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Microsoft Patents

Microsoft Retracts Patent 182

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the too-hot dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Microsoft has retracted their recent controversial patent application. The story was first brought to light by Slashdot on Saturday. Today, Jane Prey of Microsoft announced the retraction on the SIGCSE (Special Interest in Computer Science Education) mailing list. 'Many thanks to the members of the community that brought this to my attention — and here's the latest. The patent application was a mistake and one that should not have happened. To fix this, Microsoft will be removing the patent application. Our sincere apologies to Michael Kölling and the BlueJ community.'"
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Microsoft Retracts Patent

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  • by chriss (26574) * <chriss@memomo.net> on Monday January 29, 2007 @01:55PM (#17802204) Homepage

    I have a tendency to believe that humans can err, but are basically good. And even Microsoft consists of humans. So my first reaction was "Oh good, they are not as soulless as we believe, this was an honest mistake." That option had already been pointed out during the discussion on slashdot as a problem within their process:

    1. Microsoft collects suggestions from different sources
    2. Someone suggests the BlueJ functionality
    3. Someone extracts a list of features that should actually be implemented
    4. Some developer implements the function, not knowing where it came from
    5. At the end someone sees the function, attributed to the developer, does not see the BlueJ connection and suggests it for patent application, because this is the routine way to handle new ideas at Microsoft

    So, an honest mistake. But this being Microsoft it took me seconds to fall into conspiracy mode. How could they have such mistakes in their process, if they care about intellectual property? Was the mistake that they didn't hide it well? Did they simply try if they can get through with this? Can an entity that consists of basically good humans be not good in the end? (I'm afraid yes). So I still cannot decide if I can trust them or not, they seem to have lied too often in the past.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 29, 2007 @01:59PM (#17802244)
      My cynical reaction: The patent application would not have been pulled except for the written admission on the part of a Microsoft developer that the feature was copied from BlueJ.
    • by Frosty Piss (770223) on Monday January 29, 2007 @02:03PM (#17802312)

      But this being Microsoft it took me seconds to fall into conspiracy mode.

      There's no "conspiracy" about it, this is now common among most big technology corporations: Throw buckets of patent applications at the Patent Office, and see what sticks. Often the "little people" they are ripping off don't have the means to fight it, and while the other big players know it's bullshit, they find it cheaper and quicker to just pay the license. It's not just Micorsoft, they all do it.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Just to play a little devil's advocate:

        Nobody is going to sue MomAndPop.com for patent infringement because its not profitable. They sue the Microsofts and the Apples who have the deep pockets to shell out big settlements. With software patents being the legal quagmire that they are, the only protection these corporations have from others abusing the system is to be the patent holder themselves. So they apply for a patent and this ends in one of a few ways:

        They can't get the patent because someone else h
        • by mike2R (721965)

          Nobody is going to sue MomAndPop.com for patent infringement because its not profitable. They sue the Microsofts and the Apples who have the deep pockets to shell out big settlements.

          Patent trolls aren't going to sue MomAndPop.com, true; as you say they want money so they go for Microsoft or Apple. But Microsoft or Apple may well sue (not that it'll ever go to court) MomAndPop.com if they come up with something that could threaten established markets and business practices.

        • by zotz (3951)

          With software patents being the legal quagmire that they are, the only protection these corporations have from others abusing the system is to be the patent holder themselves.
          I don't believe that. The big guys could get software patents done away with in no time if they wanted to. That is my take. Naturally, I could be wrong and often am, but I doubt it in this case.

          all the best,

          drew
        • by Wolfbone (668810)

          "Nobody is going to sue MomAndPop.com for patent infringement because its not profitable. They sue the Microsofts and the Apples who have the deep pockets to shell out big settlements."

          Not true. UncleAndAunt.com will sue MomAndPop.com and even BroAndSis.org. (cf. KAM v. JMRI). Out and out litigation is just the tip of the iceberg btw: far more usually, licensing fees or cessation of infringement is demanded. EvilPatentTroll.com or AnyCorp.com with an aggressive IP licensing program will also attack MomA

      • by samkass (174571)
        Throw buckets of patent applications at the Patent Office, and see what sticks.

        Even if BlueJ had 9 out of 10 claims of the patent covered with prior art, it's possible Microsoft could have gotten at least one original claim out of it. And considering they have lawyers on retainer for this stuff, it doesn't hurt them to try. The only thing that hurts them is if they think they'll lose sales over the hubbub.

        As someone else mentioned, though, someone at Microsoft did commit perjury (even after it was retract
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by nexuspal (720736)
        The big guys don't pay for others patents. Instead, they cross-license patents (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cross-licensing/ [wikipedia.org]), which is sharing Patent portfolios to prevent mutually assured destruction (in litigation) because every big company cannot be in business WITHOUT violating some other mega corporations patents.

        The little guy does indeed get screwed over as you pointed out. Doesn't that go against the original intent of the Patent system?
      • by mpcooke3 (306161)
        Small/medium players may pay up, big companies don't, and if they get sued they counter-claim.

        US software patents are mainly useful for threatening small innovative startups that can't afford legal fees and don't have a massive portfolio of 'obvious' patents to counterclaim with.
    • by sholden (12227) on Monday January 29, 2007 @02:05PM (#17802354) Homepage
      Except that three people are listed as the inventors on the patent application.

      So those three must have thought they'd invented something - otherwise they lied on that application.

      Or is it legal to put people's names on a patent application without asking them if what they did is actually an "invention"?

      The people at both 3 and 4 have to know they didn't "invent" anything and surely the people at 5 have to ask them at some point?

      • by kansas1051 (720008) on Monday January 29, 2007 @02:20PM (#17802576)
        Each inventor listed in a U.S. patent application has to sign an oath (declaration) that states that he believes that he is the first to invent what is claimed in the patent application. So you are correct in that these Microsoft inventors were either: (1) lazy (didn't read the patent application); (2) lying (knew of BlueJ and didn't care); or (3) incompetent (didn't know what BlueJ was).
        • by kansas1051 (720008) on Monday January 29, 2007 @02:25PM (#17802648)
          As a follow up to my own post, inventor oaths are typically made under penalty of perjury, so that if an inventor knowingly signs a false declaration, the inventor may be punished by fine and/or imprisonment under 18 U.S.C. 1001.
          • by pruss (246395)
            That may be, but I hope they don't prosecute the guy who admitted this, since it would have a chilling effect on others who might like to make similar admissions.
        • Quite confident that they could buy their way out of any resulting trouble using the money from licenses for the thousands of other patent applications on which they did something like this and did not get detected.
        • I would like to hear the "inventor"'s explaination of this and why they shouldn't be prosecuted for perjury and/or fraud.
          Gautam Goenka [msdn.com]
          Partho P Das [msdn.com]
          Umesh Unnikrishnan
          • More usefully, someone who lives in the US should formally report it to whover handles cases like this.

            Follow it up in writing, ask why they are not prosecuting given that the evidence is public.

            Either

            1) it will lead to a prosecution and a deterent for others who might do this, or
            2) you will be told it is not worth prosecuting over something like this, which gives us clear evidence that the penalty of perjury is a fiction.
            3) You will be ignored.

            Either 1) or 2) is a useful result, 3) might be avioded with e
            • Deterrent? The patent system and the consequences of "justice" are already a huge deterrent, must you add threats of jail time? I don't believe that the 612 billion dollar fine RIM was forced to pay was just, but at least they weren't facing the possibility of a stay in a penitentiary. The other punishment the justice system considered was the complete shutdown, and thankfully they decided that wasn't a good idea. Sure, liars should suffer consequences, but at some point the severity of the punishment i

              • What are the consequences of making a false claim like this? AS far as I can see, none. The RIM case is, if anything, an encouragement to patent trolls, not a deterrent.

                There is a reason for requiring that the "inventor" sign under penalty of perjury: it is precisely to provide a detterent. If it is not enforced, there is not reason not to "have a try" at patenting other people's ideas.

                The same applies to lots of other laws that have similar provisions (DMCA, to pick an example familiar to slashdot) for sim
          • by rtb61 (674572)
            We can only hope the reason they won't be prosecuted is because they point the finger at the lying M$ executive who made them sign the piece of paper in the first place.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Chris Burke (6130)
          No, there's a fourth option: They didn't know what BlueJ was, not because of incompetence but because they deliberately didn't seek it out under the express instructions of the company patent lawyer.

          Since knowingly infringing a patent is treble damages, it's SOP for companies to tell their engineers not to do patent searches or other prior art searches before submitting patents or using ideas. The other half of this strategy is to patent as many things as possible. This way when you violate someone else'
    • No one ever thinks he or she is being evil (except for cartoonish supervillains and goth teenagers). Someone thought having another patent in MS's portfolio would be a good thing (from his/her perspective); if this person knew about the the BlueJ origins and still thought, "hey, we should patent this!" it's not because they were also thinking, "because that would make us even more evil! Muwahahaha!" but because they saw having another patent as being a good thing. inside the culture at MS, adding to the o
      • "maybe it was only that MS got caught with their hand in the cookie jar that this retraction has occurred" ...

        ya think? (Hint: how many times have they retracted a patent application *without getting caught like this ...

        reminds me of all the crappy pop singers who get caught lip-syncing and *swear that on every other night of their lives they sang for real, it's just that they had a sore throat that day and ... etc. etc.
        • by Don853 (978535)

          Hint: how many times have they retracted a patent application *without getting caught like this ...


          I don't know. How many? Do you know, or are you just making an accusation?
      • by Euler (31942)
        I'm sure most bank robbers know they are committing evil acts. So we don't need to be completely apologetic for Microsoft. Signing and submitting legal documents is something that isn't taken lightly, perjury is a big deal. As a corporation, they act as one legal entity as a person does. Just because the communication broke down between the engineering dept. and legal is no excuse.

        That being said, Microsoft probably wasn't going out of its way to steal someone else's tech. It has probably just become t
    • by Cheapy (809643)
      "How could they have such mistakes in their process, if they care about intellectual property?"
      Not everyone has heard of BlueJ. The person(s) who wrote it might have fallen into this camp.

      "Was the mistake that they didn't hide it well?"
      No, incoming patents can be examined by outside parties. Microsoft knows that all patents they submit will be closely looked at by people outside of the patent office.

      "Did they simply try if they can get through with this?"
      You never know with these large corporations.

      "Can an
    • I have a tendency to believe that humans can err, but are basically good. And even Microsoft consists of humans.

      I have a similar belief. However, I would more specifically word it as "Without any other information given, I have a tendency to believe a person is basically good."

      For example, if you tell me that person is a member of Fred Phelp's church, I no longer believe that they fall in any category I would classify as "good." The same is true if they belonged to the Earth Liberation Front. This does

    • by Hatta (162192)
      I have a tendency to believe that humans can err, but are basically good. And even Microsoft consists of humans. So my first reaction was "Oh good, they are not as soulless as we believe, this was an honest mistake." That option had already been pointed out during the discussion on slashdot as a problem within their process:

      Sure, an honest mistake. But what are they doing to fix their process so it doesn't happen again? If their process is prone to "honest mistakes" and they don't do anything it becomes "
    • by Speare (84249) on Monday January 29, 2007 @02:34PM (#17802778) Homepage Journal

      I have to say, with all the legal loops that you have to hop to work with corporate lawyers just to get a patent to the submission stage, that this is not just a simple mistake.

      In other words, I definitely heard "And I would've gotten away with it, if it weren't for these meddling kids!" running through my head. Zoinks!

    • Is everyone going to completely ignore the fact that this feature is one of Microsoft's very, very few that aren't developed in Redmond??? The Microsoft India Development Center [microsoft.com] in Hyderabad, is responsible for this whole feature area.

      Draw your own conclusions, but at a minimum, it would increase the chances of mis-communication...
    • I have a tendency to believe that humans can err, but are basically good.

      And that last part is where the whole house of cards comes tumbling down. Basically good!? Are you kidding me? Sure there are a lot of people that do good things running around, but mankind is not intrinsically good by any stretch. I am just going to guess that you are either:

      a. very sheltered

      b. very young

      or c. very naive

      I hope you don't find out the truth the hardway.

      • by Rallion (711805)
        Most everybody IS good -- saying that they aren't is an error of limited perspective.
    • by CDarklock (869868)
      Disclosure: I work as a contractor at Microsoft.

      I'm of the opinion that most software patent applications are bogus. The problem is that if you don't get your bogus claim in before the other guy, you have to spend lots of money proving you didn't steal his bogus invention.

      In reality, most software "inventions" aren't really patentable. Look at the BlueJ feature in question. How else could you implement it? What other format would be even remotely understandable? It's obvious; that's pretty much the only way
    • It's not really a question of good or evil. It's that the process you've outlined above is essentially the path of least resistance.

      We can assume that for every piece of working, checking it against a given criteria (e.g. "Did we get this idea elsewhere?") costs money. Therefore adding a given check to their process implies a cost to each piece of work.

      The rationale of balancing this goes something like:
      1 For a piece of work does criteria X apply?
      1.1 Yes Do we increase profit by performing the c
    • by Kanasta (70274)
      Microsoft doesn't have to worry because clearly if there was prior art, the patent office would inform Microsoft of their mistake right? Because that's what the patent office's job is. Oh...

    •   Never assume malice, when incompetence will suffice.

  • Here is the description from the linked slashdot post, if you were wondering what this patent was about:

    "BlueJ is a popular academic IDE which lets students have a visual programming interface. Microsoft copied the design in their 'Object Test Bench' feature in Visual Studio 2005 and even admitted it. Now, a patent application has come to light which patents the very same feature, blatantly ignoring prior art."
  • by ivan256 (17499) on Monday January 29, 2007 @01:59PM (#17802242)
    ...to include half a sentence describing the basics of the patent in the hyperlink?

    "The patent discussed on saturday" isn't significantly shorter than "the patent on a copied IDE feature" but contains more useful knowledge and less useless knowledge.
    • There's still research going into Integrated Drive Electronics [wikipedia.org]? I thought SATA had replaced that.

      /joking. Seriously, throwing an acronym into the summary doesn't make it any more clear.
    • by Jerf (17166)
      I thought "<a href="http://yro.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=07/01 /27/147243&tid=109">controversial patent application</a>" covered the bases pretty well, it's both shorter and more informative than even your suggestion. (Well, without the space.)

      (Links on the web aren't an incidental thing, they are a vital part of what is being communicated.)
      • by ivan256 (17499)
        That's such a cop-out. The link should be there, sure, but there is no excuse for giving a poor description of what can be found via the hyperlink when you could just as easily given a good description. Your way is only marginally better than the universally despised as poor practice "here" links of the mid '90s.

        Congratulations on showing me how much more "web savvy" you are than me though.
  • by abscondment (672321) on Monday January 29, 2007 @02:06PM (#17802372) Homepage

    Why does it not surprise me that someone named Jane Prey is involved in a Microsoft patent SNAFU?

  • I'd be a lot happier if the Empire's own minions had noticed the problem
    and withdrawn the patent BEFORE the outcry arose. As it is:

    "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." -- Wendell Phillips, (1811-1884)

    Modern addendum: "And the price of open software."
    • by prelelat (201821)
      You be crazy brotha. If they had removed the patent would you have even heard about it to say thank god they withdrew their patent? Who knows if they ever have or if they ever will but I doubt you will be posting about it on /. People only have stories where things have gone wrong or horribly right, not when something happens how its suppose to.
  • Watch now for patents that come as close as possible to stepping over the line, but stop just short. Microsoft easily has the resources to toss up nuisance patents that block possible future development of BlueJ.
    • I'm not so sure (Score:3, Informative)

      by Infonaut (96956)

      Watch now for patents that come as close as possible to stepping over the line, but stop just short. Microsoft easily has the resources to toss up nuisance patents that block possible future development of BlueJ.

      After publicly admitting the misstep with the original patent, I'm not sure what the value to MS would be in aggressively trying to thwart BlueJ. It seems their strategy here is to hold themselves out as an ethical player. They have to know that they're on notice now about BlueJ, and any attmpts

  • Mistake? (Score:2, Informative)

    by MaggieL (10193)
    Anyone who thinks this was an innocent mistake in "implementing a suggestion" probably hasn't seen the screenshots comparing The VS screens with BlueJ. ( http://www.bluej.org/vs/vs-bj.html [bluej.org] )

    Personally, I'm convinced the most plausible explanation for the *extremely* close replication of the BlueJ screens in the MSFT product is that the BlueJ source was ported to C#, probably using an automated tool.
    • Re:Mistake? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Monday January 29, 2007 @02:53PM (#17803030) Homepage Journal

      Personally, I'm convinced the most plausible explanation for the *extremely* close replication of the BlueJ screens in the MSFT product is that the BlueJ source was ported to C#, probably using an automated tool.

      That's a bunch of nonsense. I mean, it's not impossible, but it's ridiculous to jump to that conclusion. There are tons of workalike tools in Unixland that look and behave just like the programs they're knocking off. Does that mean they were developed by porting the original program? I just made some documents that look amazingly like some other documents in-house (I'm a graphic artist, and I needed some documents very similar to some old ones but with new graphical elements, and couldn't find the originals.) By your argument, the most rational explanation for the existence of these documents is that I loaded up the originals and altered them. The new document is just so similar!

      Maybe the GNOME desktop is actually a port of Windows' source code, since it looks so much like Windows?

      • by MaggieL (10193)
        That's a bunch of nonsense. I mean, it's not impossible...I just made some documents that look amazingly like some other documents in-house (I'm a graphic artist...

        That's funny, I'm a programmer...perhaps a *wee* bit more qualified to comment.

        I'd say the evidence is circumstantial yet compelling. Of course, as long as the MSFT source is secret there will be no proof one way or the other.

        There's a world of difference between deliberately cloning a UI or a document and having deep similarity in appearance in
        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          That's funny, I'm a programmer...perhaps a *wee* bit more qualified to comment.

          By a certain standard, I'm a programmer too. (I'm not a very good one nor do I have a degree, but I am forced to write code on a regular basis.)

          There's a world of difference between deliberately cloning a UI or a document and having deep similarity in appearance in a myriad of essentially non-functional ways just by accident.

          No one said they didn't deliberately clone the UI. My argument is that there is no evidence whatsoeve

          • by MaggieL (10193)
            Yeah, I bet I know why too. Because their business model depends on keeping their source closed. Nice FUD though.

            To clear up this issue, they could disclose just the relevant source without impacting their "business model" one whit. Nobody's going to use that much code to clone VS.

            Nice misdirection though.
               
            • by drinkypoo (153816)

              To clear up this issue, they could disclose just the relevant source without impacting their "business model" one whit. Nobody's going to use that much code to clone VS. Nice misdirection though.

              It's not appropriate to accuse me of misdirection when you simply miss the point entirely. That is not my fault.

              Their business model depends on keeping their source closed for two reasons. One, they are on a crusade against Open Source in order to support their business, and it would make them look more like the

      • "There are tons of workalike tools in Unixland that look and behave just like the programs they're knocking off"

        Assuming that were true, where did the Open Source developers try and patent these tools.

        "Maybe the GNOME desktop is actually a port of Windows' source code, since it looks so much like Windows?"

        So it's a total co-incidence that both applications look and behave uncannily similar.

        was: Re:Mistake? (Score:4, Mod trolled up)
  • Now the slashdot echo chamber will have a moment of self-satisfaction while more theft, more corporate domination and fraud at the expense of consumers and entrepreneurs.

    Most importantly: We don't have to get out of our chairs and participate in our political system to make the government we want. Woohoo!
  • Missing the point (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Microsoft's apology changes nothing about the fact that all the original factors that caused this embarrassing mistake by them are still in play. It is very lucky that Microsoft's misbehaviour in the BlueJ example was quickly noticed, carefully documented and forcefully exposed by the BlueJ people themselves, but it is not and should not be an inventor's job to police the behaviour of big companies like Microsoft. The next time Microsoft misappropriates somebody else's invention, the problem is unlikely to
  • I disagree with the idea of just attempting to patent absolutely anything, and then only when the app comes back as "has issue", the company says, "Oops! heh heh, never mind that one..." and just keeps on going. It's pretty clear that even if the patent office was great at detecting dupe patents, prior art,etc., that if there are 10,000 patent apps a day or whatever coming in, how do you have time to check them all? Surely a lot are slipping through and being granted based on this "apply first, worry late
    • What I don't get is the rush to pass them. Should just be round-robin through the owners. So even if you submit 9000 patents today, only one will be looked at before looking at the others.

      That way if a company feels the need to apply for a shiatload of patents they'll get the joy of knowing they won't get looked at anytime soon.

      Anyone who is not really annoyed at the state of patents should try googles patent search. Enter any trivially understood idea like "task scheduling" or "integer multiplication" a
  • Okay, this whole thing is not too surprising. The patent system is broken and all major companies end up using a shotgun approach to get as many, mostly invalid, patents as possible. They apologized publicly for this instance. That was the right thing to do, and MS did it for a change. Good job MS.

  • by Ravear (923203) on Monday January 29, 2007 @02:42PM (#17802904)
    (A)ssimilate? (Y/Y)
  • and donate all their licensing income derived from patenting sync ram that was derivative of early standardization attempts in an industry technical committee, we might start getting someplace.

    if not, hey, what the hell, it's only ethics and morals. I'm sure it did not influence any other large companies in the field, like HP and SCO.
  • Good start, but (Score:2, Insightful)

    by dotdash (944083)

    To fix this, Microsoft will be removing the patent application. Our sincere apologies to Michael Kölling and the BlueJ community.
    What about listing BlueJ in Visual Studio credits?
  • just yesterday I decided to check out googles new patent search engine.
    I typed in "Virtual Interaction Configuration" and up pops a patent.

    I'm very anti-patent when it comes to software and the virtual interaction configuration is my own project that started back in 1988. I've only glanced over the patent so far and I intend on addressing each claim and explaining how each does not qualify for patent consideration. I intend to explain it in terms of Abstraction Physics, the common human characteristic in cr
  • by mary_will_grow (466638) on Monday January 29, 2007 @03:56PM (#17803854)
    Move along... It was "just a mistake".

    What about the zillions of other patents just like this one that they apply for every day? Is the burden really on ME to make sure that Microsoft hasn't been attempting to patent stuff I've clearly got "prior art" for?

    This is terrible. Stop acting like "The system works". This is one example where a prior-art holder had the means to notice someone's faulty patent claim.

    I'm not even sure where the burden of proof should lie. When you hire a patent attorney to do a "prior art search", they just give you a pile of existing patents that matched some keywords. How do you do a _real_ prior art search, beyond just what has already been patented? Its not even possible. The system is so hosed that every patent that resulted from it should probably just be thrown out.

    I can't believe people are buying this "It was a mistake" B.S.
  • by merc (115854) <slashdot@upt.org> on Monday January 29, 2007 @06:04PM (#17805520) Homepage
    If it wasn't for those meddling F/LOSS kids!

    *ducks*
  • by r_jensen11 (598210) on Monday January 29, 2007 @06:58PM (#17806304)
    I call BS on that, especially seeing that the submission on /. included two links to stories related and neither was a direct link to an application. Brought to light to Slashdot? Yes, that I can believe.
  • Microsoft has retracted their recent controversial patent application.

    Only to apply for another [www.idg.se] (sorry, only in Swedish). According to the article, Microsoft has applied for a patent for modular operating system upgrades, which sound quite similar to the various package management schemes (Yum, Apt, etc) used in Linux and other Unix-like operating systems.

He keeps differentiating, flying off on a tangent.

Working...