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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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  • by jomas1 (696853) on Thursday July 29, 2004 @08:34PM (#9838907) Homepage
    And the best part of the article:

    The link to this other article http://news.com.com/Apple+patented+by+Microsoft/21 00-1008_3-5205574.html?tag=nl

    "Apple patented by Microsoft

    Apparently, intellectual property does grow on trees.

    Microsoft, amid an IP spree that has won the company patent protection for everything from XML dialects to video game storage methods, mistakenly received a patent on Tuesday for a new variety of apple tree.

    U.S. Plant Patent 14,757, granted to Robert Burchinal of East Wenatchee, Wash., and assigned to Microsoft, covers a new type of tree discovered in the early 1990s in the Wenatchee area, a major commercial apple-growing region. Dubbed the "Burchinal Red Delicious," the tree is notable for producing fruit that achieves a deep red color significantly earlier than other varieties. It is sold commercially as the "Adams Apple."

    Yes I know the patent has been acknowledged as a mistake but it makes you wonder how many of these 3000 patents are going to be approved because someone got tired of paying attention to the fine print.
  • Photo Patent (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dotwaffle (610149) <slashdotNO@SPAMwalster.org> on Thursday July 29, 2004 @08:34PM (#9838911) Homepage
    Showing photos according to when they were taken? PRIOR ART!!! Photo developers have been doing this for ages, in software and on actual film! PhotoCD anyone???
  • by rel4x (783238) on Thursday July 29, 2004 @08:35PM (#9838916)
    when we relate/measure producitivity with patents...
  • Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by z0ink (572154) on Thursday July 29, 2004 @08:35PM (#9838918)
    When will all of this be stopped? How can a company hold thousands of patents on software. Is anything that unique? What does it even matter, they are closed source. Nobody can steal code from them, but they can look at OSS and say "thats our idea."
  • Weak (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Jim_Hawkins (649847) on Thursday July 29, 2004 @08:36PM (#9838924)
    The only reason Microsoft is filing all these patents is because they want to get ahold on every freaken idea that anybody could *ever* come up with. That way, when someone else decides that they want to create something (AKA, create a new OpenSource project), they may just not be able to do it anymore.

    Also, Bill...hate to break it to you, buddy. But you're doing just what a ton of other people are doing every day. Get a grip on the ol' ego.

    I never had a real problem with MS before -- but this just takes them down quite a few notches. (About 3000 notches to be exact.)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 29, 2004 @08:38PM (#9838935)
    In their defense, they got hit by very absurd patent lawsuits. So now they want to grow fangs of their own. I don't blame them.

    I blame the stupid patent system and I'm very amazed and disappointed that Congress and the American people seems to think it's all good (or are oblivious to the problem).
  • Re:Why? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by dotwaffle (610149) <slashdotNO@SPAMwalster.org> on Thursday July 29, 2004 @08:38PM (#9838940) Homepage
    I think it's about time patents were scrapped and replaced with something that benefits the people, not the corporations. A patent should help get a product started, not to stifle competition through licensing and royalties... Until recently I would have favoured the UK patent system, but with recent EU software patent crap... Who knows...
  • by J053 (673094) <J053@@@shangri-la...cx> on Thursday July 29, 2004 @08:45PM (#9838983) Homepage Journal
    'Organizing and displaying photographs based on time' surely has some prior art??!!
  • by bogaboga (793279) on Thursday July 29, 2004 @08:45PM (#9838987)
    Countries like China and Russia, that are powerful enough to stand up to the US, will simply ignore those so called patents and innovate. to better their peoples' lives. We in the "third world" will follow. The Chinese are already in space, don't you think they have "trampled" on some US patents? The world will move on one way or another...with or without M$ and its patents.
  • Re:Why? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 29, 2004 @08:48PM (#9839015)

    Nobody can steal code from them, but
    they can look at OSS and say "thats our idea."



    Yes, that's the general idea.



    But it's not a new idea. You're just now getting outraged about this because Microsoft is doing it? I'm sorry, but if you were not already outraged by this VERY COMMON PRACTICE then I have to question your motives.
    IBM does this all the time. IBM has patents on freaking everything, way more than Microsoft. You know what they use them for? A bludgeon, to beat smaller competitors down and threaten same-sized competitors with the legal version of Mutual Assured Destruction.
    I think it's horrible that software (a.k.a. business processes) are patentable at all in the US. But you've got to wonder what happens when Microsoft says "I'm sorry, we patented every aspect of the GUI--we demand royalties from every Linux vendor who uses a GUI". I think IBM may just respond with "Oh yeah? We've got a patent on filesystems. Let's deal." The good thing is that as long as IBM backs Linux, we have a measure of defense in a patent war. The bad news is that it is unwise to place your trust in IBM, or to think that IBM isn't jockying to become the only Linux vendor that DOESN'T have to pay massive royalties to Microsoft.



    In summary, the sky is falling. But it'll make a neat sound when it hits.

  • by jcenters (570494) on Thursday July 29, 2004 @08:52PM (#9839049) Homepage
    Who are they going to get payouts from? Themselves? Windows is the only OS I've ever seen with a blue screen of death.
  • Re:Why? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 29, 2004 @08:56PM (#9839071)
    Please don't. Patents are not evil. If you patent a physical device, why should you not receive royalties if people use that idea for a limited time?

    There are the problems: WHAT can be patented and for HOW LONG? Patenting physical inventions is actually a good idea that encouraged R&D. The patent expiration process, like the copyright expiration process, ensures that protected ideas eventually enter the public domain so everyone can take advantage of them. Just make sure the term isn't too long.

    I'd be okay with software patents (and business process patents in general) if they expired in six months. That's something short enough not to be abusable but long enough that a tech firm could eke out an advantage over their competition during that time.
  • by Tony (765) on Thursday July 29, 2004 @08:58PM (#9839082) Journal
    In the short term it's annoying but in the long term it's not that big a deal.

    Are you insane? 15 years is a long, long time for computers. 15 years ago was 1989. That year, the 80486 was introduced. The web was two years off. Microsoft sales topped one billion dollars for the first time. The internet tops 100,000 hosts. IRC is introduced. Seymour Cray developed the Cray 3. MCI and Compuserve become the first corporations with email connections to the internet.

    See what I'm getting at? A "limited" monopoly can be harmful, not just annoying. Even dangerous, when you are talking about the future of the most flexible tool known to man-- knowledge.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 29, 2004 @08:59PM (#9839089)
    The published document from the article is NOT a U.S. Patent...it is a patent application publication. All applications for patent are published within 18 months of filing, and publishing the application doesn't mean the USPTO thinks the invention is patentable. It just means some inventor is trying to get an invention patented. The PTO has it's problems, but it's not THAT bad...
  • by jrockway (229604) * <jon-nospam@jrock.us> on Thursday July 29, 2004 @09:00PM (#9839092) Homepage Journal
    > Patents are a joke, and they need reform.

    You're right about this. Patents are a good idea, but leave it to big companies to fuck over whatever meaning they once had. Now I think it would be better for society (and specifically OSS people like me) to just do without them. Too bad for Apple if someone steals their (good) idea for spring loaded folders or the ipod's click wheel.

    It's like driving while using a cell phone. A few people can't do it, so now everyone suffers (i.e. a few people died, now it's illegal). M$ can't play nice, so everyone loses their privleges. Sad state of affairs, really.
  • by sinner0423 (687266) <sinner0423NO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday July 29, 2004 @09:06PM (#9839133)
    For those that are too lazy to RTFA, this is probably the most important part of it :

    The push for more patents comes as Microsoft is trying to boost the licensing of its intellectual property to other companies, an effort that began last year.

    That pretty much sums it up right there. Exactly what do these guys want? Being one of the largest, most proliferated company on the planet isn't enough, apparently.

    Don't think this is freaky yet? Check out this article [com.com] and realize the strategic use of patents in influencing a market. They have all the money to do this too, which is the scariest part. Patents aren't about protection any more, it's about CONTROL.
  • I quit (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 29, 2004 @09:07PM (#9839136)
    That's it. I'm changing majors. First all the jobs go to india, then MS decides they'll patent everything you could hope to develop anyway.

    why bother.

    fuck this shit.

    I'm gonna learn something else for a change.
  • by brendanoconnor (584099) on Thursday July 29, 2004 @09:07PM (#9839139)
    It is the principle of the matter. The fact that it takes 15 years to expire is not the issue, but rather that common sense ideas are now owned.

    To make matters worse, all these common sense ideas will not be aviable for 15 years. Wow. That's insane. Who will care in 15 years? By that time it won't matter as things will have progressed so much.

    Everything that seems to happen in the IT industry happens overnight, and after as little as three months, its already to late.

    For Microsoft to do this as a business is just business sense. Why not do it? Does not hurt them to have it all. Sure it could hurt the company in the long run, but do you think the top executives really care about the long run? They care for maybe 10-15 years. Microsoft will not be gone in 15 years. I'm sure of that.

    So, to get back to the point of the parent, why should we have to wait 15 years to use common sense ideas that have been used many many many times before? We should be able to use them now. I bet Asia will be using them, as well as South American. Europe will be screwed like us, but I'm still hoping for them to get it right.

    Brendan

    p.s. I'm an American, and the patent system is insane.
  • Re:Photo Patent (Score:3, Insightful)

    by k98sven (324383) on Thursday July 29, 2004 @09:08PM (#9839146) Journal
    Damnit, I also sounded pro-MS there.

    Only to Slashbots..

    Most of us understand the difference between acknowledging an idea as original and acknowledging that an idea as patentable.

    I think it sounds interesting too. But I certainly don't think it warrants MS having a monopoly on the idea and its implementations for the next 20 years.
  • by msobkow (48369) on Thursday July 29, 2004 @09:20PM (#9839229) Homepage Journal

    The USPTO is populated by people who don't grasp the fundamental concept that IT systems and programming are about abstract concepts applied to specific requirements. Object oriented programming, GUI event frameworks, network interfaces, RMI, RPC, XML, it's all about abstraction.

    The application of those abstract techniques and utilities to solving a particular business problem is not a patentable idea. It is a fundamental concept of the industry.

    We now have the USPTO not merely patenting business concepts, but architectural concepts and theoretical interfaces like the association of time with an image. It's absolutely insane -- they are allowing Microsoft to patent a naturally observable attribute of a real-world object. Everyone knows a picture has a time associated with it -- even portraits that were painted over the course of weeks are still associated with a fuzzy time value. How the hell can you possibly patent the idea of associating time with a picture, no matter what the media, formats, or protocols involved?

    Patent law itself states that you cannot patent a natural process, and the application of a general tool to a specific function is a natural process of computing.

    From this fundamental misunderstanding, we end up dealing with a patent system that allows a company like Amazon to patent the use of abstract behavior templates in regards to a real-world object, the shopping cart.

    That's just insane. You cannot patent something which any IT resource with a knack for abstraction can observe, and there are hundreds of thousands of such people. You cannot patent the idea that a car has a color, nor could you patent the idea of a picture of a car changing color each time you click on it. Yet some USPTO employee without a wit of sense or understanding of fundamental computing techniques and philosophies thinks that it's reasonable to think an abstract action like a mouse click associated with a catalog object is a patentable concept.

    It's nuts. It's just insane. The USPTO needs to distinguish between use of abstract concepts that are a natural part of computing, and genuine art in implementing general-purpose abstractions.

    No matter how disagreeable it might have been, the specifics of how a GIF image file is constructed and compressed is a patentable expression of an abstract image. So is any other image file format.

    But the idea that it is an image file, that it has attribute values such as author or creation date embedded in it, or that it has an associated set of attributes like creation date, storage size, etc. are not patentable concepts. They are just natural attributes of an abstract image.

    *sigh* We are truly doomed, not because of OSS or Microsoft or because the corps pay off the government so they can use the legal system and patent office as a business model. We are doomed because the people responsible for protecting the people from being fleeced by the con-artists don't have a freakin' clue how to recognize aggressive abuse of the legal and patent systems.

    Even when it is recognized, we have governments who are paid off by the corps who benefit from the abuse of the very social systems that are supposed to protect us from such abuse. Or do you think it was an accident that Microsoft's penalty for blatant illegal action was reduced to monitoring and a wrist slap, while IBM and AT&T had been broken up for far lesser offenses? Change of government, change of legislators who've been paid off, and the penalties go away.

    Thanks to a legal system that allows corps to drag things out long enough to buy themselves a change of law or government before a ruling or settlement are issued, and you have a system that is ripe for abuse, and the largest of predator corps are abusing it for every dollar they can hope to garner. Nor am I singling out Microsoft -- SCO, Enron, and dozens

  • Re:Photo Patent (Score:2, Insightful)

    by pgnas (749325) on Thursday July 29, 2004 @09:21PM (#9839242) Journal
    I liken patents to innovation and microsoft would like it's customers to view them as innovative. I have participated in many surveys for them and this is important to their identity as a corporation.

    Is Microsoft innovative? at one time, not too much now. I would like to see a site completely dedicated to mapping out the timeline and the "features" that make up their software in an effort to demonstrate where their "innovations" actually come from (other innovative people), the answer is simple, they are masters at swallowing up innovation by others and integrating it into their flagship packages.

    Now, let's take a look at other packages where the y have simply bought the product, ie: Visio, Frontpage, etc..

    Microsoft will indeed continue to flourish, however, I think their innovation will flounder.
  • by Ars-Fartsica (166957) on Thursday July 29, 2004 @09:28PM (#9839298)
    Anyone can file a patent or seek protection of a technology. The question is - will people pay to license it? Look at IBM - research pays for this firm as they rake in massive licensing revenues every year. What does MS have that others will pay to license? Thats the rubber/road issue for any protected tech.
  • Re:Weak (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tftp (111690) on Thursday July 29, 2004 @09:31PM (#9839325) Homepage
    That would not be very useful. Any big company would immediately spin off a daughter company with zero revenue, and that company would own all the patents. The daughter company can be fully controlled by the parent company (by nature of owning all its stock, for example.)
  • by Echo5ive (161910) <echo5ive@gmail.com> on Thursday July 29, 2004 @09:36PM (#9839363) Homepage
    My picture gallery sorts pictures by date embedded in the EXIF metadata of the picture, and has done so for years.
  • by commodoresloat (172735) on Thursday July 29, 2004 @09:40PM (#9839383)
    I don't mind waiting fifteen years to organize my photo collection.
  • by RabidPuppetHunter (620593) on Thursday July 29, 2004 @09:43PM (#9839410)
    A quote from IBM [ibm.com]: "For each of the past 11 years (1993 - 2003), IBM has been granted more U.S. patents than any other company. During that period IBM has received 25,772 US patents. In 2003, IBM received 3,415 U.S. patents, breaking the record it set previously for the most US patents received in a single year."

    Gotta admit thats kinda impressive...

    Microsoft may want to earn more respect now that they have started to share their $60+ billion war chest with their stock holders. Fair enough. But they can't earn my respect my just saying that they did 2,000 patents last year, and may do 3,000 this year -- so what? Lets see some sustained performance or at least publish their sustained historical performance...

    The question is can they deliver patents over the long haul... they already got the easy ones... Patent No. 6,748,582 (Microsoft's patents the "to-do list [theinquirer.net]").

    I am forgetful but not yet impr,eTOEd...

  • Re:Photo Patent (Score:3, Insightful)

    by danharan (714822) on Thursday July 29, 2004 @09:53PM (#9839492) Journal
    Taking the date out of the image itself is nifty, but I'm not sure it warrants a patent.

    As to the EXIF data... sorting based on date has been done before- and in fact, it's probably exactly for that type of thing that date information is stored there in the first place.
  • by jayp00001 (267507) on Thursday July 29, 2004 @09:54PM (#9839507)
    Yup, what does anyone expect? First /.ers were happy as a clam that Microsoft (previously ignored by the feds) took one up the tailpipe. Now that Microsoft's realized that they HAVE to play the game, and have decided to play it to win, folks are unhappy that the government is actually following the stupid rules that US citizens allowed, forgetting that the same stupid rules were some of the ones they were cheering for when they went against Microsoft.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 29, 2004 @10:11PM (#9839647)
    <offtopic>
    No one can drive well and talk on a cell phone. Some have died doing it and the rest are living on borrowed time. Just cause you are too stupid to relise this does not mean the rest of us have to be at risk.
    </offtopic>
  • Re:NO (Score:3, Insightful)

    by flacco (324089) on Thursday July 29, 2004 @10:37PM (#9839852)
    You guys are all idiots.

    [...]

    It's like OCR technology.

    it's not LIKE OCR technology, it IS OCR technology, applied to a specific case. in other words, this is COMPLETELY obvious, and only an idiot would think that this truly qualifies as a PATENTABLE INVENTION.

    the patent system quite plainly has become a tool of fascism, by its most fundamental definition. it's the power of the state used to exert socioeconomic control of the population to the benefit of large business interests. just like the nazis. just like fascist italy. and do NOT invoke godwin on me on this one.

  • Re:Photo Patent (Score:3, Insightful)

    by flacco (324089) on Thursday July 29, 2004 @10:42PM (#9839880)
    Still it is a cool idea,

    your threshold for cool is extremely low then. i would classify it as a mildly interesting hack in the implementation, but absolutely not patentable, for fuck's sake.

  • Re:Photo Patent (Score:3, Insightful)

    by JamesKPolk (13313) on Friday July 30, 2004 @12:09AM (#9840433) Homepage
    Why is that a valid patent?

    Isn't using OCR to extract text data an obvious application to an expert in the field?
  • by grozzie2 (698656) on Friday July 30, 2004 @01:23AM (#9840880)
    I recognize your sarcasm, however reading the patent reveals that Microsoft lists GPS information repeatedly.

    There is absolutely NOTHING new or innovative about sorting by either time or gps data. If you have been involved in the aerial photography at all for the last 20 years, then you've done this a LOT. Prior to the turn on of the GPS system, we used LORAN C systems to fly a track, taking photos. When gps came around, the military started using it for this purpose as soon as the system was turned on, industry followed suit as soon as the accuracy became available thru differential systems. I believe it was about 15 years ago when I first flew a camera platform that added time and location stamps to the photos as they were taken. Its at least 25 years ago since I saw one the first time. I strongly suspect the concept was patented back then, which means it would be expired by now..

    Not only is the concept OBVIOUS, there are mature commercial products on the market that have been doing this kind of stuff for 20+ years, using many systems, prior to availability of GPS. I've seen both LORAN and interial nav systems used as location data sources for camera platforms, prior to the availability of gps.

    I find it absolutely astounding that the USPTO will give out patents for concepts that have been in production for years. Do those idiots even read the applications anymore, or do they just collect the fees and issue patents for anything? this is one that I'm sure, the correct place to look for prior art is in the pile of EXPIRED patents issued by the USPTO.

  • by rokali (785706) on Friday July 30, 2004 @02:44AM (#9841213) Journal
    It's actually the USPTO's responsibility to check for prior art, so all these patents are professions of their ignorance. It costs about $7,000 to get a patent, including legal fees. The major problem here is not M$, it's the patent office and their procedures (and incompetence). It does seem like it must come to a breaking point sooner or later.
  • by PsiPsiStar (95676) on Friday July 30, 2004 @03:35AM (#9841395)
    Microsoft had several advantages.

    1. An early and very beneficial agreement with IBM to use its version of DOS and pay it per liscense which greatly helped in establishing the company.

    2. A wise decision on its part to work on PCs and sell its OS rather than going the way of Apple and trying to sell a package deal.

    3. Bundling its software and leveraging its OS position, created partially by IBM, into other areas of software. In short, an excellent business tactic, but not a technical feat.

    True, MS is at least adequate, technically. But it has grown and prospered based on excellent business and sales acumen rather than technical aptitiude. To phrase it another way, there is no mythical product which is so good or so cheap that it sells itself, though this is often how 'techs' see things and think others do too.
  • by Glib Piglet (774573) * on Friday July 30, 2004 @04:38AM (#9841603)
    This isn't news.

    Microsoft has already said it'll be spending north of seven billion dollars a year [zdnet.co.uk] on its patent program. It's also beens settling old lawsuits and doing licensing deals like they're going out of fashion.

    If you don't have a licensing deal with Microsoft, you won't be able to write software.

    That's the gameplan.

Programmers do it bit by bit.

Working...