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Microsoft Wins HTML App Patent 404

Posted by timothy
from the portfolio-whiplash dept.
crataegus writes "'Microsoft on Tuesday won a patent for launching a certain kind of HTML application within Windows. The patent, "Method and apparatus for writing a Windows application in HTML" (Hypertext Markup Language), describes Microsoft's way of opening up HTML applications in a window free of navigation and other interface elements, known as "chrome," and browser security restrictions.' Why does this sound vaguely familiar?"
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Microsoft Wins HTML App Patent

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  • need to copy (Score:1, Insightful)

    by frazzydee (731240) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @06:13PM (#7684860)
    Obviously Microsoft does not have the intellectual capacity to come up with their own ideas, ergo, they have to revert to 'stealing' open-source ones. They've done this kind of copying before, especially with Mac. I just hope that Mozilla can still use Chrome.
  • by Eudial (590661) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @06:15PM (#7684874)
    Method and apparatus for writing a Windows application in HTML.

    So, everyone using Mac and Linux are free to use chrome?
  • New "Features" (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Hi_2k (567317) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @06:16PM (#7684876) Journal
    in a window free of navigation and other interface elements, known as "chrome," and browser security restrictions .
    So now we have microsoft with patenting a new way of creating macicious popups with windows. Knowing Microsoft, stuff like Gator and Eyeblaster ad's will soon show up in this space and, without my usual restrictions, everyone who uses Internet Explorer will soon have spyware again. While it'll be quite profitable (for me too, I do computer repair and tune ups), This could easily become a HUGE annoyance for systems administrators around the world. Time to switch everything to Mozilla and Opera.
  • by pvt_medic (715692) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @06:23PM (#7684953)
    Can we now hold them accountable for any problems, viruses, spyware, annoyances that use this?
  • XAML (Score:4, Insightful)

    by silkySlim (565600) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @06:32PM (#7685028) Homepage
    I believe this is related to XAML [microsoft.com] which is designed to take the nightmare out of windows UI coding.
  • Re:familiar (Score:4, Insightful)

    by avi33 (116048) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @06:32PM (#7685029) Homepage
    Why do we have to have commentary in every news post?

    Because this is an open forum, a discussion, not a journalistic media outlet where every "story" has to be vetted for signs of opinion.

    Don't like the submitter's slant? Then you are perfectly free to rebut it with your own comment. But why would you expect someone to post a story without counterpoint, incidental links, or personal opinion, if every other visitor is afforded these options.
  • HTML vs. XUL (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ucblockhead (63650) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @06:41PM (#7685094) Homepage Journal
    XUL isn't HTML, and therefore wouldn't be covered by this patent.

    Sure, given that XUL already existed when this was filed, you could make the claim that using HTML instead was "obvious", but it isn't, strictly speaking, the same.

    Perhaps the Mozilla people should patent XUL. For defensive purposes, if nothing else. But the conspiracy theorists should look elsewhere for Microsoft threats to open-source browsers.

  • Re:Companies Today (Score:3, Insightful)

    by arkanes (521690) <arkanes@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @06:43PM (#7685115) Homepage
    In fairness, Microsoft has never, and has never shown any indication that it will, used its patent portfolio to squish competition. This may be because they have far more reliable methods at thier disposal, but they certainly do have the patent resources to make life really, really difficult for Mozilla and Linux developers (to say nothing of Samba), all of which they detest with a passion.
  • by argoff (142580) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @06:46PM (#7685137)

    IMHO, the issue isn't that this is a bonehead patent it is that all patents are inherently burdensome to society, and this patent sillyness is just a symptom of a poor belief system taken to it's logical conclusion.

    Yeah, I've heard it all before .... "the system just needs a little tweaking", ... Please tell that to a child in Africa dying of AIDS who isn't allowed to buy generics because of patents. .... and Yeah I know, the theory goes that these drugs would never have been invented anyhow without patnets ... . It's sorta like saying, slavery was justified because those barbaric Africans were far more brutal to each other than the plantation masters were to them.

  • by howlatthemoon (718490) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @06:47PM (#7685141)
    Can you patent an idea and then release it into the public domain or put it under a Creative Commons [creativecommons.org] license (or something like it)? It seems like this might head off some of the prior art arguements, and even if some other entity breaks the patent because of other prior art, it still is better than it moving into a single group's hands. I know it is more work, but I am tied of getting screwed-over because someone comes up with something "innovative*".

    Just wondering....

    * Innovative (MS, SCO, et. al definition) - scouring the world for ideas for which they can claim ownership.
  • by cdn-programmer (468978) <terr AT terralogic DOT net> on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @06:49PM (#7685160)
    The USPTO is granting invalid patents left right and center on obvious techniques and on techniques that in some cases are actually part of standards. Clearly they are not in a position to be able to determine prior art much less the requirment that in order for something to be patentable it must be non-obvious to practitioners of the art.

    A couple years ago the Australian PTO granted a patent for a wheel. (I believe I saw this in the ignoble awards) The applicant had actually drawn a cart illustrating the role of the wheel. Clearly the USPTO is not alone in its level of incompetance.

    Under law as I understand it, these beauracrates have a responsibility to follow the legislation. Clearly due to their collective incompetance and possibly several other factors they are not doing this.

    So is there any way to challenge them and if not can a lobby be put together so that before a patent is granted there is a peer review of its validity? Why should software developers for instance face invalid patent after invalid patent which creates unnecessary litigation at terrible costs when a simple peer review process done in conjunction with the patent office could avert the problem. Please note that the court system is already overloaded and that it is a serious drain on the taxpayers of the nation. As such it would seem that a peer review process might be in the best interests of everyone.

    Perhaps the patent office would even go along with such a process because it might save them considerable embarrasment as well as offloading some of the workload of their examiners. Is there anything in the law that prohibits something like this?

    Please note that at least IMHO I see invalid patents as the greatest threat there is for the opensource community. We need to address this as soon as possible in an effective manner.
  • by iminplaya (723125) <iminplaya.gmail@com> on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @06:53PM (#7685194) Journal
    brain?...no...From the article:"...Microsoft has no current plans to enforce the patent."
    Uh huh...GIF...jpeg...FAT... I know...they're not all MS patents, but...

    We are at that awkward stage in our history where it's too late to vote them out, but it's too early to just shoot the bastards. - ?
  • Re:New "Features" (Score:3, Insightful)

    by RzUpAnmsCwrds (262647) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @07:08PM (#7685299)
    "So now we have microsoft with patenting a new way of creating macicious popups with windows. "

    Bzzzt... wrong answer.

    This patent covers Microsoft HTML Applications. An HTML Application is a file with the extention of .hta; you download it like any other executable and run it like any other executable. This does not cover browser windows, nor does it allow a website to open such an application.

    An HTML Application is just like a normal executable except for the fact that it is written in HTML.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @07:08PM (#7685300)
    Thats exactly how I feel about VB. VB "programmers" should have moved on to some thing better, to be worthy of being called a "programmer." VB should have been burnt and banished from the face of the earth the moment it was conceived by Bill.

    Very ironic that a VB guy is pissed off at HTML guys!
  • by Metasquares (555685) <slashdot@NoSPAM.metasquared.com> on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @07:10PM (#7685308) Homepage
    Seriously, who the hell wants to do that kind of shit for nearly a decade?
    Someone that gets paid to, of course. You may not like VB, but if that's what your employer wants to use, the excuse "but VB is lame!" won't hold up very well. Jobs have been kind of difficult to find over the past few years, with the state of the economy and all the outsourcing going on - developers either have to use the tools their employers want them to, or find some other occupation.
  • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by arkanes (521690) <arkanes@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @07:11PM (#7685318) Homepage
    HTAs get access to the local file system, as well as the ability to run compiled code that mere web pages don't have (even on the lowest security settings). They're basically normal Win32 applications that use HTML for the UI instead of normal widgets. It's not that different in concept from writing XUL applications using the Chrome engine (as opposed to viewing web pages using mozilla).
  • by NtroP (649992) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @07:24PM (#7685415)
    [disclaimer]I did NOT RTFA[/disclaimer]

    I'm just guessing here, but I would imagine that with the poor interface and interaction that "html" provides as compaired to, say, the flexibility of a "real application" UI, MS is going to have to provide a boatload of proprietary tags and hooks to make this actually usefull (at least MORE usefull than an actual web browser). Does this mean that more content will be delivered as a Microsoft web app (ie. online shopping) and will therefore make it impossible for me to access with my RH or OSX box?

  • Re:New "Features" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @07:28PM (#7685464) Journal
    'in a window free of navigation and other interface elements, known as "chrome," and browser security restrictions .'

    So now we have microsoft with patenting a new way of creating macicious popups with windows.


    Remember that, when they applied for the patent, Sun was trying to break their monopoly on OSes by creating, with Java and Javascript, a platform-independent secure sandbox within the web browser for running web-distributed mini-apps. Letting users build Windows-only apps that could escape the sandbox and use OS-dependent features (but only on Windows platforms) would seem like a plus.

    Of course the patent would block others from doing the same on OTHER proprietary OSes. So web site designers could build portable content, Windows-only content, but not Other-OS-only content. This would help prevent another OS from displacing them as the monopolist and then using their own tricks on them to keep them out of the catbird seat.
  • by psykocrime (61037) <mindcrime.cpphacker@co@uk> on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @07:52PM (#7685646) Homepage Journal
    So where are we storing all this prior art, indexed by patent number, with leagally supportable dates?

    The next big Open Source challenge will come from patents. We should start now, but where?


    We need some friendly corporation with deep pockets to sponsor hosting a web-based database where open source types can submit papers / code / writeups / etc. to serve a "defensive prior art" for ridiculous patents.

    The quality of the papers wouldn't necessarily have to be very high, and duplicates would be fine, I think. The big thing it needs is a very effective search engine, and a way to verify the submission dates for submitted works.

    Then anytime a new questionable tech patent is issued, the community can search the "defensive prior art database" for anything useful, and then notify the patent office.

    It would also be nice if the tech community could establish some kind of dialogue with the USPTO where we could feel confident that we could actually get these questionable patents reviewed and (possibly) thrown out.
  • by gooberguy (453295) <gooberguy@gmail.com> on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @08:11PM (#7685766)
    Yet VB is a real, Turing-complete language.

    Yes, and so is binary, but I'd rather shoot myself in the kneecap (ok, maybe not the kneecap, I heard that hurts a lot) before I'd write a program in 1s and 0s. I played with VB it once, and I hated it almost as much as clippy.
  • by heinousjay (683506) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @08:16PM (#7685803) Journal
    Do auto manufacturers put the drink in your hand along with the keys?
  • by sillybilly (668960) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @08:24PM (#7685866)
    I think the original poster of this story is making a misleading statement - he must have misunderstood the patent. He states that the patent is about launching browser windows without "chrome" around it.
    His link defines chrome like this:

    What is Chrome? - The chrome is that part of the application window that lies outside of a window's content area. Toolbars, menu bars, progress bars, and window title bars are all examples of elements that are typically part of the chrome.

    Now read the abstract of the patent below, and tell me, the way you understand it, does it have anything to do with chrome?

    United States Patent 6,662,341
    Cooper , et al. December 9, 2003
    Method and apparatus for writing a windows application in HTML

    Abstract

    A method, apparatus, and computer-readable medium for authoring and executing HTML application files is disclosed. An HTML application file is basically a standard HTML file that runs in its own window outside of the browser, and is thus not bound by the security restrictions of the browser. The author of an HTML application file can take advantage of the relaxed security. The author of the HTML application file designates the file as an HTML application file by doing one or more of the following: defining the MIME type as an HTML application MIME type; or using an HTML application file extension for the file. When a browser, such as the Internet Explorer, encounters one of the above, it processes the file as an HTML application file rather than a standard HTML file by creating a main window independent of the browser, and rendering the HTML in the main window.


    BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

    Most existing Windows application development environments require knowledge of specialized computer languages such as C++, or Visual Basic. Learning a specialized computer language is often difficult for non-technical individuals. However, many non-technical individuals can use HTML (HyperText Markup Language) and scripting languages, such as VBScript and JScript. HTML and scripting languages are run inside of a Web browser, and thus, inherit the browser's user interface and security mechanisms. Because non-technical individuals have knowledge of HTML and scripting languages, it would be advantageous to leverage such existing knowledge to implement a Window's application. Such applications should be free to define their own user interface elements and to run as trusted code on the system, i.e., outside of the security model imposed by the Web browser. The present invention is directed to achieving this result.

    END EXCERPT


    In fact, why don't you go to www.uspto.gov, and search for patent # 6,662,341, and educate yourself a bit about patents. Read the abstract, then the "field of invention" and introduction parts - they are the most important for start, even though the claims are the only things that matter in court. Because of that claims are written in very hard to read lawyer lingo, and only read them after you read the rest, to double check that the claims are actually saying what you understood from the rest of the text.

    Basically this patent is about programming, as opposed to C or VB, you end up programming in the C-like javascript. I don't feel this deserves a patent at all - the amount of effort needed to relax securities for a special .hta extension file is quite minuscule. Plus this is a stupid software patent anyway - in my mind it ranks pretty close to the Amazon 1-click shopping patent. Anything that people say "duh" to shouldn't be called an invention. If it's shocking, new, who would have thought kind of thing, then yeah, maybe. Typical embrace and extend behaviour.
  • by infolib (618234) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @08:25PM (#7685875)
    Method and apparatus for writing a Windows application in HTML.

    So, everyone using Mac and Linux are free to use chrome?


    Read the claims. Not the headline, not the abstract, not the description, THE CLAIMS! The claims and nothing else decide what the patent covers, so it's really the only thing you should read. The rest of the patent is probably designed to be worthless to competitors (while still having the patent granted) whereas the claims are drawn up to be the broadest possible.

    I apologize for being a bit harsh about this, but it's quite important. It's also worth remembering that if your implementation changes one single thing in the claims you're not infringing on the patent. In fact you could probably patent the adjusted idea yourself (obvious or not).
  • by gooberguy (453295) <gooberguy@gmail.com> on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @08:31PM (#7685908)
    Well, first of all, I was joking. Secondly, by binary I mean the actual 1s and 0s, not assembly. Assembly is hard, but useful. Binary is just hard.
  • VB Rocks!!! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @08:31PM (#7685909)
    I hadn't programmed seriously for about 10 years...my C was very rusty. I picked up a VB book and went through it and wrote a few apps b/c work wanted apps in VB. What the hell, I said.

    The good thing about VB is, I really hated it with a passion after about 20 minutes and put it down as soon as I could. Then I really got pissed at Microsoft for making such a weak product and got rid of Windows too. I'm now quite happily using open source products. See, VB is good.
  • by penguin7of9 (697383) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @09:02PM (#7686109)
    Hypertext has been used commercially for building local applications at least since Hypercard in the 1980's [w3.org]. The Web really evolved out of such local applications by adding network retrieval and addressability of hypertext.

    That is, the use of hypertext and scripts for building local applications preceded the web and was the historical foundation for it. It's ironic (and stupid) that Microsoft is going back in 1999 to try to patent the precursor to the web from the 1980's. Anybody who works as a developer or inventor in hypertext systems should have at least a passing familiarity with the history of the field. I think it demonstrates that the people at Microsoft who wrote this patent don't even know the basics of their profession.

    Note, incidentally, that you have been able to use HTML and JavaScript for building "trusted" applications on your local machine for many years, depending on your browser, so this is nothing new even as far as HTML specifically is concerned. Hypertext with embedded widgets and scripting has also been widely used for building local applications with the Tcl/Tk toolkit.
  • by MrNybbles (618800) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @09:48PM (#7686398) Journal
    Too bad you couldn't wait any longer. I am still waiting for Windows to come out of beta. (Sorry, I couldn't resist!)

    You are lucky though, my first Windows OS is Windows 98 (First Lousy Edition.) I got so pissed off with Windows I eventually switched to Linux. It's not anywhere near a perfect OS, but it gets the job done without pissing me off.

    Oh great, I just pissed off the Windows zealots by saying Windows in unstable and pissed off the Linux zealots by saying Linux isn't perfect and not calling it GNU/Linux. And what about the OS/2 zealots? I didn't even mention OS/2! I am so screwed, and not in the fun way!
  • Re:Well.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jkabbe (631234) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @10:50PM (#7686782)
    Considering this:

    the patent was filed May 20, 1999

    it means this:

    HTML Applications (HTAs) appeared with Internet Explorer 4.0, which was introduced in 1997, I believe. Long before the Mozilla project started.


    must be referring to something other than the patent. If they distributed and sold their patented invention in the US two years before filing an application the patent would not be valid. So either the patent is on something else or the USPTO screwed up.

  • by Zog The Undeniable (632031) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @03:14AM (#7687919)
    Chrome-free windows, with the addition of a fake IE toolbar/address bar as a GIF, can be used to spoof online banking login pages *really* convincingly. I'm surprised MS wanted to patent something that's so open to abuse for "phishing" fraud.
  • by djkitsch (576853) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @08:28AM (#7688922)
    Firstly, I should point out that I'm a big fan of open-source, use Mozilla every day and believe that the OS community produces some great projects that any other organisation would struggle with. Having said that, I think there's always value in playing devil's advocate for the purposes of discussion.

    When it comes down to it, you could view this not, as /. readers tend to, as a vicious attack on the community and ideals, but simply as the kind of business practise that goes on every day in other industries.

    Microsoft may well be taking a well-thought-out risk here. This could, if someone takes the matter up in court, go two ways:

    1) Microsoft pay a relatively small amount in legal costs and lose the patent.

    2) Microsoft get to keep their patent and go on to make large licensing deals.

    We often make the mistake of thinking of these as acts of evil - they're not. At a very basic level, Microsoft are not in the software business any more that banks are in the financial assistance business. They're both, as is every other for-profit company in the world, in the money making business.

    It's a lovely idea that people would turn down huge amounts of money to stand by their (arguably rather niche) moral views. But I'm willing to bet that if /. readers were offered a huge amount of money to abandon the OS movement, many would happily take the money. Maybe not all, maybe not half, but enough to keep companies like Microsoft on an even keel.
  • by Trojan (37530) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @03:25PM (#7692881)
    Since the Microsoft patent application was filed on May 20, 1999, any art from 2000 is not prior...

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