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Busting Microsoft's Patent On Web-Polls? 108

vergil asks: "I've been researching software and business method patents issued by the U.S. PTO and placing choice examples here. Recently, I stumbled upon an interesting Microsoft patent (6,175,833) filed on April 22, 1998, granted on Jan. 16, 2001 and entitled 'System and method for interactive live online voting with tallies for updating voting results.' Is anyone aware of substantially similar web polls (WhizQuest, perhaps?) that were in use before Microsoft filed for this patent and might qualify as prior art against any of this patent's claims? This nugget of intellectual property seems to cover many fundamental aspects of web-polling - such as the Slash pollbox, for example." In light of the things that can get patented these days, I'm hoping it shouldn't be all that hard to find suitable examples to bust up this one.

"The patent above appears to claim an automated, database-run webpoll that:

  • Has an automatic 'authoring tool' that allows an editor to create and store polls (claim 7), including fields for question text, numbers, and answers (claim 4).
  • Total votes and percentage fields for displaying poll results (claim 5).
  • A 'votes table' to track users that have already voted, a "totals table" to contain vote tallies, a 'vote handler' that processes votes, and a 'survey index table' that displays either the poll questions, or results, depending on whether the user has voted (claim 1)."
Jamie and I looked into this and it appears that the Slash Poll feature does appear to be at least a partial implementation of what's listed in the patent. However it's not real clear, from what data we could retrieve out of the database, exactly when Slashdot started it's online poll. The Earliest live poll on record is titled "Corel" and is dated March 24, 1998.

Of course, the voting system has evolved quite a bit since March of '98. Our current polling system, like the patent, uses 3 tables: one table to keep track of the questions (pollquestions), one to keep track of the answers for each poll (pollanswers), and another to track the individual votes made to the active poll (pollvoters). However, back in March of '98, the system was only two tables: pollquestions, and pollanswers, with pollanswers pulling double duty as the place where the votes were counted. Duplicate vote checking wasn't implemented until the creation of the pollvoters table, waaay back in Slash v0.9, which was released in the beginning of 1999, almost a year later.

Still, as I understand it, you don't need to have prior art that's an exact implementation of a patent to break it. I think that as long as enough core ideas of a patent are exhibited in a piece of prior art, then there may be grounds for the patent to be invalidated, but I Am Not A Patent Lawyer, and unfortunately, I won't have time to contact one before this story runs.

So, is Slashdot's Poll feature enough to constitute prior art in this case?

Regardless, we're looking for other examples prior art (the more the better), to try and break yet another example of a Patent That Should Never Have Been. There is always the worry that Microsoft can begin acting in the same fashion as NCR has recently (since the patent has been issued), and start throwing lawsuits at every online poll they can find on the net.

Including Slashdot's.

Update: 03/16 07:24 PM by C :According to CmdrTaco, the poll system had it's earliest incarnations in the beginnings of Slash, way back in November of 1997, however that system wasn't SQL based, it was text file based (with judicious use of various unix tools [sed, grep, wc] to cull the voting and catch dupes). You can see a mention of the old system from this archived story from the earliest days of Slashdot...way back in November of 1997. The first SQL implementation of the poll is the March, 1998 version. And there is even more existence of online polls from Slashdot archives, including an even earlier article which mentions a ZDNet poll in the comments! Just so you know, even though the dates in the comment say 1998, they do indeed come from 1997. Blame CmdrTaco's bad code. ;)

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Busting Microsoft's Patent On Web-Polls?

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    I was one of the many people who wrote BBS software in the 80s. Almost all of us had configurable online voting booths or polls available. I'll be happy to post source which predates their patent by at least 10 years.

    Greetings: Rigor and Sam
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Anyone else noticed this:

    ( Read More... | 2600 bytes in body | Ask Slashdot )

    EXACTLY 2600 [2600.com] bytes! Amazingly 1337 feat!

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Procedure votingbooth(getmandatory:Boolean);
    Var curtopic:topicrec;

    Function addchoice:Integer;
    Var ch:choicerec;

    Procedure sysopvoting;
    Var q,dum:Integer;

    circa 1985 - Come on now, how can you patent something which was written already. In a language which isn't even widely used anymore! bah!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    None of the polling systems described here apply to the Microsoft patent. They are not patenting the concept of online voting. They are patenting the method used to conduct the poll. I can assure you that none of your BBS software qualifies as prior art against Microsoft's patent. The reason for this is because most polling systems are so different that they don't really apply at all. What you are doing is comparable to passing off the Atari as prior art to the Playstation 2. Just because a much simpler version existed prior to the creation of the questioned software does not mean it qualifies as prior art. In this example, the Atari obviously is not prior art. Same situation with Microsoft.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The patent above appears to claim an automated, database-run webpoll that:
    A 'votes table' to track users that have already voted, a "totals table" to contain vote tallies, a 'vote handler' that processes votes, and a 'survey index table' that displays either the poll questions, or results, depending on whether the user has voted (claim 1).

    Did your BBS software use a database? If not, then it doesn't count.
  • Damn! And I had to go mess that up by updating the story.

    Ah well...

  • by shogun ( 657 )
    Exactly, just make a poll system exactly to the specification described, but add a 4th table to store the phase od the moon when the last vote was submitted and you are no longer in violation of the patent.
  • Is there a way to have a patent killed without proving prior work? Can a claim of "this is a dumb-ass patent" be made with that office so they will dissolve it?

    I believe that the requirement that an "invention" be non-obvious [patent-infringement.com] is a prerequisite to its patentability. It also has to be non-obvious to people in the relevant field of work, not just to the average Joe Schmoe. It's unfortunate that the PTO is so over-worked that this requirement is essentially ignored.

    Obligatory dislaimer: I am not a lawyer, but I do watch Ally McBeal.

  • You mean something like iVote? [eunuchs.org]

    Written in Perl to work with Apache and mod_perl for high-speed, it's an image-based polling/voting system with a nice GUI and a bunch of good features.

    Microsoft can't have it, and I ain't sharing. :)

  • Published software counts as well.


  • How can a reverse auction, something in existance in the "Real World" for over a century, be something that Priceline has the one and only legal online implementation of.

    Software patents cover ALL implementations of a particular concept, not just the one that company w/ the patent implemented. This is one of the major problems with software patents. Its not exclusive use of their invention, meaning their code. Their "invention" is the entire concept.

  • Depends on how many other "claims" you violate. The patent is a list of claims, and each claim may or may not be "valid". Only a court case or an out-of-court agreement can determine what claims are valid for a particular potential licensee or potential violator. A court case decision will refute a claim for all. Otherwise, a claim refuted for one in an out of court agreement remains valid for everybody else not subject to that agreement.
  • "Obviousness" might also be shown by how many other indepentent implementations were underway at the same time as the filing of the patent application itself. If 5 or 6 companies were all working on the same thing, and none of them got the "idea" by talking with any of the other 5 companies, then there's a chance that it was pretty damn "obvious" to 5 or 6 people.

    The trouble with the Obviousness test is that what is obvious to an insider, in our case anybody with brains at all and a college degree in C.S., isn't necessarilly obvious to an outsider (e.g., the ignorant patent clerk). If the patent office could hire a C.S. grad with some experience in this, it would be great...

    but a C.S. grad with some experience in this would make 10 times more working for a company to make patents than working for the PTO to refute them.

  • Patent applications aren't necessarilly "public". If a patent isn't granted, the company would still want the document protected, since they would continue to use the technique and enforce its protection as a "trade secret". A patent is public. An application isn't.
  • I wrote a chapter regarding this for a book called "CGI Programming Unleashed" (Sams.Net publishing, a MacMillan division) back in early '96. It was published that fall.

    I even put the poll online, and it's still there... [anadas.com]

    (Please don't look at my code... oh god how my Perl sucked back then...)

    I doubt that this makes any argument against the patent -- they turn out to be a lot more specific than the /. crowd originally takes them to be -- but still, it's not like it's a terribly novel or original idea in the first place.


  • Bah, that's the same short-sighted kind of argument that got us stuck with a nuclear weapon arsenal sufficient to blow up the planet several dozen times...
  • Besides would you trust any poll done by M$? The only thing that could make it less reliable would be if they ran the thing on an NT box.

    Ingore the patents. They exist only to keep greedy US lawyers in Beemers. They don't exist for over 5.7 billion other people. The 300 million people in the 'States will just have to put with it until M$ runs out of money.

    The OS wars are over. Unix won. Lets move on to 64-bit platforms, where Windows can't go but the Web needs to go, and put this trillion dollar wash behind us.
  • This idiocy started when the politicos tried to turn the patent office into a profit center. Its not. It never was. Its was idiocy to try to make it into one and the outcome is a total failure.

    Instead the reform turned the office into a patent paper-mill and the patents issued are as palatable as used toilet paper.

    Ignore all software and procedure patents issued by them as they are totally suspect and unenforcable anywhere else on the planet.

    (The other stuff is suspect too but some percentage of it may be valid as it would have passed the necessary criteria that existed before they turned the patent officers into street-walkers hustling their butts for the executive's bonuses.)
  • by winterstorm ( 13189 ) on Friday March 16, 2001 @06:37PM (#358923)

    Microsoft files a lot of patents. Microsoft is better known for being sued for infringing on the partner's patents than for suing over patents. Microsoft has sued other companies over patents. Microsoft has been accused many times of using patents as leverage against competitors. I recall a story from over five years ago of Microsoft slipping a clause into its site licensing agreements saying that licenees agreed not to sue Microsoft for using their patents: buy our software, give up your patents to us. I can't find a link though, so you can just take it as a rumor.

    One might observe that Microsoft decreased the number of lawsuits it launched as publicity over their illegal and allegedly illegal activiates increased(the several DOJ trials, and the IRS trial [hangoutplace.com].

    Microsoft sues over the name of the Python language [easynet.be] Microsoft sues over Compression Patent [newsbytes.com]
    Microsoft sues over mouse cable patent [newsbytes.com]
    FTC investigate Intel [newsbytes.com]
    Microsoft sues for access to patent [cnet.com]
    Microsoft fails to disclose CSS patent to W3C [newsbytes.com]
    Let's not forget Microsoft threatening to not release software for Apple's platform and the whole question of patents that Apple brought up. [newsbytes.com] This is a really interesting story, but I don't have time to post more links. A quick google search should get you lots of background on the Apple vs. Microsoft thing.
    Microsoft has so many patents they developed an in-house application to search and manage them. [newsbytes.com]
    Microsoft doesn't like look-alike mouse, claims infringment [newsbytes.com]

    There are also many more cases of Microsoft being sued for Patent infringment. But I won't bother to list them; typically they involve a small company who pitched their product to Microsoft only to be rejected and find that MS released a similar product a year later.

  • It seems that with respect to US patent law, the discussions here are all about vocalizing loudly on the soapbox, but somewhat lacking in any real agenda.

    What do people really want to accomplish with all of this? Similar to the Napster "debate", most posts are simply pointing out how the system is being misused. Some articles, like this one, offer a thorough analysis of one instance of the problem. But few, if any, offer either a suggestion for a solution, or even clear position that explains why these particular instances are being mentioned in the first place.

    Is the agenda in question the abolition of the US patent, trademark, and copyright law? I highly doubt that, considering those laws are protecting the individual inventor (even the open source, GPL inventor) from having their work shameless pilfered by the faceless and greedy corporation.

    Is the agenda to simply reform the patent system such that these obviously outrageous examples of misuse are avoided in the future? If so, that sounds wonderful! What are your recommendations on how the reform should take place?
  • Ponder this: Back in '98, Someone at Microsoft applies to patent this idea of an online voting mechanism. Why? What possible reason would someone have had for trying to patent it back then? After all, the process is going to take years (and it did). And the profit scheme that would have sold the upper-level management on this idea would have been thin at best. The hey-day of portal sites had yet to be, back then. Still, it might have been foreseen that there were some profits in selling voting bundles to some small group.

    But what if there were bigger profits to be had in other ways, licensing the concept and the how-to plans, for instance, rather than selling the software built on it? At that point, our target market gets a little bigger.

    After the debacle in Florida, voting reform is a hot topic. There have been many who have called for electronic voting that would occur over the Internet. How much, I wonder, could be realized from licensing the 'online voting' concept to every governmental body in the US that required voting, from the municipal to the federal levels?

  • by bnf ( 16861 )

    I have a site which I developed in 1998, wanderlist [wanderlist.com] which has been growing at a glacial pace ever since. ;)

    While it wasn't released to the public until November 8th, I conducted some 'focus group' style meetings earlier that year, the first of which was in March.

    I have notes from this session and could receive affidavits from some of the participants. I'd be pretty bummed if I had to increase the size of the hole in to which I'm throwing money on account of ponying up for an MS tax.

    That asside, I'm certain that we can find prior art for polls and voting in much deeper pockets than mine. Hasn't MIT beein using online voting for elections since at least 1996 [mit.edu].

    Please let me know if you plan to organize any formal retort to this clearly erroneous patent.

  • Yeah, I ran T.A.G. (TG's chief rival in those days :) which had online voting probably as early as 1986 or 1987...I haven't read the patent, so I don't know if it specifically states that these are Web-based or not, but it meets all the requirements: uses a table to see who voted what, uses a table to store the questions, uses automated tools for creating the poll, you can see a tabulation at the end, and so on.
  • Wow, how far did you have to reach up your anus to find that answer???
  • I implemented pretty much the same thing in 96 or 97. Unfortunately, it was on a private (member login) site which has since died. However, I may be able to scare up some backups if it becomes important.

    I can't believe they thought this was a patentable idea. I mean, I almost used someone *else's* code instead of writing my own. But theirs didn't have all the features I wanted.

    Makes me wonder if I shouldn't be filing for a patent every time I write a new perl script. Because it was at about that time that I did a mock up for someone of a video selling website which could have easily been called One Click Video Shopping.

    They call this stuff Truly Innovative? Wankers! --RMB

  • It was produced and reviewed in an open forum. Technically, in Copyrightland that counts as publishing. There may exist records of at least meeting schedules or agenda that show the development of this product. That should be sufficient to prove that the Microsoft patent is not based on an original concept.

    Code commentary is like sex.
    If it's good, it's VERY good.

  • Now, now. That's just about enough talk about "embracing" and "extending" of Cowboy Neal. I'm already having bad dreams.

    Code commentary is like sex.
    If it's good, it's VERY good.

  • Of course W2K at 2% of 197% sounds good to me.
  • That's pretty cool. How'd you manage to do that?
  • The patent application could have been shortened to a single sentence: Voting... but on the web!
  • I still have my entire BBS, still configured, on an old 130 MB HD lying around, complete with voting booth. It should be theoretically possible to slap the drive in a machine, flip it on, and have my BBS reboot.. which I should do, if only for nostalgic purposes. :)
  • No, you've misundertood.

    Trademarks cannot be selectively enforced, but patents and copyrights can. See Unisys/GIF, Fraunhofer/MP3, or the Cult of Scientology. Oh, the last one was bogus, I just love tweaking those lying, evil, stinking, freedom-hating, brainwashing, murdering, sue-happy motherfuckers.

    Hey, I heard that the Scientologists teach pederasty will get you into heaven! Didn't you hear that? Oh, well, I can't remember where I heard that, but it sounds true to me.

    Boss of nothin. Big deal.
    Son, go get daddy's hard plastic eyes.

  • But this sort of feature has been available in Notes/Domino for some time. This could be then accessed via a Notes client or Browser.
  • Yes, it's nice that they haven't tried shutting down other polls due to their patent. However, the fact is, they patented something, and with that patent, could decide at a moment's notice to sue someone over it, and tie things up in courts for months, if they wanted to.

    The fact that they haven't yet done it is a good thing. The fact that they have it, and the money to ride things out in court for a few months to take down some other company isn't.
  • by ghoti ( 60903 ) on Friday March 16, 2001 @10:05AM (#358939) Homepage
    So let's suppose the Slashdot poll box would count as prior art. How do you prove that that system actually existed before April 22nd, 1998? I mean you can easily fake the information in the database, so would Cliff's word count? I have my doubts ...
    And generally: How do you prove prior art with software? You could have just written that the previous night to bust the patent? Can anybody shed some light here?
  • Back before the Internet (well, not really _before_) there were BBS systems that you would call directly. They ran software like PC Board, Wildcat, Spitfire, etc that supported "doors." Many had voting booths, questionairs, polls, whatever you want to call them. This all happened in the late 80's to the mid 90's. I'm sure you can find prior art in the BBS Archives [thebbs.org]. The Voting booths [thebbs.org] section would be a good start.
  • by gorsh ( 75930 ) on Friday March 16, 2001 @11:46AM (#358941)
    Went over to The CGI Resource Index and found a couple that might work:

    Zone Coaster's Survey [zonecoaster.com]
    Version: 2.50 - Released: 05/27/97

    This versatile survey script allows you to administer a survey using any form you like. Results are stored in a text file and are retrieved, sorted, and presented to you how you want when you want. Tested under Windows and Unix.

    FreeScripts: Vote Script [freescripts.com]

    Version: 1.1 - Released: 06/23/96 - Free - Platform(s): Unix, Windows NT

    This script allows people to rate anything on a scale of one to ten. It produces a graph of the cumulative results of the voting and the graph is updated every time the script is run.

    Voting on My Site [jps.net]

    Released: 02/03/98 - Free - Platform(s): Unix

    Voting On My Site is a great add-on to any web page! It will allow you to have your visitors vote on your page! They can choose whether they think the site is excellent, average, poor, etc. It even includes a comment section. This script will email the webmaster whenever a new vote has been made. This script will even display the results in a very nice graphical format.

    MultiPoll [cgi-world.com]

    Version: 2.1 - Released: 11/10/97 - $50 - Platform(s): Unix

    Now run a number of online polls quicky, easily & hassle free. MultiPoll features Auto expiration of polls, online administrating, double vote blocking (cookies), email notification of expired polls, great display, & no time consuming tasks from the admin user.

    Poll [ahg.com]

    Version: 1.0 - Released: 06/01/96 - $80 - Platform(s): Unix, Windows NT

    With this script, you will easily create as many interactive polls on your Website as you can possibly handle. It's strange, but people do like to vote for their favorite rock-musician, best baby-formula, sexiest model, or predict results of the upcoming presidential/school board election.

    Poll It Pro! [cgi-world.com]
    Version: 1.6 - Released: 08/26/96 - $20 - Platform(s): Unix

    Tally, Archive, E-Mail results, stop multiple votes, and more! - Poll It Pro was designed for the High Tech sites who are looking to host Online Polls in a easy, manageble way.

    The Scripts Home: Voting Booth [virtualcenter.com]

    Version: 1.0 - Released: 01/12/96 - Free/$30>

    "The Voting Booth allows your visitors to cast their vote in an unlimited number of topics and updates the info immediately, giving them percentages and number of votes cast for each choice." Commercial sites are charged $30 for this script.

    The Poll Master [supercgis.com]
    Version: 1.3 - Released: 03/17/98 - $99 - Platform(s): Unix, Windows

    Handles all of your polling needs: display questions, get input, and calculate results A simple question's file allows you to group certain questions that you wish to appear together or you can access each question individually. Only allows one answer per visitor even with your cookies turned off. Price includes free setup on any server!

    Dave Bewley's survey.pl [bewley.net]

    Version: 1.1 - Released: 04/06/96 - Free

    Bewley says, "Survey gathers comments on any number of pages using one standard survey or a unique survey for each page if you like. Designed to be inobtrusive, it knows the page a user referenced it from and will return them to that page once they submit the form."
  • If you could fake prior art in a one-nighter why should it qualify for a patent in the first place?
  • by Speare ( 84249 ) on Friday March 16, 2001 @11:10AM (#358943) Homepage Journal

    Let's actually spend our time trying to bust patents that are being used to SUE or RESTRICT other people, huh? Blind hatred or devotion for a company and its operations is just another example of childish groupthink.

    Microsoft is one of the better cases in the patent arena; they rarely if ever sue over patent infringement (anyone have headlines showing Microsoft patent suits?).

    Microsoft and many other companies hold a vast array of patents for purely defensive position. Nobody else can sue them for those methods, and nobody who is infringing on these methods can sue them for OTHER patented methods.

    It is the latter case which keeps Microsoft or other companies from merely opening these methods to the public domain. If Microsoft had no patents, then it would be barraged by all the other companies who DO have stupid overbroad patents. As it is, Microsoft's ace in the hole is in their own patent holdings.

  • Does it have to be web based? I rember seeing polls on BBSes back in the late 80s, and early 90s. PC-Board is a popular BBS that had poll plug-ins. Also, C-Net that ran on the Commodore 64 and C128 had them.
  • by phunhippy ( 86447 ) <zavoid@gmaiPERIODl.com minus punct> on Friday March 16, 2001 @10:03AM (#358945) Journal
    Back when I ran a RAT(radioactive Telegard) BBS i had polling plugin that would do all of that essentialy and it was realtime(even thoe 1 person was logged on to the system at once) it would take the vote, display it, and make sure the same person could not vote again.... anyone else remember this?

  • As popular as /. is with the geekhood, someone at MS probably stole^H^H^H^H^Hinnovated the idea from here.
  • IANAL, but I assume that you can use third party witnesses. Any slashdot user that was around in 1998 could sign avidavits stating that Slashdot used them. It is a statement under oath, and should be submissible in a court of law.

    This is, of course, based on my extensive legal education provided by Ally McBeal and the Practice.

    DOS is dead, and no one cares...
  • I am sure this has been mentioned before, but this is a perfect time for a slashdot poll on favorite ridiculous patent...
    a) MS patent on web polls
    b) RAMBUS patent on every time of RAM that will ever be made EVER
    c) One click
  • I hope they dont bust it.. The worse it gets the better. Sooner or later almost everything will be patented(or atleast claimed patented) and politicians and everybody else will be forced to admit the studipy of the system and timerange
    Contrary to most things there is nothing the corporations can do about, not making it worse for society would make them loose competive edged, and be prey for patentenhuggers.

    We must enjure this periode of stupidity so that out childen might be free!!!
  • to see how the Open Source community should respond to this. ;-)

  • There is a conferencing system called Placeware that we use at Nova Southeastern University [nova.edu] that does just this thing. In fact, one of my professors there runs a poll every week during our on-line sessions to see how everyone is doing on their projects.

    Send my $10K from bountyquest to some legal defense fund for high-school kids who get branded as "dangerous" just because they happen to know more about computers than their teachers.

  • by 4/3PI*R^3 ( 102276 ) on Friday March 16, 2001 @10:27AM (#358952)

    Satan: The Justice department is onto us Bill, what are we going to do.
    Bill: Oh Satan, always the worrier. I have a plan.
    Satan: A Palm!! Wow, I've got one too.
    Bill: Not a Palm you silly prince of darkness, a PLAN to get the DOJ off our tails.
    Satan: Oh, what is it?
    Bill: First, we need to file for a patent on web based voting and tallying.
    Satan: Bill, what does a patent on web based voting have to do with the DOJ.
    Bill: Let me finish and quit interrupting.
    Satan: Sorry Bill.
    Bill: After the patent filing, we will fix the 2000 Presidential election in Florida so that an unpopular republican president will win with the minority of the popular vote but the majority of the electoral college after a contentious legal battle and uncertainty about the punch-card ballots.
    Satan: Who are we going to get into the White House that won't detect your plan?
    Bill: That's easy, after 8 years of Clinton the GOP will do anything to get one of their guys in the White House and I know a guy in Texas who, well let's say, won't ask too many questions.
    Satan: OK, great!! Now we have yet another patent, and we have helped some party boy into the Presidency. How does that solve our problem with the DOJ?
    Bill: Satan, I told you not to interrupt. Don't make me BSOD your ass!!
    Satan: ...
    Bill: The GOP will be so glad to get control of the Executive branch that they will lead G.W. to get the DOJ lighten-up on our World Conquest, I mean, Monopolistic practices.
    Satan: OK, that will work for 4 years. But what about the next president?
    Bill: Remember, that little patent we are going to file? Since the whole country is in an uproar about the lack of technology in voting, there will be congressional studies, focus groups, et cetera to fix this problem. Of course the only way to be sure that all future voting is trustworty is to you the Micro$oft Inter-.NET
    Satan: Ohhh, I'm begining to understand, and since we hold the patent on web voting, we control the voting!!!
    Bill: Satan, you make me proud some times...
  • If the software stored the data, then it had a database. It does not matter if it was human readable or not.

    A database does not necessarily have to be a RDBMS. A database, in its most generic term, is just something that stores data. A simple database can be a single plain text file (also called a flat database at times), and if you have multiple text files, you can even have a simplified relational database, as long as you have identifying fields in the files and you join using it (don't do this if the database engine does it...). I don't know if the claims specified a type of database (relational, object, flat).

    Personally, I may use the term database to mean RDBMS. IANAL but I assume that the term database in the claims refers to the dictionary meaning and not the idealistic meaning.

    Webster definition of a database:
    a usually large collection of data organized especially for rapid search and retrieval (as by a computer).
  • The big question is:
    Did you publish the code (i.e. can you show that you gave either the code, or a description of how it worked, to somebody else). Remember that some sort of puplication of the idea is a critical aspect of prior art.
  • database
    n : an organized body of related information

    That is the entirety of the definition in gdict.

    It doesn't have to be SQL to be a database. I remember UNIX documentation on how the various UNIX text tools (cut, grep, paste, sort, etc.) were used to turn flat text files into a simple relational database. In that respect, the earlier slashdot polls (which seem to have done precisely that) could be considered a 'database implementation'.

    Shrinkwrap doesn't make a database, any more than the requirement for a purchase order makes good software.

  • Yes, it's nice that they haven't tried shutting down other polls due to their patent. However, the fact is, they....
    were only granted the patent in January of this year. Not enough time to prove them good (or bad) patent-owning citizens. Given their rather cut-throat history, however, I wouldn't be inclined to bet much more than my cat's collar that they would never try to (mis)use their patent.
  • If enough people can show examples where they've implemented this prior to the publication date of the patent, I think that it could be construed as proof that it was 'obvious to an expert reasonably practised in the arts.'
  • I implemented this (online elections, blocking duplicate votes, talking to a SQL database, with secure voting, etc.) for Stanford's student association elections in 1998, which concluded prior to the patent filing. That system was based on the system that Stanford had used for the two previous years, which did much the same thing, only in C instead of Perl, and that system itself was preceded by a telnet-based voting system. In other words, it's been done before.
  • This makes me believe there are companies searching 24/7 to acquire the all currently unavailable IP and functional patents in lue of eliminating all potential competition. How are we to create something original if everything is being 'squatted' on. We all know how difficult it is to find an original domain name these days. What if ideas become so scarse that it's just like searching for an 'unleased' domainname? Does the future hold for us idea/conceptual auctions? (Geez, maybe I should patent that one...) The only way to get a domain name today that we have our heart set upon is to pay off the current owner: $300+ just to transfer the 'lease'. I don't even want to think about how much ideas will go for...
  • I know on an online mud I run, Nightmare [imaginary.com], we have had online votes since 1994. Not Web based, but the patent does not seem to make any claims abut the UI.
  • INAL and I'm trying to be country neutral but that's hard.

    well there you have stumbled on a definitive example of hwo a legislature works.

    You see laws that are tightly defined have a shorter shelf life than those expressed vaguely.

    In legislative context it is a good thing. That's what judges are for and why they are called judges. You see the prosection, with the aid of the police, detains a suspect. They then try to decide what law under which they will prosecute him. It is then their job to persuade the judge & jury that the defendant has broken the law as it is written. The jury (if present else the judge) mut decide this and thus interprets the law.

    Why is this good? Because the judgement is made in the current context of life. Thus one can be prosecuted for obscenity but that which is considered obscene changes over time.

    The parameters for how the laws are interpreted are set with precedents. In this way the first time someone is prosecuted for a certain action the legal counsel will argue over how the law should be interpreted. Thee are dubed 'test cases'. Once a few cases have been fought counsel can use the results of those cases as examples of how things should be done.

    It's really very simple. I'm surprised you'd not noticed before.

    Mind you in comment http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=01/03/06/14482 36&cid=22 you also seem at odds with the legal system so READ SOME BOOKS
  • In honor of choice c), I think the poll should use JavaScript to automatically submit the form when an option is picked.


  • Somehow this was posted as an AC although I was plainly logged in. Sigh...

    In late 1997 I was commisioned by my boss, the Registrar of a small women's college in central Virginia, to create a web-based instructor evaluation. The system was to simplify and streamline an existing paper based process (which was pretty time consuming and inconvenient for all involved). This evaluation was to:

    • Allow instructors to add and modify questions;
    • Save a list of students that had completed the evaluation;
    • Do the above securely so that an instructor could not match a student to a response;
    • Require secure logins;
    • Allow statistical reporting of evaluation responses, on a per-instructor, per-class, and per-year basis; and
    • Allow the evaluation results to be released only after a certain date (when grades had been submitted).

    I made a damn good product if I may say so myself, and my colleagues were impressed as well. Due to political reasons, we never rolled it out, but I created it nonetheless (ironically enough using Active Server Pages and Perl!).

    It seems to me that I have prior art on this patent. All of my files are (obviously) dated, and they were created before the patent filing date. Obviously, the dates on the files could have been faked, but there must be some way to use this to invalidate this ridiculous patent.

  • Let me begin by stating that M$'s products are complete trash. I own exactly one machine running Windoze, exclusively for running games I can't get on Linux and opening the odd Office document that Star Office has trouble with. I also have serious issues with many of their past and current business practices. In short, the nice things I have to say about them are few and very far between.

    That said, I have to agree with Decado (in principle). It is common practice for companies to acquire patents for defensive purposes, even silly ones. Then trade licenses when approached by a legal predator. Granted, acquiring these costs a fair sum of money and resources, but are fairly cheap when compared with legal costs and potential licensing fees.

    In this age of patent insanity, companies that don't acquire a defensive cache are leaving themselves open to outrageous license fees for trivial things, or face horrendous legal costs on top of losing the case and paying the "full price" fees. I think we can find enough examples of that already happening.

    Until the patent system gets better organized, acquiring these things is a corporate necessity. Our efforts are better spent attacking predators like Rambus and the patent system they're abusing than silly patents sitting in somebody's basement.

    So, let's heartily continue bashing M$, but only for the things they actually are doing and the crap they produce.
  • I was one of the many people who wrote BBS software in the 80s. Almost all of us had configurable online voting booths or polls available. I'll be happy to post source which predates their patent by at least 10 years.

    IIRC, the Wildcat BBS had a poll system built in as did a number of commercial BBS packages.

  • by Alomex ( 148003 ) on Friday March 16, 2001 @12:27PM (#358966) Homepage
    Shareware, publicly available in source code format.

    # Filename: vote1.cgi
    # Version: 3.5
    # Author: Richard Ian-Frese
    # e-mail: rif@u.washington.edu
    # www: http://staff.washington.edu/rif
    # Date created: 17-Nov-95
    # Last updated: 04-Mar-99
    # Tested running: Perl v4.036, v5.003
    # Server protocol: HTTP/1.0
    # Server software: NCSA v1.4.2, Apache v1.1.1, NT v4.00
  • Ahem? Missing the point?

    The Halloween 2 memo [opensource.org] specifically lists Software Patents as a way to battle Open Source Software and Linux threats. I bet they won't be afraid to use this patent when they feel cornered by OSS or Linux.
    Martijn Pieters, Software Engineer
    Digital Creations [digicool.com], Creators of Zope [zope.org]

  • Actually, as I understood patent law, this actually does mean they can't. Once they have obviously waived their right to enforce their patent, they can no longer choose to enforce it. Thsi prevents big companies like Microsoft from only going after competitors and just leaving the others alone, and that's just not fair to the other companies.
  • While there are a number of organizations (notably Bounty Quest [bountyquest.com]) involved in breaking already issued patents are there any watch-dog groups devoted to looking for "trivial" pending patents? Based on what I know about the process it is easier to stop a patent before it is issued than to try to overturn one after it exists. I think such a group could significantly reduce the number of "bogus" patents out there.
  • I noticed in the patent, it listed out exactly what the different fields in the database were for their polling system. So, if you made a system with a slightly different layout (add or remove some features) would you still be in danger of being sued?
  • The Microsoft patent #6,175,833 is...
    • Dumb
    • Dumber
    • Dumber Still
    • Even Dumber Still
    • Dumbest
    • CowboyNeal (Dumbest x 10^9)

  • You can't have it both ways.

    If patent battles only get fought over exact copies of someone's way of doing things then the "one-click" patent, BT's patent, Alta Vista's patent, [name another shithead lawyer]'s overly broad patent, and all the rest wouldn't be an issue because the people who they are going after could change some small detail and the case would be moot.

    If patents are going to apply to anything that happens to fall under some broad description of what they describe (which seems to be the case in the recent headlines) then broadly relate prior art should be acceptable.

    What you seem to be describing is a world where only exact prior art can invalidate a patent but the patent holder can sue anyone whoes work is even remotely related.

  • Slashdot's poll isn't a tool its created with code GPL'd FREE code. Slashdot isn't making a profit selling their poll so who would bother. A free tool is still competition. Everyone who uses slashpoles instead of paying Microsoft for using there online pole solution is taking money away from Microsoft. Apache is free but Microsoft see it as a threat.
  • by the_other_one ( 178565 ) on Friday March 16, 2001 @10:27AM (#358974) Homepage

    Microsoft is obviously holding this patent in reserve for the next time the results of a poll don't favor Microsoft.

    For example when /. publishes the following poll:

    Favorite OS:
    Windows 2000 2%
    CP/M 20%
    Linux 50%
    xxxBSD 50%
    Cowboy Neal 75%

    Microsoft could have the poll removed because it infringed on their patent.

    Then they would embrace and extend Cowboy Neal

  • > This patent is a claim on a new method of
    > polling, not polling itself.

    Why yes, yes it is. It even says so in the title of the patent. So what's the problem here? Patents are SUPPOSED to protect methods of doing things.

    > This is like claiming to patent the push-button
    > telephone after the rotary's been in use.

    I don't see a problem with that; the method a push button phone uses to generate a dialing sequence is different than the one a rotary uses.

  • Back in the day, when I was an AOL Kiddie, I wrote a poller prog, and it would display the results at specified intervals. I no longer have a copy of that, but it must have been like 1996 or 1995. Whee. This is too broad not to be covered by 100s of things. Hell, with as much as you can stretch a patent, I want the IRCD authors to claim this one, cause the number of people in a channel is displayed in a /list which each person effectively casting a vote for a channel. And the winner is... Istanbul OR Zurna =P
  • Still, as I understand it, you don't need to have prior art that's an exact implementation of a patent to break it.

    Um, yes you do. Sort of.

    To bust a particular claim in a patent (the little numbered bits), you have to identify prior art that does exactly what that claim describes.

    Each claim stands or falls on its own. So if you find something that exactly matches what's described in claim #1, you can (in theory) have claim #1 invalidated, but the other claims may still stand.

    This is important to understand: in a legal challenge, each claim will stand or fall on its own. It is very common in validity challenges for some of the claims in a patent to be overturned, while others are upheld.

    The other area which sometimes causes confusion is the specification (the long part that comes before the numbered claims, also sometimes called the detailed description). This is supposed to describe exactly how the inventor implemented the invention, and is usually much more specific than the claims. (It has to be specific enough so that someone "skilled in the art" can re-create what the inventors have done.) To invalidate a patent's claims, your prior art does not have to exactly match the specification.

    IANAL, but I do work with patent lawyers on a regular basis.

  • And how often do the lawyers on Ally McBeal and the Practice deal with patent cases? (I don't watch either so I don't know for sure, but I'd bet it's basically never.)

    Prior art requires a published document. If you've been doing something since the Middle Ages, but you've never published it, it's not prior art. (There's an exception that allows *you* to keep doing whatever it is you were doing in this case, but the patent is still valid against everyone else.)

    If you had a published document, all you would need to do is to produce the document--you wouldn't have to bother with witnesses or affadavits.

  • (There's an exception that allows *you* to keep doing whatever it is you were doing in this case, but the patent is still valid against everyone else.)

    IANAL, but I've spoken with several regarding similar issues. Unless it has changed recently, prior art requires "public use" OR publication. I'm not aware of any such exception, or need for such an exception, could you give me a pointer to the statutory language?

    For example, our system uses a specific method of interprocess communication that DEC patented (US patent 4,449,182) and was using as their interface between the OS and peripheral controllers, thus locking out the market for compatible peripherals. Although our code isn't public, our system was in public use, and that was enough to get DEC to drop their suit of a third party. They weren't suing us, so some sort of exemption to allow us to continue using it wouldn't have helped the third party disk manufacturer.

    Does DEC still claim that they've never lost a patent case? I guess that's pretty easy to do if you always drop the case before you lose.

    BTW, there's a program that is still in existence that was written in 1981 that did on-line voting, including preventing people from voting more than once, allowing anyone to set up a vote. It didn't show percentages, just the raw numbers, and it only offered multiple-choice answers (like Slashdot polls do). The existence of the program in 1981 can be documented, although the file itself was last edited in 1989. I'm not sure how many levels of backups there are, but there are backups from 1991 that contain it, with a relatively easy chain-of-custody that can be established.

    In a case involving a bingo program, documentation was provided by a printout of the program from a backup, along with an affidavit describing how backups were done and how we could be sure that the backup was actually from that time period and the dates hadn't been spoofed. An even better method is to print it out, with the date, and sign it. Your testimony later that you personally printed it out and signed it, and that the date was in fact the date when you printed it, should be enough for even the most picky rules of evidence.

    It does seem problematic, though. How do you prove that something was well-known and/or obvious in 1975, unless it was a major project run by a company that is still in business? It's going to be just luck to find someone who is an obsessive collector who just happened to hang on to something.

  • If I think I am smarter than you does that create a paradox? Or do we both end up with infinite amounts of smartness?
  • by Decado ( 207907 ) on Friday March 16, 2001 @10:09AM (#358982)

    Microsoft have not made any attempts to enforce this patent, they are not part of the brigade who will patent something stupid and then sue everyone who tries to use it. You should be happier that a company like Microsoft who don't pursue stupid patent infringment suits has a patent on such a basic thing. Now if someone else tries to patent something similar at least a company with some financial clout can go after them.

    Just because it is Microsoft doesn't nescessarily mean it is bad. The time could be better spent trying to get rid of a patent that is being enforced rather than just a childish drive to pull one over on Microsoft.

  • QUBE, a prototype cable system run by Warner-Amex Cable in Columbus, Ohio had live online polling back in *1977*.

    From http://www.media-visions.com/itv-qube.html:

    "The row of five buttons [on the QUBE remote control] were reserved for responses to Qube's original interactive programming. Each of the five buttons could be assigned a meaning at the headend, allowing up to five answers to a question -- at least 'yes, no or undecided'. The headend could poll all the boxes, collect all the reponses, and immediately report to viewers the percentages for each of the possible answers."

    That seems to imply an authoring system, a real-time response table, and a means of tracking the user's state as to whether he voted or not yet.

    If the patent isn't web-based, or even if it is, I'd look into QUBE.
  • Many people wonder why Microsoft would even bother trying to patent such an obvious thing. Back in the day of this patent application, M$ was very far back in the software patent race. They just hadn't paid attention to patents, while companies like IBM and Motorola, with huge patent portfolios and a corporate culture that rewarded patent disclosures, sailed ahead with huge numbers of trivial software patents.

    M$ noticed this and probably instutited the same sort of incentives that the other major corporations use to get patents: reward disclosure, and reward success. Thus, this patent which is anticipated by hundreds of existing programs and web sites, but none of them ever bothered to submit a patent application.

    In addition to there being a ton of pre-existing programs to do exactly the claimed invention, many of the claims fail on other grounds. Adding "simultaneous read/write" to a claim does not make is any less obvious. Enumerating the detailed database fields does not make it any less obvious. It just shows that they hired good attorneys who knew how to coax details out of the applicants in order to fatten up their claims.

    How do you access the patent history? It would be interesting to see if the patent was modified during the application, ala RAMBUS, to see if it runs afoul of the new rulings that prevent you from extending your claims during the application process.

  • You could get a whole lot of people to testify under oath. Lots of people have worked at Slashdot, and AFAIK Slashcode has been around for a while; you could get Slashcode archives.
  • Let's take a look at the first claim: 1. An online voting system for facilitating live interactive online voting, comprising: a survey database to store one or more surveys, each survey having at least one question and answer options to the question; a server to serve the surveys over a network to users; a vote handler to process votes cast by the users in response to the surveys; a survey index table maintained in the survey database to hold the surveys, the survey index table correlating the survey questions, the answer options to the survey questions, and the voting results of the survey questions; a votes table maintained in the survey database to track which users have cast the votes and which options each voter has selected; a totals table maintained in the survey database to hold tallies of the votes in correspondence with ones of the answer options of the survey questions, the tallies being used to update the voting results in the survey index table; and wherein the survey index table is used by the server to either (1) present the survey questions and corresponding answer options to the users, or (2) display the voting results in conjunction with the survey questions. Lots of things in there, right? If your poll system has all but one, then it doesn't infringe. Are Slashdot's tables arranged in *exactly* this manner? I doubt it. So Claim 1 really prevents a certain arrangement of tables, not a polling system. Take a look at each claim. Does it exactly describe existing polling systems? Or is it just another method of doing a poll? You'll find that most, if not all, of these claims are legal.
  • I wonder if Microsoft could be using this patent to gain a foothold in any possible election reform.
  • This patent is a claim on a new method of polling, not polling itself. I don't understand how a physical polling system, in existance for many years and used by millions, can evolve into an electronic version, and a patent be allowed on the electronic version. How is online polling an invention? Is there a way to have a patent killed without proving prior work? Can a claim of "this is a dumb-ass patent" be made with that office so they will dissolve it? Can a patent be claimed invalid simply because it shouldn't exist and not because someone else thought of it first?

    This is like claiming to patent the push-button telephone after the rotary's been in use. It can't be allowed.
  • Well then break out the floppies that hold that BBS code and call your lawyer. Get in touch with the PTO and make a claim. I'm serious. It may not seem like much, but at least write the patent office and claim prior art. Please... Do it! For real!
  • Once the patent claim gets approved, meaning that the PTO believes it's non-obvious, how can others come in and then prove it is obvious? Is there a way to prove, other than evidence of prior art, that the patent claim is simply false and was wrongfully approved?
  • You need to read more about the trials with these companies. Boies, the prosecutor, had to push most companies into helping his case. More are afraid to complain about M$ than not. The only reason Sun was willing to help was because they had no ties at all to M$. No one's crying to mommy. Boies had to push very hard to get anyone to talk.
  • by truthsearch ( 249536 ) on Friday March 16, 2001 @10:44AM (#358992) Homepage Journal
    As soon as someone comes up with a way to make money from a polling system that the company has patented, then Microsoft will go after them. Microsoft is no better and no worse than any other huge public corporation. This isn't about Microsoft, or bashing those ruthless materialistic bastards. It's about creative freedom, or as they put it, "freedom to innovate," which they are in turn trying to prevent from others.
  • Thank God for your sense. Someone mod this man up please.

    Now, that isn't to say that being able to patent things like this isn't wrong, it's just pointless blaming a company for exploiting this when they do so to defend themselves, rather than to attack others.

    It's patent law that must be attacked because it is failing to serve it's original intention, which is to encourage creativity and invention by protecting the rights of those who truly invent new things.

  • Please note: Microsoft is not suing anybody over this patent. It would have been nice if the article had made this more clear. The article is totally speculative (What if Microsoft decided to sue us?)...Must be a slow news day.

    In any case, Microsoft does plenty of things that are shady, but ridiculous over-the-top enforcement of overly broad patents (ala Rambus, NCR, Amazon, etc) is not one of them.

  • All these patent suits, infringements, violations, are making me sick to me stomach, not only that, but I'm learning more about laws right now than reading up on my Routing TCP/IP from Cisco Press.

    Has an automatic 'authoring tool' that allows an editor to create and store polls (claim 7), including fields for question text, numbers, and answers (claim 4).
    Slashdot's poll isn't a tool its created with code GPL'd FREE code. Slashdot isn't making a profit selling their poll so who would bother.

    Total votes and percentage fields for displaying poll results (claim 5). A 'votes table' to track users that have already voted, a "totals table" to contain vote tallies, a 'vote handler' that processes votes, and a 'survey index table' that displays either the poll questions, or results, depending on whether the user has voted (claim 1)."
    Personally I think MS may have jumped on the notion of last years infamous Presidential election and option to create a tool based product in hopes all election will be done via hardware/software based computing.

    So, is Slashdot's Poll feature enough to constitute prior art in this case?
    Companies don't want to go that route since all /. would have to do is post an article every hour about that company and have their sites slashdotted to oblivion, costing them more in bandwidth and administrative pay for bofh's to fix their broken networks. (;) I had to)

    There is always the worry that Microsoft can begin acting in the same fashion as NCR has recently (since the patent has been issued), and start throwing lawsuits at every online poll they can find on the net. Including Slashdot's.
    MS would spend more money fighting this in court then it would gain by leaving slashdot or any other content based site. Aside from that MS is up shits creek with its odd anti-trust case, and if it went to a jury (polling case) I'm sure a jury would think MS is bullying the defendant as it has done in the past which would then hurt their reputation more than it would help.

    killall -9 myrants

    more Patent woes [antioffline.com]
  • Looks like M$ beat me to my own idea! Patent something, wait five years, then sue! I knew I should have patented that stupid idea. Give 'em a few years, then the lawsuits over polling on the web don't seem so frivolous and it's easier to contend that it has cost M$ lost revenue.
  • Yeah, I know they haven't sued anyone yet. They've still got 3 years to go before it would be worth their while. :)

    Besides, suing people over patent and copyright infringement seems to be the new,new, NEW economy these days. I'm going to invest in some it myself I think!

  • 19. The Government's conclusion is thus to reaffirm the principle that patents are for technological innovations. Software should not be patentable where there is no technological innovation, and technological innovations should not cease to be patentable merely because the innovation lies in software.

    So just How, Exactly, does one interpret technological innovation to be defined ? And how does this limit future implementations of a similar idea ? Is this system innovative since it stores results in a specific table structure, and are you patenting the table structure specifically or the concept or what ? It seems, in the physical world, that you can patent a knock off idea - look how many types of tools there are that are almost the same yet slightly different (vise grips ? special purpose multi-tools ?) Why would intelectual property be different. Can I patent the *idea* of a solution without a specific one ?

    How different would an implimentation have to be, and who determines if it is 'different' ? Is it different to run the same type of system in a different language, when that actual implimentation would be completely altered ? Or is this patented at a non-language dependant level ?

    (hey, let's use computers to manipulate numbers!!!...ENIAC's first patent ??) Perhaps we just need to keep feeding the lawyers...one wonders if it isn't time for the people who actually innovate to draw some lines in the sand somehow and try to get lawmakers to understand that this is not acceptable.

  • actually, instead of just reading some books I am considering a political career-just trying to figure out if all these talkers would really ACT on something (eeeek...you mean actually try to rock the boat ?) Maybe the time is right for a charismatic uberfreek...

    I haven't been too experienced with the nuances of the legal interpretations of previous prior art patents-are there any worth reading ? It seems from some of the other comments that implimentation details can circumvent this whole issue, but I don't buy it til I see it...

  • /. aren't you better than this? Is it a slow news day? Seriously, if MS really even card about this patent they would of said something or done something already. Or perphaps a certain division of MS existed during that time and they were the ones who filed this patent. You guys are just looking to pick a fight with them? Why? Because you were forced to remove a post that was copyright infringment so you decieded to take your anger out by trying to pick a fight?? This is a battle not worth fighting for....no one cares.....
  • They had this functionality in WWIV from very early on (~85??) IIRC
  • As fond as I am of the Internet, I do miss BBS'ing.. There was much more possibility in forming a real social circle around the BBS. There were several in Austin that were quite popular, one in particular being After Hours BBS, a MBBS chat system. Once a week, we'd always have "Happy Hour" and everyone would get together at a local pizza place or something and we'd all drink beer, shoot pool, and compete for the attention of the 2 or 3 females that would show up (BBS'ing was pretty male dominated!!)..

    Ah, those were the good ol' days.. :-)
  • arg.... why do these silly things keep getting granted??

    Check out Zoomerang.com. Their polling is exactly what this sounds like. Does anyone know more about Zoomerang and their relationship with Microsoft? It sounds like they fall right into this thing.

  • Well the question is wether An online voting system provides a standardized database architecture that integrates editorial and production processes? The voting system has a survey database to store multiple surveys and a server to serve the surveys over a network (e.g., the Internet) to readers. Each survey consists of one or more questions and multiple answer options per question

When you are working hard, get up and retch every so often.