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Microsoft Patents Your Rights Online

Microsoft Patents 1826 Choropleth Map Technique 183

Posted by Soulskill
from the right-click-add-to-dictionary dept.
theodp writes "A newly-granted Microsoft patent for Variable Formatting of Cells covers the use of 'variable formatting for cells in computer spreadsheets, tables, and other documents', such as using the spectrum from a first color to a second color to represent the values in or associated with each cell. Which is really not a heck of a lot different from how Baron Pierre Charles Dupin created what's believed to be the first choropleth map way back in 1826, when he used shadings from black to white to illustrate the distribution and intensity of illiteracy in France. By the way, beginning in March, the U.S. will switch from a first-to-invent to a first-to-file system of granting patents. Hey, what could go wrong?"
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Microsoft Patents 1826 Choropleth Map Technique

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  • by Yuff (2748669) on Tuesday October 09, 2012 @06:06PM (#41601597)
    How can We The People put an end to this nonsense? They are not patenting, so much as stealing. How can we petition the US PTO to have a patent re-examined and to have the a$$wipe who accepted the patent application be fired for incompetence?
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by WillAffleckUW (858324)

      How? I don't know, how many US Senators do you own?

      • Stealing ? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Taco Cowboy (5327) on Tuesday October 09, 2012 @09:39PM (#41603303) Journal

        They are not patenting, so much as stealing.

        I have a deep suspicion that the United States government is actually encouraging the act of stealing by maintaining the patent system.
         
        By filing a patent on a technique somebody had invented some 186 years ago Microsoft (and the United States Government) is essentially telling people to steal as much as they can, before someone else steals it from you.
         
        BTW, has anyone patented the compass yet?
         

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by fustakrakich (1673220)

      How can We The People put an end to this nonsense?

      Haven't you heard? It's legal to vote the incumbents out.. The 98% of voters and the folks complaining here who reelect these people ought to try it some time. The results might surprise them, pleasantly or otherwise, but until they make a feeble effort at it, they can't possibly know.

    • There are multiple processes available to kill this patent (reexamination, post-grant review, inter partes review). However, they are all fairly expensive.

      We are talking the government here. Mistake happen. If we are gutting the government for incompetence, the PTO is really not my top concern.

      • Expensive?

        http://patents.stackexchange.com/ [stackexchange.com]

        Knock yourself out.

      • by hankwang (413283)

        There are multiple processes available to kill this patent (reexamination, post-grant review, inter partes review). However, they are all fairly expensive.

        Normally, a patent application is published 18 months after filing, well before the patent is granted. Why do I never read here about attacking silly patents when they are still an application?

        About this patent: when I saw the slashdot summary, I hoped that it was a bit exaggerated and that the patent claims actually were much more narrow. But no, the e

    • How can we petition the US PTO to have a patent re-examined

      The simple answer is to sue to have it invalidated. If someone wants to do so I have some prior art [blogspot.com] from not that long ago that should invalidate their patent. It even has colored cells, although not in a spreadsheet fashion, but does use the value for a cell and start and end color transitions. As an added bonus it is date and time stamped by a reputable source. I have a really crappy one [blogspot.com] that stated going towards this from even earlier but yet still provides useful information.

  • by WillAffleckUW (858324) on Tuesday October 09, 2012 @06:12PM (#41601639) Homepage Journal

    It is time to go back to a 13 year patent and 17 year copyright cycle, with a renewal of patent available only to a Natural Person (e.g. not a fictional Corporation) holding a patent for one period, and with copyright renewable only by the Natural Person who authored the work, in 17 year periods, assignable to one spouse, children or heirs (other than Fictional Persons such as Corporations), until said person is deceased for three years.

    If it worked for our founding fathers, who didn't have the Internet, and thus had longer lag times, it should work for America.

    Exisiting patent and copyright grants should be allowed to conclude their grant cycle, provided it is less than or equal to said period, with the holder reverting to the Natural Person at the expiry of such lease. But not created and renewed.

    • by b4dc0d3r (1268512) on Tuesday October 09, 2012 @06:35PM (#41601853)

      "If it worked for our founding fathers..." is a terrible argument. Even when you're trying to say that things get old faster so they same time period is effectively longer.

      I take the opinion that most of the copyright-based industries are actually false economies. They have built up a business model based on the scarcity of a tangible object (vinyl or paper), and expect to continue that via artificial scarcity. It doesn't make any sense.

      The duration argument has already been made. Optimum length for a copyright for both the owner and society as a whole is 14-17 years, depending on who you ask. It has nothing to do with the circumstances long ago. We adjust as times change.

      http://arstechnica.com/uncategorized/2007/07/research-optimal-copyright-term-is-14-years/ [arstechnica.com]

      • by WillAffleckUW (858324) on Tuesday October 09, 2012 @06:52PM (#41602023) Homepage Journal

        Both arguments work. But the insanity of continuing with our out of control system is just that - insanity.

      • by MrL0G1C (867445)

        Optimum length for a copyright for both the owner and society as a whole is 14-17 years

        There is a very terrible downside to your argument, that is, 1980's music would become free, perhaps an exception clause for that decade should be built in.

        • by mcgrew (92797) *

          There is a very terrible downside to your argument, that is, 1980's music would become free, perhaps an exception clause for that decade should be built in.

          Although I appreciate teh humor, I must pedantically point out that every decade has had shitty music. 70s? Disco, for example... but then again, that was the decade of Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. The 80s music only seemed worse than disco because you were watching empty-v, who played the worst music on the planet.

          If I were going to pick the decade of t

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Maybe just abolish the system altogether and replace it with nothing.

      http://levine.sscnet.ucla.edu/general/intellectual/against.htm

    • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) on Tuesday October 09, 2012 @06:40PM (#41601923) Homepage Journal

      Agreed, with the exception of the "Natural Person" language. "Person" should cover it quite nicely. And we can reinforce the point by sending anyone--particularly, but not exclusively, any judge or politician--who claims that corporations are people to labor camps in some American version of Siberia, say North Dakota, where they will be clothed in rags, housed in huts, fed on gruel, and worked to the edge of death. When their sentences are up, we can ask them if they understand the difference between corporations and people yet.

      • After long thought, I am not going to agree to allowing AIs, ACs, Cyborgs (we have a cool seminar on advanced robotics and remote imaging this Thursday at 3:30 pm), or Robots to be included.

        Or Corporations.

        But I like your idea of a Gulag for Corporate Believers.

        • by mcgrew (92797) *

          After long thought, I am not going to agree to allowing AIs, ACs, Cyborgs

          What do you have against cyborgs, you insensitive clod? You would restrict my rights just because I'm not 100% human? You must not realize that there's a good chance you have a grandparent who is a cyborg. I'm a cyborg because of a device implanted in my left eye that gives me better vision than yours. Other cyborgs have pacemakers, artificial joints, and cochlear implants.

          You will be assimilated. Especially if you're a runner (dumbest

      • by DMUTPeregrine (612791) on Tuesday October 09, 2012 @07:11PM (#41602221) Journal
        Corporations are Soylent Green.
        Made of people is not the same as people.
      • by Dishevel (1105119)

        Well while I see your point on the whole "Corp as a Person" thing it started out so that a company could own property so that it could continue on and it made growth and continuance easier.
        Just removing person hood from corporations would be bad. You have to change the law so that corporations can own property.
        Then I would want every company to have a "person responsible" for the company. this is a person who...
        A) Makes the largest percentage of the companies profit or its largest salary.
        or
        B) The person who

        • Just removing person hood from corporations would be bad. You have to change the law so that corporations can own property.

          That's what the law always said, at least until the idea of corporate personhood was invented. Corporations are legal entities to which we grant certain privileges, some of which happen to correspond to the rights of people: owning property, signing contracts, etc. Corporate personhood is a completely unnecessary addition.

      • by ultranova (717540)

        And we can reinforce the point by sending anyone--particularly, but not exclusively, any judge or politician--who claims that corporations are people to labor camps in some American version of Siberia, say North Dakota, where they will be clothed in rags, housed in huts, fed on gruel, and worked to the edge of death. When their sentences are up, we can ask them if they understand the difference between corporations and people yet.

        So basically, you're saying that anyone who thinks that corporations are (leg

        • I was mostly joking. No, I don't seriously want to throw them in gulags, if for no other reason than that countries which do such things tend to be pretty crappy places to live. I do, however, quite seriously think that acceptance of the doctrine of corporate personhood ought to be a deal-breaker for anyone seeking judgeship or elected office.

      • ...American version of Siberia, say North Dakota...

        Hi! I can see Russia from somewhere in the US, and I don't think it's North Dakota.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by westlake (615356)

      It is time to go back to a 13 year patent and 17 year copyright cycle, with a renewal of patent available only to a Natural Person (e.g. not a fictional Corporation) holding a patent for one period, and with copyright renewable only by the Natural Person who authored the work.

      Say goodbye to the corporate research lab pioneered by Edison, Steinmetz, Westinghouse. How much of a debt does the geek owe to AT&T and Bell Labs, Xerox and PARC?

      The geek doesn't like to see himself as a small part of some larger corporate entity.

      But in the real world that is how the big jobs get done.

    • by retchdog (1319261)

      i don't disagree, but isn't 13 years of patent implicitly much longer now than it was then? i mean, it would take years for an invention to be produced in any quantity and finally make it across a few states. since an invention can nowadays be fabbed up within a week and sold in millions within a month, i'd say that the patent term, adjusted for production and innovation rate, should be on the order of months.

      however there is perhaps greater risk today (there isn't, but then again we've also become much mor

      • True. Good argument. Time to market, time for distribution, even the money markets work faster in venture financing than they used to.

        However, I think sticking with a base 13 and base 17 cycle grants us a reasonable time period. When looking at pharmaceuticals, and medical devices, the human trials period can be many years in duration.

        • by retchdog (1319261)

          yeah, patent term should scale with how regulated the industry is. pharma is an extreme outlier and should be handled separately.

          • Interesting point. Yet, when we allow exemptions and exceptions, we find that they are always used as justification to extend more exemptions and exceptions to other non-worthy classes.

            Better to keep to a Golden Mean, or median, and let the chaff fall by the wayside.

            Other countries get along with far shorter periods for their pharma and medical patents.

            • by retchdog (1319261)

              bullshit. different fields have different timescales. yes, there are dangers involved, but what we have now is totally broken. two of your patent generations ago i was using a fucking commodore 64.

            • by retchdog (1319261)

              to clarify, shortening the term is just one solution.

              the other solution is to be much more vigilant in terms of prior art and non-obviousness. this will never happen, so adjusting the terms is all we have left.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 09, 2012 @06:15PM (#41601681)

    By the way, beginning in March, the U.S. will switch from a first-to-invent to a first-to-file system of granting patents. Hey, what could go wrong?"

    The entire rest of the world works just fine using first-to-file for patents. The US is an anomaly with first-to-invent.

    • by ThatsMyNick (2004126) on Tuesday October 09, 2012 @06:22PM (#41601749)

      Exactly. Prior art is still considered when awarding a patent. If the map really is prior art, the patent can be invalidated (through courts or through the patent office). What first-to-file solves is having two inventors almost simultaneously filling for a patent. They may have never heard of each others work, and it becomes difficult to find who really invented it first. The only sane thing is to award it to the first person to file.

      • Thanks, this is actually pretty informative. I had actually been thinking over the implications of a first to file system in the sense of truly first to file, without prior art being considered... and taking out a patent on "a process of generating heat by igniting combustible materials" (read: inventing fire) was starting to sound appealling.

        I was in the process of thinking up arguments for defending the invention on grounds that wasn't obvious (whole generations of early man probably lived without it
      • by ultranova (717540)

        If the map really is prior art, the patent can be invalidated (through courts or through the patent office). What first-to-file solves is having two inventors almost simultaneously filling for a patent.

        /blockquoteA>

        If two inventors simultanously apply for the same patent, shouldn't it be denied of the basis of obviousness?

      • by Anonymous Coward

        You seek to mislead.
        First to file *IS* a problem, because you can always make an 'invention' new by differentiating it under appeal, eliminating the prior art.

        e.g. "Choropleth ON A COMPUTER" and if that's been patented, "Choropleth on a COMPUTER WITH WINDOWING OPERATING SYSTEM", and if that's been patented, "Choropleth on a COMPUTER RUNNING A SPREADSHEET IN A WINDOWING OS"

        None of these can be blocked by the Choropleth.

        Also the patent office can't consider trade secrets during development, so the patent syst

      • > the patent can be invalidated (through courts or through the patent office)

        Sooo, with the first to file system, it is not only first-to-file, but first-to-file-with-the-most-money to tie you up in years of litigation before you give up. Sounds great.
      • by greenbird (859670)

        What first-to-file solves is having two inventors almost simultaneously filling for a patent. They may have never heard of each others work, and it becomes difficult to find who really invented it first. The only sane thing is to award it to the first person to file.

        Huh. I would have thought the only thing to do in that case is to reject the patent as obvious to someone skilled in the art. But I guess that's just me.

        [shakes head in amazement] What have we gotten to...

    • by reebmmm (939463)

      Agreed. First-to-file is a bit of a misnomer. It's more like a first-inventor-to-file regime. If anything, the first-inventor-regime is actually more protective because it has an absolute novelty requirement. If someone else publishes before you file, you get nothing. You get no grace period over someone else publishing, using or marketing an invention -- you do get a grace period with respect to your own publication.

      There is not going to be a rush to the patent office to file a patent on sex [youtube.com].

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Get rid of them all. Time for new system: First to sue!

    • By the way, beginning in March, the U.S. will switch from a first-to-invent to a first-to-file system of granting patents. Hey, what could go wrong?"

      The entire rest of the world works just fine using first-to-file for patents. The US is an anomaly with first-to-invent.

      The only trouble with the America Invents Act of 2011 is it is not an Amendment to the Constitution, which it needs to be in order to change the original text [wikipedia.org] of the Constitution which clearly specifies (re: "Inventors") the "first to invent" system over the "first to file" system. What could go wrong is the first time the first-to-file system is challenged in court it will necessarily be declared unconstitutional.

      • by WillerZ (814133)

        The only trouble with the America Invents Act of 2011 is it is not an Amendment to the Constitution, which it needs to be in order to change the original text [wikipedia.org] of the Constitution which clearly specifies (re: "Inventors") the "first to invent" system over the "first to file" system.

        No it doesn't. It specifies that the rights over their discoveries shall go to the Inventors but it nowhere specifies the process that inventors shall be required to undergo to secure those rights.

        Under first-to-file as it is practiced elsewhere it is still illegal for anyone other than the inventor to secure a patent on a discovery. It is really a very minor change which only makes a difference in the case of near-contemporaneous discoveries. It mostly benefits accidental inventors who are less likely to b

  • I remember doing this in Excel ten years ago to make semiconductor device wafer maps and crude gray-scale images. You change the color palette to add more gray levels and then use conditional formatting to color the cells. Ta Da! An image! A patent on a fancier version of this is obvious so there should be no patent. Pfft!
  • by localman (111171) on Tuesday October 09, 2012 @06:23PM (#41601761) Homepage

    When I was working on internal sales tools for a company that sold shoes, I created a heat map of their sizing grid: I colored each data cell a lighter or darker shade depending on the sales number in that cell. It was so exciting and original that I think a couple people said "thanks, that's neat" before we moved on.

    How the hell did this get patented, and how can I submit my prior art to invalidate it?

    We've been experiencing this corruption of the patent system for over a decade now. It costs our nation millions and millions of dollars. Is there any serious effort to fix it?

    • by EmagGeek (574360)

      I have you beat by four years. In 2001, as part of my Master's research, I was plotting power supply efficiency against two variables, using different colors to represent different efficiency values. Sorry, patent is really OURSES!

      • www.askpatents.com [askpatents.com] seems to be your best shot at getting Prior Art visible to the shamefully incompetent USPTO. They pay their employees peanuts in comparison to this thievery and have them stamp away at anything really, creating IP worth millions in lawsuits and fees from almost nothing. And they expect the system to correct their mistakes instead of fool-proofing or advancing their own methods.
    • Why do you automatically assume it was corruption?

      More than likely, it was just a poor job by some junior examiner.

      I never understand why people are so surprised that the PTO screws up so often. They are a giant bureaucracy that has to handle a really complex job.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Conditional formatting - the feature this is patent is discussing - was released in Office '97.

  • by CajunArson (465943) on Tuesday October 09, 2012 @06:30PM (#41601813) Journal

    This is Slashdot where every grandmother who can't write her own kernel drivers is considered sub-human scum but where IT geeks who barely made it through community college consider themselves experts on patent law.

    Once and for all: First to file only applies when two different parties each file a patent application that covers the same subject matter within a short time period of each other (less than one year for all effective purposes in the U.S.

      First to file does *NOT* change the rules on prior art and actually makes it *harder* to overcome prior art because there is no longer an ability to swear behind the filing date of the patent.

      Other countries including Europe (you know, that magical perfect continent where nothing bad ever happens because it isn't the U.S. and that we should all just try to be like?) ALREADY USE FIRST TO FILE.

    I haven't read the patent in question (but then again neither has the poster with a trained eye), but just because Microsoft is doing something that has some similarity to an existing mapping technique does NOT mean that Microsoft's technique is the same!

    In much the same way that engines for cars already exist, it is perfectly possible to get a patent on an improvement to an engine even though engines existing all the way back in 1846!

    Now please return to the standard recycled bigotry that passes for discussion on this site these days.

    • Other countries including Europe (you know, that magical perfect continent where nothing bad ever happens because it isn't the U.S. and that we should all just try to be like?) ALREADY USE FIRST TO FILE.

      Whose ever said that Europe was magical that way? Certainly, some people have said some aspects of the European patent system (specifically, the fact that it doesn't recognize software patents) are superior, but that's pretty far from saying it is "magical" or "nothing bad ever happens", even in the narro

    • by Malenx (1453851)

      Ah Europe, where everything is so jacked up and tied together that we consider the entire continent a singular country.

    • by greenbird (859670)

      First to file only applies when two different parties each file a patent application that covers the same subject

      Once and for all: If 2 people file for a patent at the same time it should be taken as pretty strong evidence that it's obvious to someone skilled in the art. So unless you're an idiot that thinks the patent system actually serves some useful purpose as it's currently implemented first to file just makes a bad system worse.

    • Seriously, the claims aren't that had to understand, even though they're drafted in legalese that intentionally obscures how trivial the "invention" is.

      Claims 1, 8, and 15 of the patent are broad enough that they very well could capture a chloropleth map. After all, a chloropleth map is really just a bunch of "cells" (regions) that you're assigning visual cues (colors) to based on a value they're associated with.

      Maybe, just maybe, some of the finer dependent claims would meet the threshold of patentability,

  • by bloodhawk (813939) on Tuesday October 09, 2012 @06:43PM (#41601949)
    Why bring up first to file in the summary? it is completely irrelevant, first to file doesn't mean prior art is ignored or that you can just go patent someone else's ideas. It merely means if 2 people/organisations are working in secret on their invention then it is whoever patents it first that gets the patent not whoever can spend huge amounts of lawyers and paperwork to try and show they had the idea 5 minutes before the other person.
    • "...they had the idea 5 minutes before the other person."

      And that is what needs to be fixed in the patent system, short of abolishing altogether. Why do patents have to winner-takes-all when the historical record is full of examples of parallel inventions and discoveries, like the wheel, caculus or the theory of evolution? Why can't patents be awarded like the winners of sports competiton or American Idol, where even those who didn't place first gets a diminishing share of the prize money?

    • by AK Marc (707885)
      If anything, the current system is broken in that someone willing to spend enough and lie, could file every patent the day after it was filed and claim they invented it first, but didn't file it earlier.

      With first to file, you are incented to file as soon as you can, not to wait for anything, as someone could file for something similar or overlapping before you, and you don't get the patent. Incenting early filing is what it's supposed to be doing.
  • This is like patenting the layout of a chess board. Absolutely ridiculous!
  • 1: There is a ton of prior art in general
    2: There is a ton of prior art for Excel specifically

    Exhibit a) Microcharts from Bonavista Systems, released in 2006 or even earlier (http://www.juiceanalytics.com/writing/microcharts-a-different-take-on-excel-charting/)
    Exhibit b) EVERY OTHER BI TOOL IN THE UNIVERSE

    How incredibly incompetent are the people at the Patent Office? There is a mandated discovery process after all. What the hell is going on?

  • As inventor, life gets more interesting. Just publish your inventions.
    If somebody files a patent that involves your invention, tell them you want your share of the money or you'll have their patent invalidated by prior art.

    Oh, and tell them win-win and Ying Yang as well :)

  • Ya, Fuck the patent office.
  • Nothing. It is "first inventor to file". Under the present system if two inventors file for a patent on the same invention the one who invented first gets the patent: the order of filing is irrelevant (provided it was "timely" and the inventor "diligent"). Under the new system if two inventors file for a patent on the same invention the one who filed first gets the patent: the order of invention is irrelevant. Thus there will be no more lawsuits in which inventors strive to convince the court that they t
  • At the risk of giving away a possibly lucrative idea, my plan is to patent the use of a gavel to bring order to courtrooms. Hopefully, this will allow me to collect royalties for every day of all the various trials I have to attend defending my patent: the more they fight, the more they pay.

  • Hey, what could go wrong?

    Patent pending on the bonding of proteins to polypeptides for the purpose of amino acid creation and use.

The bogosity meter just pegged.

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