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Microsoft Wants More Credit for Inventions 422

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the without-microsoft-around-no-one-would-think-of-it dept.
theodp writes "Bill Gates said Thursday that Microsoft expects to file 3,000 patent applications this year, up from a little over 2,000 last year and 1,000 just a few years ago. 'We think--patent for patent--what we are doing is, if anything, more important than what others are doing,' said Gates, perhaps referring to 'Organizing and displaying photographs based on time,' which the USPTO published just hours before Gates spoke."
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Microsoft Wants More Credit for Inventions

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  • Photoshop Album? (Score:5, Informative)

    by flimnap (751001) on Thursday July 29, 2004 @08:35PM (#9838914) Homepage

    Is it just me, or is the display of photos by time on a calendar exactly what Photoshop Album 1 did?

    Hurrah for innovation!

  • It's hard to swallow (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 29, 2004 @08:38PM (#9838937)
    Microsoft really wouldn't be where it is today if software patents existed back when they started.

    http://lpf.ai.mit.edu/Patents/knuth-to-pto.txt

    They should have a little more respect for the name of Technology.
  • Re:Photo Patent (Score:3, Informative)

    by darkewolf (24563) <draoidh@iinet.net.au> on Thursday July 29, 2004 @09:00PM (#9839091) Homepage Journal

    Of course, upon reading the patent (gods they are boring to read) it says that the sorting is based on the following potential factors:

    • A image date stored in the image (unsure if jpeg does this now) as meta data
    • Extracting the date from an image (using a OCR type arrangement for those cameras that data stamp the visual part of the file)

    So technically, they have a valid patent. Unless of course the meta data already exists in common file formats to allow date information to be extracted.

    Sorting by system create/modify dates isn't really valid in this case. If, say, you cropped an image, maybe added a border, then the image either has a new modify date or a new create date (saved as another image). But assuming the meta-date is preserved it would work. Hmmmms.

    Damnit, I also sounded pro-MS there. Still it is a cool idea, and better than their apple.

  • by ravenwing_np (22379) on Thursday July 29, 2004 @09:01PM (#9839099)
    Microsoft Research China is where almost all of MSFT's multimedia researchers live. When competing in NIST's Video TREC [nist.gov], MSR China are the people who go. Granted, all the cool stuff comes from either IBM (New York), Berkerley, or CMU.
  • Re:Photo Patent (Score:3, Informative)

    by jallen02 (124384) on Thursday July 29, 2004 @09:11PM (#9839162) Homepage Journal
    Check out ExIf data. Digital Cameras have been storing tons of meta data for years. Shutter Speed, Lens Speed, tons of other little things.... including date/time.

    Jeremy
  • by Transcendent (204992) on Thursday July 29, 2004 @09:11PM (#9839169)
    Although I don't endorse patent whording done by microsoft, the title for the patent is grosely misleading. It makes it sound like Microsoft just patented all motion pictures... but not quite.

    The patent application states:

    "For instance, the technique determines whether the time information is digitally encoded in the image file, or whether it is embedded within the image data itself. The technique next includes extracting the time information from the photograph image file using a technique appropriate to the identified manner in which the time information is stored, to produce extracted time information."

    Simply put, the pictures are organized and displayed in a manner according to data embedded in the image file itself... which is halfway innovative.

    Although pretty basic and easy to do on your own, it, I assume, can warrant a patent.
  • Re:Photo Patent (Score:4, Informative)

    by Huogo (544272) <adam@the p e a c o c k.net> on Thursday July 29, 2004 @09:11PM (#9839175) Homepage
    Almost all digital camera store EXIF metadata in their jpegs, which contains, among other things, the date the picture was taken. It also contains things such as shutter speed, apature, and whether or not the flash was used. The full spec is available on exif.org [exif.org] here [exif.org]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 29, 2004 @09:19PM (#9839224)
    Would I be right in thinking iPhoto automatically organises the 'photo library' based on data embedded in the photo in regards to the time and date the photo was taken?

    Would this be considered prior-art?
  • Re:patently obvious (Score:4, Informative)

    by Wolfbone (668810) on Thursday July 29, 2004 @09:19PM (#9839225)
    "I'd be curious if anyone can suggest a good rule for eliminating obvious patents."

    It's very simple: 'Software' ideas should never have been made patentable in the first place. Look at the monitor in front of you and ask yourself this: "Is this a general purpose electronic computer I see before me or is it just another consumer appliance?" Are you free to use it as the invention it was originally intended to be or have large corporations now almost managed to metamorphose it into just another consumer appliance - a box into which you may plug only the software products that they deign to supply? Are you free to programme it as it was meant to be programmed or are there daily more and more restrictions on what code you can type in? Is this an acceptable state of affairs - do novelists and musicians have to put up with this kind of 'ownership' of the ideas of their crafts? Could 'inventions' like this one and many others like it only have been made by expert software designers or could a child have done it - or a law firm? And don't even think about the usual: "Well there are some clever mathematical algorithms that deserve to be patentable" - no there are not, they are mathematical ideas and belong to mathematics, which in turn belongs to us all. How many times need it be repeated that software is properly and appropriately a copyright protectable area of endeavour?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 29, 2004 @09:22PM (#9839252)
    gaul = the area now known as France; a person therefrom.

    Gall = temerity, boldness; a type of bile.
  • by ewhac (5844) on Thursday July 29, 2004 @09:32PM (#9839330) Homepage Journal
    Simply put, the pictures are organized and displayed in a manner according to data embedded in the image file itself... which is halfway innovative.

    No, it's not. They're simply scanning the EXIF headers [exif.org] (that is, after all, one of the things EXIF headers are for), and sorting on one of the fields in the header. There are about forty fields in an EXIF header; I suppose they're applying for forty more patents, one each for sorting on each field.

    That's Microsoft "innovation" for you.

    Schwab

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 29, 2004 @09:33PM (#9839344)
    Microsoft was victimized by patent pirates. These are companies that selectivily aquite a patent not to produce products, but to litigate others. There is no defense against such things except a lot of money. Having patents yourself is meaningless in defending yourself from a patent pirate since they have no interest you can harm, no matter how many patents you have. So this is NOT the reason for Microsoft to choose to aquire patents at such a rate, often on rediculous things (like pronouns in computer languages for example).

    The second purpose of having patents is to defend yourself against others who have patents, However, to do so does not require a large portfolio, but rather a strategically placed one. For example, while IBM may have thousands of patents, a few dozen well placed patents could well be sufficient to hold an effective "balance of power" to assure mutual destruction through litigation and preliminary injunctions. Given even just a few dozen key patents and their large cash reserve, they could potentially outlast even IBM in a real patent deathmatch complete with freeze of business injunctions, or anyone else who has a large patent portfolio of their own and a real business as well to protect.

    The more likely answer is similar to why IBM aquired a patent portfolio, as a means to extract money from others in the marketplace. Given their business practices, it can also be used as a means for them to exclude others from the marketplace through cross license deals with existing players, a kind of old boy network via patents. But it has NOTHING to do with defence against others, don't get taken into the false claim of "poor microsoft the patent victum". If Microsoft really cared about protecting themselves, and others in the market, they would lobby for real patent reform to eliminate patent piracy rather than what they are currently doing which is itself just a lesser form of patent piracy.

  • Silly Patent (Score:4, Informative)

    by Bruha (412869) on Thursday July 29, 2004 @09:38PM (#9839377) Homepage Journal
    I believe there's already prior art with digital encoding of information within a image. It's been done.
  • Re:patently obvious (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 29, 2004 @10:33PM (#9839824)
    why are patently obvious procedures patentable?
    basically because in 1994, the Clinton administration appointed Bruce Lehman, the chief lobbyist for the Software Publishing Industry, as Commissioner of the Patent and Trademark Office. Subsequently, in 1995, the USPTO started granting software patents for an extremely broad variety of circumstances, including those that are essentially algorithms only distantly connected to physical processes, even though the US Congress has never specifically legislated that software is patentable.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 30, 2004 @01:05AM (#9840773)
    I'm tired of this...the link above IS NOT A U.S. PATENT...it is ONLY a patent APPLICATION that was published. EVERY APPLICATION IS PUBLISHED. When you apply for a job, does that mean you automatically get the job? NO! This patent application will be searched, re-searched, fought and argued until it is rejected. Get your facts straight before you post.
  • Re:Photo Patent (Score:3, Informative)

    by ViGe (49356) on Friday July 30, 2004 @02:01AM (#9841059) Homepage

    Almost all digital camera store EXIF metadata in their jpegs, which contains, among other things, the date the picture was taken. It also contains things such as shutter speed, apature, and whether or not the flash was used. The full spec is available on exif.org here

    And from the patent claims:

    6. A method according to claim 5, wherein the digitally-encoded time information comprises information recorded according to an EXIF standard.

    I suppose this basically means that all our base are now belong to Microsoft.

  • by Rewd (18053) on Friday July 30, 2004 @04:12AM (#9841514) Homepage Journal
    This is already done EXACTLY as the patent describes in ACDsee. Check out their calendar browser.

    http://www.acdsystems.com/English/index.htm [acdsystems.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 30, 2004 @07:24PM (#9849008)
    Oh? What percentage of patent claims are rejected?

    Basically 100% of claims are rejected at least once. The basic procedure for an examiner to follow when an application hits his desk is to find some reason to reject every single claim.

    But then, applicants have attorneys. An examiner can't just reject something an say, "Ha ha." If an examiner makes his rejections final, the attorney can have that examiner dragged through the appeals process with the patent application, and at that point it affects the examiner's salary and promotion potential.

    Add to that the fact that the only REAL quality control that goes into an examiner's evaluation is whether or not his patents end up on the front pages of the news drawing fire at the USPTO. If he issued 99% of the patents that hit his desk and nobody in the media threw a fit over it, he did a passable job. Also, a rejected patent application = a good examination.

    Add to that the fact that examiners get a predetermined amount of time to examine ANY case. That is, you work in art unit X, you get 16 hours per case. Your next case might have 3 claims, it might have 390. It might be from some small business trying to innovate, it might be from Microsoft trying to control the world, it might be from some legal activist trying to trick you into issuing a bad patent, it might be some housewife who honestly invented some wonderful new device but wrote a bad application. THAT'S THE EXAMINER'S PROBLEM, he gets 16 hours to examine the case no matter what.

    Many people seem to forget that the USPTO does not create the rules or laws that govern issuing a patent; they follow them. Everybody at Slashdot thinks that he is the ultimate patent law armchair expert, but the fact is that most people here don't have an ounce of understanding of the process. It's easy for a bunch of geeks to sit around and say, "Sorting pictures by date is obvious, and [this program] did it in 1943! Dumb USPTO!" but try explaining that to the patent attorney who is representing his client and has the power to drag your ass into court if you don't give him a patent. It isn't the examiner's job to convince a Slashbot that this invention already existed, it is the examiner's job to convince a lawyer that it is a waste of his time to take it to court.

    So no, there probably isn't prior art. How do I know? Because when this application hit the examiner's desk, he wrote a rejection for every single claim. That's how the process works. Now, the examiner might have done a poor job (see above about hours per case and "quality" control.)

    As for searching Non-Patent Literature (NPL), a LOT of that goes on. Google, IEEE, ACM, and about 12 other databases are all standard procedure in my group. When it comes to the web, though, you have all sorts of date problems. Sure, WebsiteA has "prior" art for Patent Application B, but are you so damned sure of the date that you'll go to appeals court and swear on the Bible? Is the judge going to buy the date that "Microsoft Front Page Editor 3.0" installed on God-knows-what machine with God-knows-what hardware problems inserts in the HTML? A dead CMOS battery would toss your whole rejection in the trash can, and don't forget there is an attorney ready to rake your ass over the coals if he doesn't get his patent. A dead CMOS battery? If that's how you lose a patent application, you better believe your career is going to slow down a bit. It isn't about convincing yourself or the slashbots that it's prior art, it is convincing the patent attorney that it will waste his time to take it to court , which is an ENTIRELY different can of worms and something that basically nobody on Slashdot has managed to understand.

    Do shitty patents get granted? Yeah, and nobody is more upset about it than the examiner whose job it was to reject that patent. But the examiner can't do anything if it's a shitty application that actually follows the letter of the law, or if it's an obvi

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