely those devices run software.

  • by swissmonkey (535779) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @08:38AM (#7112489) Homepage
    Neither IBM's method nor Netscape's method were able to diagnose the failure and point the user to a fix.

    This feature is clearly specified in the patent, which the moderator obviously didn't read before making his comment about IBM's prior art.

    So this patent is perfectly valid, as no other bug reporting system known currently has this capability.
    • by matthew.thompson (44814) <matt@NoSpam.actuality.co.uk> on Thursday October 02, 2003 @08:47AM (#7112549) Journal
      You obviously haven't tried this feature out have you.

      They have a very similar link in Event Viewer in the newer OSes. Click here to find out more about this message.

      Click the link and you get taken to a page whic, as far as I can tell, just tells you that they have no further information on that error message.

      Meanwhile MS are collating more and more information on what software is running on their customers' machines.
      • Hasn't Real software done this for a long time?
      • How does that compare to this:

        "Install our free software, send crash reports to our database automatically, and check to see if a fix is known. Join computer users, software developers, and IT professionals from around the world; working together to eliminate computer crashes."

        -- <http://www.bugtoaster.com/>
      • by Anonymous Coward
        Crashes that are reported to Microsoft via this system (known internally as Watson, not Dr. Watson, BTW) are "bucketized" by dll, version, module, offset. No PII is collected in the basic crash reporting.

        Developers often use the crash bucket analysis to focus on high-hit buckets, but other kinds of analysis can be (crashes per module, etc).

        A developer or tester can ask for regkeys to be sent back, files off the machine, or a minidump. If those things are asked for, then a different, more detailed user in
    • Wrong ... (Score:2, Informative)

      by cgh4be (182894)
      I know for a fact that on the pSeries (Unix) and zSeries (Mainframe), the system includes a separate service processor that does just exactly that. So even if there is some sort of catastrophic failure of the main system, the service processor sees it, phones IBM, and their service guy shows up in an hour with the exact part that needs to be replaced. I think I would call this prior art.
    • Three words: IBM AS/400 ECS

      I should say iSeries ofcourse. I'm not sure when ECS was added, but it was in atleast OS/400 V3R4 and later. It does differ from the MS system though, it detects hardware faults too.

      Detects hardware/software faults
      Calls IBM
      Downloads/orders PTFs

      How is that NOT prior art?

    • By definition (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 02, 2003 @09:11AM (#7112706)
      "So this patent is perfectly valid"

      There's no such thing as a valid software patent.

      What most of you snot-nosed kids don't realize is that before the 90's, there was *no such thing* as software patents.

      And despite this, lets look at what was invented:
      Mainframes
      PC's
      The Internet (yes!)
      Client/Server
      Web Browsers
      Routers
      programming languages

      Holy cow, why would people invent all this software if there was no patent?

      Since we've had software patents, we've invented...uh.... Well, One click shopping and Microsoft Phone home.

      I'll let the reader decide which is a better environment for innovation .
    • Neither IBM's method nor Netscape's method were able to diagnose the failure and point the user to a fix.

      Error! You have attempted to play unauthorized music which is controlled by the RIAA. Your MSN account has been charged $150,000 for the violation.

      While this sounds like a feature that could be put to good use if implemented correctly, I can't imagine that Microsoft will be able to resist the urge to abuse it. With DRM, signed applications, and "trusted" computing, the odds it would get abused are

    • by harriet nyborg (656409) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @09:42AM (#7112938)
      So this patent is perfectly valid..

      Yeah, sure.

      The patent includes a list of the prior art which was considered by the examiner during prosecution.

      Here is the list from the patent:

      U.S. Patent Documents 5193178 Mar., 1993 Chillarege et al. 714/25
      5790780 Aug., 1998 Brichta et al. 714/46
      5928369 Jul., 1999 Keyser et al. 714/47
      5944839 Aug., 1999 Isenberg 714/26
      5948112 Sep., 1999 Shimada et al. 714/16
      5974568 Oct., 1999 McQueen 714/38
      6029258 Feb., 2000 Ahmad 714/46
      6357019 Mar., 2002 Blaisdell et al. 714/38
      6381711 Apr., 2002 Chiang et al. 714/48
      6412082 Jun., 2002 Matsuura 714/38

      Just 10 prior art documents. All US patents.

      Often, when only US patent documents are cited, it is the examiner who has done the searching.

      What probably happened here is the attorneys at Merchant & Gould filed an application with even broader claims and NO prior art. The examiner searched the original claims and found enough prior art for a rejection. After some amendments (and some more searching) the examiner could no longer quickly find material on which to base her rejection and she was BY LAW obligated to issue the patent.

      I would challenge the validity of this patent simply by the appearance of a lack of disclosure from Microsoft. There is not one technical journal, not one product description, no one non-US patent document cited by the world's largest software company considered to be "material" to the examination of this application. This is on its face not credible.

      Examiners usually do a pretty good job when they have the most relevant prior art in front of them. Lack of prior art for software at the USPTO is one of the principal problems facing the USPTO.

      When the world's largest software company apparently does NOTHING to aid and assist the government's examination of its applications for patent, this is not good faith. This is abuse.

    • by aug24 (38229)
      You 'obviously' didn't read the text at the very top of the page at IBM:

      The eServer self-management technologies enable the server to protect itself, to detect and recover from errors, to change and configure itself, and to optimize itself, in the presence of problems and changes, for maximum performance with minimum outside intervention. [My emphasis.]

      Sounds to me like prior art. So, not so insightful after all, huh?

      J.

  • by MadKeithV (102058) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @08:39AM (#7112495)
    The patent seems to indicate that Microsoft is focusing on improving the reliability of its software through analysis of failures in the wild.

    Now, I don't know about you, but I find that a pretty bad way to go about improving your software. "Yeah it's buggy now, but allow us to analyse the gazillion crashes and we'll be able to reduce them to just a few hundred thousand."

    Microsoft patents this, and thereby makes sure that no-one else gets to use this way of working (because we all know how happy Microsoft is about granting licenses to competitors). That's a GOOD THING. Competitors will be forced to use methods like improving the quality of the software through design, not PRODUCING buggy software in the first place, instead of pissing your users off by not only crashing software, but sending a bunch of data across your network, potentially complaining about not having an active connection, and opening up all kinds of exploits by triggering faults deliberately etc. etc.

  • excertp : (Score:2, Funny)

    by borgdows (599861)
    Despite the best efforts of software developers, software programs inevitably fail at one time or another. One type of failure is a crash. A crash occurs while a program module is running and results in the suspension of operation of the program module. Crashes are frustrating to users and, in some cases, may cause the user to lose work.

    oh my god!
    isn't it supposed to be a feature??
  • On Tuesday, the USPTO awarded a patent to Microsoft for its Method and system for reporting a program failure,

    Yeah, so it's justified. I mean, other OSes display cryptic error messages, "guru meditation" errors (amiga), oopses, kernel panics or bombs with all kinds of unintelligible information only hackers can use.

    Microsoft, on the other hand, introduced the large blue screen-wide postage stamp, so you *know* immediately it's time to hit that button next to the floppy drive, without having to read idiot
  • Rob's Pattent Trade Office will grant you any patent you like! You even have a choise of blue or yellow stripes on the certificate, so what are you waiting for..

    Never mind these useless USPTO certs, RPTO is the wave of the future. Get them while they're hot!
  • And it's been around for a fairly long time...a guy in Canada named Sean McGuire wrote it, and a lot of people use it. It is client/server and it uses port 1984 tocommunicate.

    ttyl
    Farrell
  • by (startx) (37027) <slashdot@unspunproducti o n s . com> on Thursday October 02, 2003 @08:42AM (#7112515) Journal
    *cough*netscape feedback agent*cough*
  • by rlp (11898)
    Tandem (bought by Compaq, bought by HP) FT boxes (both Unix and Non-Stop OS) had the capability of literally phoning home (a Tandem monitoring center) to report the failure of a single component. Often a customer would be surprised when a service rep "spontaneously" showed up with a replacement part without being called by the customer.
  • I meant, produce enough prior art that the PO didn't find that shows that Microsoft's solution is not unique? Or if it is unique, ammend the patent such that it is less sweeping?
  • I am not against software patents in certain cases.
    But some of the software patents that have been granted are simply stupid.

    Is the push from most folks to ban software patents altogether? or simply to make the patent process better(if that is possible)?

    • I share the US Supreme Court's opinion that software is not statuatory material for a patent, that all pure-software patents are invalid, and that patents on systems that include software must have novel invention outside the software portion of the system. The justices and I agree that patenting software is equivalent to patenting mathematical algorithms, which is explicitly not allowed.
  • As did their Clariion RAID arrays.
  • Whichever Presidential candidate declares that they will level the USPTO, fire every employee who has any decision-making ability, and rebuild the patent system from the ground up, gets my vote!

    I think this insanity has gone beyond the need for reform... the problems with the system have been obvious for years, and nothing has been done aside from making lots of cash giving out frivilous and blatently invalid patents. The system needs to be overhauled, and the people who let this happen need to be keelhau
  • Phone home itself is an obvious application.

    MS was granted a patent on a very specific phone home -implementation-.

    I hate bad software patents as much as the next guy, and that's why I took it upon myself to get educated on the process and language; and that's why I -read- these patents.

    Their patent covers a phone-home architecutre that:

    . detects the failure (via exception handling)
    . locates the source of the failure
    . -asks the user if they want to allow phone home-
    . phones home to a repository (if allo
    • by VargrX (104404) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @09:58AM (#7113027) Journal
      So sayeth Weasel:

      Their patent covers a phone-home architecutre that:


      . detects the failure (via exception handling)
      . locates the source of the failure
      . -asks the user if they want to allow phone home-
      . phones home to a repository (if allowed)
      . looks up the failure in the repository to determine if there is any request for additional information to gather for that particular type of failure (or by particular application that failed)
      . gathers the requested additional information from the failed machine
      . transmits all the desired information to the repository.
      . searches the repository for any existing fix for the problem
      . transmitting the fix to the failed machine and applying it
      . if no preexisting instance of the failure exists, creating a new instance

      further, the repository can be local or remote, as specified in a setting located on the client machine.

      Gnome, and Gnome based, apps have been doing this when they crash for quite some time now. They offer the enduser the choice of submitting the PR for the crash (which can be either local, or remote, depending on installation configuration), or checking out the gnomeapp crash page (which, again, can be local or remote, depending on the config).
      It's that easy to work around it. They're just protecting themselves from direct copycatting as a matter of routine.

      I've often wondered just who Microsoft is copy-catting for this.....
      • I'm not up on my gnome utils - but if it predated MS' phone home implementation (first released with XP i believe, though possibly in some distros of 2k server) then it woudl indeed be prior art.

        remember, this patent -only- covers the exact steps listed. So if another phone-home app didn't host fixes in their repository, or didn't allow automatic install of those fixes, or didn't check the repository for requested additional info then it is not at all affected.
    • IBM's 'phone home' system is actually pretty cool. More often than not, if there is a problem with the hardware, the first time you notice is when you get a phonecall from an IBM technician, telling you your machine called them to report a failure with this and that component, and what time it will suit you for them to come and replace the component.

      Gathering all the additional information doesn't seem that useful for this system, as IBM will have all this info in their database, all they need is the seria
    • I hate bad software patents as much as the next guy, and that's why I took it upon myself to get educated on the process and language; and that's why I -read- these patents.

      Good job. I think this is one of the bad ones:
      The idea is very simple. Prior art or not, it ought to be unpatentable for "lack of inventive step". (In a sensible patent system, that is).

      The actual coding is a matter of much perspiration and should be protected. That's what copyright is for. I think the US should follow the lead
      • I tend to disagree that there is no inventive step in their process.

        I think the idea that the repository potentially holds additional instructions to request further diagnostic information is a suitably inventive step. Eg A request to record particular data locations not generally gathered for every crash, but requested for a particular app/platform/exception type.

        I don't think that step is immediately obvious, and it definitely increases the effectiveness of the system. The fact that IBM has had a phon
  • by Ender Ryan (79406) <EINSTEIN minus physicist> on Thursday October 02, 2003 @09:32AM (#7112867) Journal
    About 6 years ago, my company had some WinNT webservers. The fucking things always crashed, got DoS'ed, etc. Anyway, I wrote a little monitoring script that would ping and grab a document from the webserver every 5 minutes to make sure it was still running. When it crashed, and it did often, it would pick up the modem and dial my house, my boss's house, and my coworkers house. It did that so damn often that my boss told me to take his number off the dial list.

    Anyway, I didn't read the patent yet, but does it have something to do with reducing the annoyance of phoning home everytime one of their shit products fails?

    Now that would be spectacular, and something worth patenting.

    We don't use windows on servers anymore...

  • by MosesJones (55544) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @09:38AM (#7112912) Homepage

    And did anyone notice the references... that REFERENCE the IBM patents from 1983 that are used on the mainframes. Microsoft have "refined" the IBM patent and thus created their own patent that refers to but is not identical to the IBM one.

    So who ever made the IBM mainframe comment didn't get very far in reviewing the application... its the first bloody reference on the page.

    IBM already hold the base patent here, so the objective here is to avoid being sued by IBM by getting your own patent. The real question is what is new here.

    And this


    16. The system of claim 15, wherein the repository is a remote server and wherein the failure reporting executable communicates with the remote server using a web browser program module residing on the user's computer.


    Could be it. IBM don't specify a web browser. But is this REALLY enough for a brand new patent ?

    And should everyone be paying cash to IBM to do this anyway ?
  • by Lodragandraoidh (639696) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @09:41AM (#7112930) Journal
    Is there a USPTO mailing list for new patent application review (better yet for software patent review) prior to the granting? I would love to get on that list.
  • Don't Xerox copiers phone home when they need service? Or is that different than phoning home "over the internet" because your product "experienced errors"?
  • Their Symmetrix Products phone home, when their is a fault on the box, in hardware, firmware, or software I believe. They recently enhanced it in partnership with oracle I believe to cause the box to phone home to Oracle if something goes wrong with the Oracle databases hosted on the box.
  • The support package that came with the VAX 9000 included Symptom Directed Diagnosis daemons that would automatically call Field Service when a component was about to blow. You might not know anything was amiss until FS called to schedule installation of the replacement. Now, this was automatic failure reporting for hardware, rather than software, but I don't see any essential difference in the phone-home idea. (Mmmm, VAXsim, SPEAR, it all comes back to me now....)

    And then there's the TalkBack stuff that
  • If the anyone says that the new building will make all the difference in the world, then we need to re-examine all patents awarded during their stay in the old building.

    Moving into a new "campus" will improve the USPTO? I doubt it. Moving the employees into new digs makes them more comfortable, it doesn't improve the process.

    If we moved the Senate into a brand new building, would the Senate do a better job? Doubt it. If anything, the new building would probably distract them and slow the system do
  • Read The Fine Patent (Score:4, Informative)

    by crucini (98210) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @12:21PM (#7114447)
    The specific innovation in this patent is that after the client "phones home", the server can request additional data. I didn't see that in a cursory scan of the linked IBM paper.

    As usual, slashdot is making a patent sound broader than it is.

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