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Microsoft [to patent] Verb Conjugation

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  • by sporkme (983186) * on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @01:32AM (#16050164) Homepage
    It's called a language-to-language dictionary, or a stack of them in this case. Futhermore, many websites and applications already offer complete translation, from single words to long texts (clearly not a secret) and the conjugation of verbs is intrinsic to this type of software so that context is preserved. All that the patent seems to offer is comprehension of strings like "present indicative of [verb]".

    From the article:
    For example, the user may input "present indicative of sein," "prasens indikativ von sein," "1st person plural of sein," and "erste Person Plural von sein".

    I think this is a nonstarter.
    • Unfortunately, the USPTO is so fucked-up that prior art is not even cause for invalidation of such patents in most cases...
    • by StarKruzr (74642)
      Prior art: expert systems.

      Next.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by dch24 (904899)
      Grammar Nazis everywhere will rejoice at the potential this new innovation has to eliminate all kinds of error with the number, case, tense, and person of a verb. Microsoft again demonstrates to their shareholders their ability to embrace, extend, exterminate, and extort^W^W^W^W^W...innovate, while at the same time rendering useless^W^W showing an olive branch to slashdot readers who seem to have a hard time understanding Microsoft innovation(TM).
    • by MoxFulder (159829)
      I wrote a computer program to conjugate French verbs around 1993, when I was 11 years old. Prior art :-)
    • by aussie_a (778472)
      Irrelevant if it's already been done. Under the new (proposed? or has it been put in place?) system Microsoft gets to patent whatever they want, and then get to sue anyone who already had the system before Microsoft even thought of it.
    • by DiamondGeezer (872237) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @03:40AM (#16050514) Homepage
      Dear Microsoft,

      With regard to your patent, would you like to

      a) fuck off
      b) go fuck yourself or
      c) get fucked
  • prior art? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Xerxes1729 (770990) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @01:35AM (#16050175)
    Can I submit my seventh grade Spanish book as an example of prior art? It has an interface (a table in the back) that allows the user to select verbs based on tense and person.
  • Oh please (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Grym (725290) * on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @01:35AM (#16050176)

    I dislike Microsoft's business practices as much as the next guy, but give me a break. If you actually read the linked patent, it isn't a patent on conjugating words. It's a patent on automatically providing all of the different possible conjugation forms of any verb on the fly, which is something I, for one, haven't seen before and think could be pretty useful...

    -Grym

    • Re:Oh please (Score:5, Informative)

      by zeruch (547271) <zeruch@de[ ]ntart.com ['via' in gap]> on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @01:50AM (#16050225) Homepage
      And I for one, have seen things that are certainly similar. At best what you are creating is a series of like values (I live (Engliah) = Eu vivo (Portuguese) = Iskun (Arabic), etc), and that is if you are doing translation (where such things have already been around). If it is for one language, then it is basically taking a "501 X Verbs" Book and making it searchable electronically, and adding it to the grammar/cpell check of a writing application. Unless there is some that extends beyond the simple idea of large tables of word/phrase data and maybe some kind of expert system with grammar rules that accounts for some of the varied iregular verbs of somelanguages, what you have is a rather bogus patent application.
    • Re:Oh please (Score:5, Interesting)

      by shreevatsa (845645) <shreevatsa.slash ... m ['l.c' in gap]> on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @01:52AM (#16050230)
      It's a patent on automatically providing all of the different possible conjugation forms of any verb on the fly, which is something I, for one, haven't seen before and think could be pretty useful...
      Have you looked at a (good) dictionary?

      Of course it is pretty useful. In fact, it is something fundamental to language. Which is why it is reprehensible that some company should have a patent on it. It is like giving them a patent on changing sentences from passive to active... no, it's worse.

      (This Onion article [theonion.com] might not be too far from reality, after all. :-)
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by coaxial (28297)
        Oh please indeed!

        Does a dictionary provide all the possible conjugation forms of any verb on the fly? No. No, they don't. Dictionaries don't do anything on the fly.

        What is reprehensible is you willfully misunderstanding the patented invention. No one is patenting verb conjugation. Microsoft patented a way of getting a machine to take a verb (conjugated or not) and then list all conjugated forms of the verb. Obviously you know nothing about information retrieval, and natural language processing, or you
        • Not true at all. Maybe some languages only have a single form for verbs, but most languages have non-trivial verb conjugations, and many (possibly even English, don't know of an example though) depend on it for disambiguating the grammar. So yes, in many languages, verb conjugation is fundamental.
        • Re:Oh please (Score:5, Informative)

          by martin-boundary (547041) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @03:34AM (#16050497)
          Looks like you're willfully misunderstanding the point as well. There is nothing difficult about listing all the possible conjugations of a verb: It's trivial to do it by applying the algorithms expressed in a good grammatical reference.

          It's trivial to do it for a fixed language, and it's trivial to iterate over any set of candidate languages with a well defined grammar, doing it for each.

          The fact that a book doesn't list all possible forms for each possible verb in an explicit table is irrelevant. The book is enough to generate those forms on demand, which is all an algorithm is required to do.

          Now, there are certainly optimal (smallest number of operations, or maybe smallest RAM requirements, etc) algorithms out there which perform equivalently to any given published grammar book, but finding those is at best a cause for buying the programmers a case of beer, it's not worthy of a patent. After all, it doesn't significantly advance the state of the art.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by treerex (743007)
            The issue I have with this patent application is that it doesn't even present a novel method for generating conjugation tables for a given verb form. The entire patent comes down to: lookup entered words in a table. From that table, link to this or that table, from there link to that or this table, ad nauseum. Everything is precomputed. They are patenting the brute-force, high-school freshman BASIC assignment version of this problem. Oh, it mentions possible UIs to display the disambiguation data. Big Whoop
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Pogue Mahone (265053)
      So it's a patent on looking up information in a file and presenting it on the screen. Now I'm sure I've seen that done somewhere before...
    • by wass (72082) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @02:03AM (#16050261)
      It's a patent on automatically providing all of the different possible conjugation forms of any verb on the fly, which is something I, for one, haven't seen before and think could be pretty useful...

      Yup, that described by your clarification has certainly never been done before [bestwebbuys.com].

    • by 1u3hr (530656)
      It's a patent on automatically providing all of the different possible conjugation forms of any verb on the fly, which is something I, for one, haven't seen before ...

      Look in a dictionary.

    • Re:Oh please (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Mjlner (609829) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @02:38AM (#16050367) Journal
      >"If you actually read the linked patent, it isn't a patent on conjugating words. It's a patent on automatically providing all of the different possible conjugation forms of any verb on the fly,"

      Yes, that is true, but that doesn't make it any less straightforward and simple.

      >"which is something I, for one, haven't seen before and think could be pretty useful..."

      ...which most definitely does not mean that such a thing does not exist.
      I, for one, have created a simple Perl-module which conjugates a given Latin verb in all tenses and forms. Let me tell you: conjugating a verb "on the fly" is trivial. Exceptions to every rule do, however, mess things up a little, but the exceptions themselves build up very simple and trivial rules.

      Prior art? Hell, yeah!
      Non-obvious? Hell, no!

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      “It's a patent on automatically providing all of the different possible conjugation forms of any verb on the fly, which is something I, for one, haven't seen before...”

      I don't mean to be rude, but this is the same attitude that leads to Microsoft (or anyone else) registering these crappy patents in the first place. FWIW, I have seen such a system before (Web-based, no less) wherein I could enter verbs (or nouns or any other words) in non-infinitive forms and the system would automatically

      • by inkswamp (233692)
        What about me? I can speak more than one language and therefore can provide different possible conjugation forms of a verb on the fly. Hell, I could do that back in high school. Check it out... I'm prior art.
    • While it may be useful, it's clearly a software patent, the kind that only limits innovation in the US. Microsoft is trying VERY hard to kill any edge we have.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by caveymon (939902)
      Have you taken a look at http://www.verbix.com/ [verbix.com] ? Pretty nice program, with loads of languages. Input verb, output any possible conjugation form. Heck, I use the online conjugator all the time when I'm trying my best at the Finnish language.
    • Re:Oh please (Score:4, Insightful)

      by belmolis (702863) <billposer&alum,mit,edu> on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @04:22AM (#16050625) Homepage

      You very likely don't work in natural language processing. People have been generating whole paradigms for a long time. For a set of published examples, check out the Xerox Finite State Morphology [fsmbook.com] software and textbook. The software provides ways of describing the morphology and lexicon of a language and compiling it into an efficient finite state transducer. Once you've got the transducer, you can run it in either direction, that is, you can parse, or you can generate. A common test, and exercise in courses on doing this, is to generate the entire paradigm of a particular word or set of words.

    • Euroglot! (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Nyh (55741)
      Well, if I read the application correctly it can do some of the functionality found in: http://www.euroglot.nl/en/index.html [euroglot.nl]:

      Euroglot gives the user: all conjugations and declensions
      Conjugations and declensions: * EuroglotOnline also recognizes declined words!


      Hmmm, it seems Euroglot has been violating this patent application at least since 1999.

      Nyh
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @01:37AM (#16050187)
    Clippie: It looks like you're typing a verb. Would you like:
    • some help choosing another verb?
    • some help conjugating your verb?
    • to use the split infinitive wizard?
  • by rolfwind (528248) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @01:39AM (#16050192)
    can they do this without paying royalties to him?
  • by KU_Fletch (678324) <bthomas1&ku,edu> on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @01:42AM (#16050204)
    Me fail English? That's unpossible.
  • Yay, whatever (Score:5, Interesting)

    by deblau (68023) <slashdot.25.flickboy@spamgourmet.com> on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @01:44AM (#16050210) Journal
    NJStar Japanese Word processor 5.01 [archive.org], released in 2004 (before filing date of the application). Note the features marked, respectively, "Instant English-Japanese/Japanese-English dictionary/translation" and "Japanese verb forms generator for Japanese study."
  • To bad we can't used slashdot posters as prior art. For an example saw the children of this post.
  • by jorghis (1000092) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @01:49AM (#16050221)
    It seems that slashdot routinely posts headlines claiming "Microsoft patents X!" Where X is something obviously nonpatentable. However, in almost every instance what Microsoft has actually done is patented a specific method or system of performing X. This is no exception. Microsoft has not patented conjugating verbs. They are applying for a patent for a specific type of system which helps users identify verb forms from verbs and vice versa. Again: patenting a method or system for performing X != patenting X. Can we get an end to all these misleading "Microsoft patents smiley faces!" type of headlines?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Americano (920576)
      Hey, you made a few mistakes in your post... what you meant to say, here on slashdot, was:

      MICROSOFT BAD!

      PATENTS BAD!

      SNARKY ATTENTION GRABBING HEADLINES GOOD!

      I mean, seriously... how are we supposed to engage in shouting down the unpopular kids if you don't help out and raise your voice?
    • by mblase (200735)
      Can we get an end to all these misleading "Microsoft patents smiley faces!" type of headlines?

      C'mon, you just need to get into the Slashdot spirit of these things....
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by 1u3hr (530656)
      what Microsoft has actually done is patented a specific method

      The "specific method" is not very specific, it covers just about any way of doing it. So MS has a big club to beat any small company who makes a widget that achieves the same result, because they have to spend tens of thousands of dollars to get a patent lawyer to defend themselves, even if it's "obvious" their work was original. Ultimately, it just scares anyone away from even trying.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jorghis (1000092)
        Can you name any examples where Microsoft has bullied a small company for patent infringement on a trivial patent? I dont know of any. But you claim that MS routinely scares/bullies "anyone away from trying" using patents so I would assume that you must have some examples of this. Do you know of any? (not flaming, legitimately curious)
        • by 1u3hr (530656)
          I must admit I'm just speculating. As a chicken might who sees the farmer sharpening his axe. MS probably claims such patents are purely defensive. Nevertheless, they provide a deterrent to smaller players, and it would give leverage if they wanted to buy up some promising technology.
        • by a_n_d_e_r_s (136412) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @03:34AM (#16050500) Homepage Journal
          Of course Microsoft has bullied programmers from releasing their code because it contains patents that Microsoft claims it owns. Yes, against small time people who cant afford the tens or houndred of thousands of money to get the patent revoked.

          One highly publized example is VirtualDub which no longer support the .asf file format since Microsoft sent them a threat to stop VirtualDyb from using .asf files.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VirtualDub [wikipedia.org]

          So yes Microsoft has no qualms about using their patents to stop open software being developed.
    • However, in almost every instance what Microsoft has actually done is patented a specific method or system of performing X.

      That specific method here is "on a computer." This is exactly the type of patent that slashdot people get up in arms about. The patent application requests that they be the only ones allowed to conjugate verbs on a computer.

      Though, I for one [to welcome] our new language [to own] overlords. (btw, way to go article submitter. you've made something dull into something interesting.)

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by jorghis (1000092)
        No, it is far more specific than that. You cant just read the few sentences in the abstract and assume that they are trying to patent everything which even remotely fits that description. If that were the case there would be no point in writing more than a few sentences in a patent application. They are much more specific about the system they are trying to patent here.
        • by Halo1 (136547)

          No, it is far more specific than that.

          No, it isn't.

          You cant just read the few sentences in the abstract and assume that they are trying to patent everything which even remotely fits that description

          That's correct. In fact, you can just disregard the entire abstract, because what defines the scope of the patent are the claims. Each independent claim (a claim which does not refer to another claim) is an independent patent monopoly. Claim 1 is usually the broadest, so let's have a look at it:

    • by inio (26835)
      What microsoft has patented is:

      "A method in a computer system for conjugating verbs in a target language, the method comprising: receiving a verb in a base language; identifying verb forms in the target language using a translation of the received verb from the base language to the target language; and displaying the identified verb forms in the target language."

      What is specific (or more importantly, non-obvious) about that?
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by jorghis (1000092)
        The abstract is general yes. But that is the abstract, the specifics are in the pages that follow. I think that this is where all the confusion on slashdot comes from. People read the abstract and assume that anything which is remotely similar to the abstract is what they are trying to patent. When in reality it really is just an abstract. You need to look at the entire application and realize that they are patenting a specific method of doing xyz, not just "a method for doing xyz" as is usually claime
        • by inio (26835)
          That's not the abstract, that's claim 1. The patent protects anything described in an independent claim(s) (in this case claim 1). The later claims only exist as backups in case claim 1 gets thrown out.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sporkme (983186) *
      I don't really care if it is Microsoft filing this kind of a patent. I still feel that it is baseless and that it already exists. The counter to my argument is that it IS fairly exciting software (in concept) and should be protected from theft. I feel that the software lies in a grey area between invention and copying. The code, not the concept, could be protected. IANAL.

      I agree that "patenting a method or system for performing X != patenting X", but does this really qualify? Both paper and compute
      • by gordo3000 (785698)
        the difference is like saying:
        "hey, I can do itnegration by hand. I can even do integrals using some very incredible estimation method. that means all the patents on computer software of doing integrals are invalid"

        or even more similar:
        "there are loads of textbooks taht compile answers to indefinite integrals. that means if mathematica does this on a computer, it is merely replicating what I could find in a book and therefore, non-patentable"

        I'm not saying its the most ground breaking technology ever, bu
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          "hey, I can do itnegration by hand. I can even do integrals using some very incredible estimation method. that means all the patents on computer software of doing integrals are invalid"

          Well, they are and/or should be. A method of doing integrals via computer software is still a mathematical method, and mathematics is not/should not be patentable (YMMV on patentability depending on your country of residence).

          At best, a method of doing integrals by software qualifies as a trade secret.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by TapeCutter (624760)
            "A method of doing integrals via computer software is still a mathematical method"

            A method of doing ANYTHING via computer software is still a mathematical method [wikipedia.org].
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by sa1lnr (669048)
      "Can we get an end to all these misleading "Microsoft patents smiley faces!" type of headlines?"

      You must be new around here. ;)
  • Then sues the world for infringing on it's newly acquired patent.

    What next? Speak Pig-Latin to avoid future infringements?
  • They're not patenting the idea of Verb Conjugation, they're patenting the method they want to use to accomplish this with software. It's a method patent. Whether or not method patents are a good idea or not is another matter. But what they are doing isn't really all that unusual in the patent world. (IANAL)
    • by Skippy_kangaroo (850507) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @02:03AM (#16050260)
      Yes - but they are effectively patenting all methods of doing this. And that is the big problem. Amazon didn't patent one particular method of providing one-click shopping, they pretty much patented them all. As such, Microsoft will have a lock on anyone doing verb conjugation on a computer.

      Nowhere in this patent do they describe the method in anything but the broadest generality - they are not patenting a specific implementation (which is what covers programs under copyright law).

      As you imply - it's not unusual but it's still a bad idea to allow method patents like this.
  • Which language? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by klang (27062) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @01:56AM (#16050240)
    Would this patent only cover American English, or would it cover Spanish (verb conjugation galore) or Danish (no verb conjugation at all) as well?
    • by Don_dumb (927108)
      Would this patent only cover American English, or would it cover Spanish (verb conjugation galore) or Danish (no verb conjugation at all) as well?
      Having RTFA it would seem to me that the patent application is (probably deliberately) language non-specific. But just so you know, Spanish is used in one of the examples.
  • by Heir Of The Mess (939658) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @01:58AM (#16050245) Homepage

    If you have been following recent history you will see that Microsoft have been sued for just about anything they do with software, and often they have lost for even things like including something like an interactive control on a web page.

    Given this, it only makes sense for them, or any company for that matter, to patent any ideas for present or future functionality that they might have.

    Software patents are here to throttle the rapid development of technology to the point that the powers that be can keep up with what's going on.

    • by DrJimbo (594231)
      Heir Of The Mess said:

      Given this, it only makes sense for them [Microsoft], or any company for that matter, to patent any ideas for present or future functionality that they might have.

      Sure. Likewise, if you are in a deep hole it only makes sense to keep digging. Not.

      Wouldn't it make more sense for Microsoft to work to change the current totally broken patent system?

      Oops. My mistake. That would be totally non-evil and thus violate Microsoft's mantra: "do evil".

  • More prior art (Score:4, Informative)

    by Virtual_Raider (52165) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @02:01AM (#16050253) Homepage
    In the spanish speaking world, unlike in english, there is an official academy of the language which monitors its development throughout all the spanish-speaking countries and updates the official Dictionary of the Academy accordingly. In their website they have a tool that does exactly the same as this patent describes. Would that count as prior-art or the fact that its in a different language might count as sufficient difference even though the process is about the same (if not more complex given that there are a lot more perks to spanish conjugation)?
  • by CODiNE (27417) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @02:07AM (#16050281) Homepage
    At least they didn't patent the letter E.
  • Prior art shouldn't be hard to find (took me 2 minutes):

    Other languages might be equally easy to find on the web.

  • Conjugate? (Score:5, Funny)

    by wickedsteve (729684) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @02:15AM (#16050302) Homepage
    Conjugate? I haven't even kissed a girl.
  • by sourcery (87455) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @02:21AM (#16050322)
    Will we still be allowed conjugal visits?
  • Verbix (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    According to Archive.org [archive.org], Verbix [verbix.com] has been around since at least March of 2000.
  • by rolfwind (528248) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @02:34AM (#16050358)
    by religning their administration to the original stated goals. We have to reevaluate what we have patents for. When the founding fathers put them in the constitution, it was to promote progress and the sciences. They stated this themselves.

    Yet, during WW2, the government invalidated many radio patents to spur progress (and help the war effort) and radio considerably advanced in that period. Also, computer science advanced very nicely in the US until software patents showed up.

    It seems that, if anything, patents hinder progress in many cases. It seems to me that patents help in situations where there is no market yet or is very research heavy (drug industry) and help funnel research in such an area, but once a competitive market is established, it only hinders progress in many instances.

    So a blanket ban on patents seem unfeasible but perhaps there should be a ban of patent by industry. Industries with rapid progress should have no patents because the promotion of science and advancement is obviously not needed.

    OTOH, where there is very little market or industry itself has a high upfront/continuing costs - an extra incentive is needed (protection at the marketplace) and thus patents are necessary.

    In other words, patents will be considered almost like tax incentives.

    The problem with patents today, in lieu of manufacturing going overseas, is that the US is trying to pad its economy with IP, so the government as a whole has no incentive to be sparing of patents. This path is problematic and will impoverish us all over time. We really need to overhaul the patent system.

    I would be particularly interested in hearing the opinions of historians who have studied scientific revolutions/industrial revolutions/economic upheavals of the past and what their opinions about the environment/variables that time has shown truly promote advancement/progress.
  • To find it most unsettling to have to talk like a gargoyle in the future!
  • Le Conjugueur (Score:2, Insightful)

    by stivi (534158)
    What about this http://www.leconjugueur.com/ [leconjugueur.com]?
  • All in favour of the /. editor(s)/Admin pulling or correcting this bullshit "News" to reduce the amount of "prior art" crap coming from /.ers who don't RTFA say "aye".

    I'm going patent the act of not RTFA'ing - I'll make a fortune...
    • pookeman said:
      to reduce the amount of "prior art" crap coming from /.ers ... say "aye".

      I'm going patent the act of not RTFA'ing - I'll make a fortune...
      Unfortunately for you, I wouldn't be surprised if there was already an abundance of prior art for this novel idea of yours.

  • by 70Bang (805280) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @02:40AM (#16050376)

    I suppose it'll make it easier to automate how Yoda talks.

    I'm still waiting for them to surpass patenting "How to Tell When a Baseball Game is Exciting." or patenting their apple.

    _________________________________________

    It's going to take some work, although one never knows when opportunity will strike:

    A local anchor once said, "...killed him to death..."

    She left the city and returned (to a different station) and I was waiting for another one as she's also the "Health & Technology" reporter.

    This time, however, it was the "alternative" anchor team (it's a mess) and the story was about acupuncture and overcoming issues in getting pregnant.

    The anchor turned to her and said, "I guess it just takes a little prick, eh?". Deadpan.

    If I'd have that taped, it would have been on YouTube about five minutes later, but alas...all I could do was change my boxers.

  • It don't matters for slashdot; nobody here cans doing it anyway.
  • I learnt how to conjugate my ( Latin and English ) verbs about 52 years ago.
    It looks as if M/S must have realised that the current generations of modern teachers are no longer able to teach much about grammar. Thus they have discovered yet another niche to fill, I didn't think there were any left, well good for them. That's ok but to be able patent it? Well, perhaps the next patent will be for the recognition of the glyphs and the deciphering thereof. a.k.a Optical Character Recognition and language analysi
  • Artstechnica has a review (1 Sep 2006) on this. http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20060901-7646 .html [arstechnica.com]

    Don't really blame Microsoft (shock, horror - did I say that!) for what IMHO is stupidity, blame the Patent system.

    Caution reading the patent will only give you a headache.
  • Major typo (Score:4, Funny)

    by tygerstripes (832644) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @04:34AM (#16050657)
    Anyone else notice (or care) that the USPTO seems to have spelled Address as "Adress". Spelling-nazis are ten-a-penny, so you would expect the USPTO, of all organisations, to have one or two in their ranks!

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