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Microsoft Seeks Latitude/Longitude Patent 598

theodp writes "Q. What does Microsoft feel is unpatentable? A. Apparently nothing! On Thursday, the USPTO published Microsoft's patent application for the Compact text encoding of latitude/longitude coordinates, in which the software giant explains how a floating-point number can also be represented as a less-precise integer that's displayed in base-30 notation!" If ever I have seen a silly patent, this is it.
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Microsoft Seeks Latitude/Longitude Patent

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  • The thing about Microsoft and patents is that they file them defensively, not offensively.
    • by USCG ( 842203 ) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @10:49AM (#11589719) Homepage
      Of course, if there were no software patents, then Microsoft wouldn't need to do this.
    • Don't be a fool (Score:3, Interesting)

      by johannesg ( 664142 )
      Ahh, so Microsoft is NOT going to use patents against the perceived open source threat because... Why exactly? Just because they haven't used patents as a weapon yet, doesn't mean they won't in the future.

      Don't you find it more believable that they are simply waiting for software patents to be established world wide, after which they'll take out all the major open source applications? I.e. Samba, Apache, Open Office, Mozilla, maybe gcc, etc.

      • Re:Don't be a fool (Score:4, Insightful)

        by tambo ( 310170 ) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @11:22AM (#11589962)
        Ahh, so Microsoft is NOT going to use patents against the perceived open source threat because... Why exactly? Just because they haven't used patents as a weapon yet, doesn't mean they won't in the future.

        Well, it helps that the junk they're patenting has no actual value. I don't think Linux will be crippled by the inability to use an ISNOT operator in their BASIC compilers. :shakes head: Woodcock Washburn (the typically excellent law firm that drafted that patent application) should the hang its head in shame over that one.

        I'm a patent attorney. More specifically, I'm a software patent attorney, and I truly believe that allowing patents for truly useful novel algorithms is a boon for the industry. But I feel that the quality of many software patents is an embarrassment to the field. Worse, it's an embarrassment to the patentee: it's a sign that they have no ability to evaluate the usefulness of their software - no talent to determine which pieces of their products are both new and critically important.

        But the /. community should be glad about one thing: As long as Microsoft's choices of technologies to patent remain befuddled, it won't be able to tap the true, strong, monopoly-cementing power of software patents.

        - David Stein

        • I have this theory, that all these really silly patents won't be used in court, but used for the Microsoft "Get the facts" campaign...

          What I mean is that this patent will probably never ever end up in court, but it will most certainly end up in a "Linux violates 953292493294 patents" statistic.
          • Re:Don't be a fool (Score:3, Insightful)

            by tambo ( 310170 )
            I have this theory, that all these really silly patents won't be used in court, but used for the Microsoft "Get the facts" campaign... What I mean is that this patent will probably never ever end up in court, but it will most certainly end up in a "Linux violates 953292493294 patents" statistic.

            Oh, I'm sure that's one of the intended uses. Companies do this all the time. A fellow patent attorney who used to do work for Kodak tells me that they patented tons of minutiae about their photo developing chemis

        • by lottameez ( 816335 ) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @12:00PM (#11590205)
          I would like to know of a single instance where a patented "truly useful novel algorthim" was a boon for the software industry.

          Every patent I am aware of has only been used for litigation.

          (oh, you must mean for the legal industry)
          • Re:Don't be a fool (Score:5, Interesting)

            by tambo ( 310170 ) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @12:23PM (#11590365)
            I would like to know of a single instance where a patented "truly useful novel algorthim" was a boon for the software industry.

            Okay - RSA encryption. [uspto.gov] This novel encryption method is the mathematical basis for most encrypted web browser communication. Without such a technique, most of e-commerce would be untenable - either the encryption mechanism would be prohibitively cumbersome, or it would be riddled with holes.

            This algorithm wasn't created in the vacuum of academia. It was developed as a way of allowing easy, encrypted communication among businesses. Without a business incentive to develop it - i.e., if other companies had been permitted to just steal the technology after it was created - no one would have created it.

            So what happened once it was patented? Did the company take on the Darth-Vader-esque visage that most Slashdotters imagine? No, it had the good business judgment to promote RSA across the board, and to reap a reasonable profit through licensing to big companies like Verisign. The industry didn't grind to a halt.

            And what would have happened without a strong, business-savvy proponent of RSA? Internet technology in general is a hideous swamp of competing standards and compatibility issues. Ask any web developer how much time they spend on IE/Firefox/Netscape/Opera compatibility issues, or on Java version compatibility, or on security issues between or among various technologies and standards. It's insanity. The explosion of web development has occurred not because of these myriad and disparate technologies, in spite of them.

            Yet, in the midst of this sea of chaos, encryption technology just magically seems to work - automatically, unobtrusively, without a security update every 25 seconds. That technology works. I assert that this is because we gave one company some breathing room to develop it.

            - David Stein

            • Re:Don't be a fool (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Anonymous Coward
              Actually, RSA is more of a counterexample than an example of your claim. Because the inventors published a paper describing their work before filing for a patent, they could only patent the algorithm in the US. (The US allows filing patent applications up to one year after publication; most foreign countries disallow any patent applications after publication.)

              This had two basic results: (1) much of the development work in employing RSA for practical purposes, particularly in open-source software, was done
            • Re:Don't be a fool (Score:3, Insightful)

              by belmolis ( 702863 )

              I'm willing to grant that sometimes software patents can motivate innovation. It is certainly the case that making money is a major motivation for people (though not everyone) and in some cases, such as the RSA example, it is arguably true that this motivation would have been absent without patents and that the technology might not have developed as soon or as well as it did without them.

              My concern is that in many cases software patents seem to have the opposite effect, as many people have argued. It se

              • Re:Don't be a fool (Score:5, Insightful)

                by tambo ( 310170 ) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @01:22PM (#11590793)
                I'm willing to grant that sometimes software patents can motivate innovation.

                That's a relief (in this forum), though I'd encourage you to upgrade this to "often." Consider that you rarely hear about the software patents that are good and productive - they're not as newsworthy as "Amazon patents OneClick, oh no!"

                It is certainly the case that making money is a major motivation for people (though not everyone)...

                "Making money" has such a bad taste to it, doesn't it?

                Money derived from commercial sofware doesn't go (100%) into the pockets of a greedy CEO. Much of it goes simply to pay the salaries of the programmers, and the operating costs of the business. I harbor the overly idealistic, probably naive view that professional programmers are motivated by (1) the desire to create cool sofware and (2) a deep-seated love of programming. They can only pursue those goals if they get a paycheck.

                Sometimes, a patent is needed to secure the business capital to create this environment. That's where business realities, like patents, become important.

                My concern is that in many cases software patents seem to have the opposite effect, as many people have argued.

                I completely share your concern. Any time someone sucessfully patents an old or silly computing concept, it drags down everything.

                But I attribute it to the infancy of the software patent field. People are still floundering with this new concept, what it can accomplish, how it should be used. Over time, sofware business people become more familiar with the nature of patents - and patent attorneys become more familiar with the nature of software. There will be a focusing of the field on truly useful and worthwhile software patents. Anything else - patenting ISNOT, for example - is simply a waste of everyone's time, money, and reputation.

                That is, it isn't by any means the only kind of encryption available, so for many purposes one could avoid the patent by using a different encryption scheme.

                Absolutely. In fact, the RSA patent encourages competing software companies to find alternative methods. Maybe those methods will be better - more secure, less computationally taxing, offering features not found in RSA, etc. - and they'll separately patent and commercialize their better algorithm. Encouraging competition and "designing-around" has always been a goal of the patent system.

                It isn't clear to me whether there is a reasonable way to permit software patents in the cases in which they might be desirable and to exclude them in other cases.

                Yeah, that's an interesting question. It's also pretty subjective, though. At least I can offer this: All patents - good and bad - expire 20 years after filing. That's an eternity in the software industry (though it's much less offensive than the copyright industry's "life of the author + 70-95 years" schtick), but at least it's a backstop time limit to really egregious conduct.

                - David Stein

            • Re:Don't be a fool (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Hognoxious ( 631665 )
              This {RSA] algorithm wasn't created in the vacuum of academia. It was developed as a way of allowing easy, encrypted communication among businesses.
              Actually, it was invented by a British intelligence wallah (nothing to do with spying or snooping. At all. No no no, not even a little bit.) at GCHQ Cheletenham. It was decided that this might make their job harder if got into enemy hands, so they simply kept quiet about it.
              • Re:Don't be a fool (Score:3, Informative)

                by tambo ( 310170 )
                Actually, it was invented by a British intelligence wallah (nothing to do with spying or snooping. At all. No no no, not even a little bit.) at GCHQ Cheletenham. It was decided that this might make their job harder if got into enemy hands, so they simply kept quiet about it.

                In the language of intellectual property law, they opted to keep it as a trade secret. Fair enough. The downside to this is that suppressed inventions will usually be rediscovered, by someone who's not in the same position and who opts

                • "The downside to this is that suppressed inventions will usually be rediscovered, by someone who's not in the same position and who opts to take a different route."

                  Which is exactly why software patents are a state means of creating monopolies and are thus NOT beneficial to the advancement of the species.

                  The bottom-line professed concept of IP is that no one will innovate without the chance to make monopoly levels of profit. The unstated - and sometimes stated - assumption is also that if there is no monop
                  • Re:Don't be a fool (Score:3, Informative)

                    by tambo ( 310170 )
                    Which is exactly why software patents are a state means of creating monopolies and are thus NOT beneficial to the advancement of the species.

                    Your logic is flawed. Yes, people will reinvent the technology. It doesn't imply that (a) they will do it nearly as soon as they would have, and (b) they will disclose it to the public.

                    If your schtick is promoting advancement of technology, then you should be railing against trade-secret law, not patents. Let's say there are two airplane manufacturers, each of whic

                    • Re:Don't be a fool (Score:3, Interesting)

                      by E_elven ( 600520 )
                      On the other hand...if I, entirely on my own and without knowledge or information of the patented entity, discover the exact same thing and am prevented from using it, well, that's pretty tyrannic, as well, no?
            • Re:Don't be a fool (Score:5, Interesting)

              by fymidos ( 512362 ) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @02:50PM (#11591341) Journal
              The RSA patent should never have been accepted, for many reasons (prior act, broad claims, plain mathematics, to name a few) , and i fail to understand your argument that the patent itself helped the industry.

              You can read about the patent and its problems in this nice article in cyberlaw [cyberlaw.com]. I would like to add a few things though, regarding the industry reaction to the patent.

              In '95 computers were already fast enough to handle secure-only communications, but the existence of this particular patent was a big problem for most of the new and small web companies (and users). And make no mistake, RSA really enforced this patent, they didn't play Mr. nice guy, if that is what you thought. So the majority of web sites, did not serve encrypted pages, the majority of emails are not encrypted (even today), and most of electronic devices have no such support.

              To be fair, the patent did create a new market: a few companies selling "security" profited from this. RSA too. The industry as a whole didn't.

              Internet naturally did not die from this patent (as the patent was not broad enough to cover non-secure communication as well) , but online security definetely took a major hit.
        • Re:Don't be a fool (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @12:21PM (#11590343)
          Well, it helps that the junk they're patenting has no actual value. I don't think Linux will be crippled by the inability to use an ISNOT operator in their BASIC compilers.

          The inherent value in ISNOT is that Microsoft's Basic (the defacto standard used by the vast majority of Basic programmers) supports it. With this patent, other Basic implementations will be forbidden from supporting it. Only Microsoft will be able to produce Basic interpreters that are fully compatible with Microsoft's implementation.

          Just like with browsers and web pages, most developers will casually use whatever features Microsoft gives them by default. Thus, it will not be possible for Linux to reliably run Basic code developed for Microsoft platforms without somebody going through the source to manually remove all ISNOTs. This barrier to entry into the market for the most popular RAD language environment in the business world can be extremely valuable to Microsoft, and it could effectively cripple Linux-based attempts to provide a competing platform for hosting business apps written in VB.

  • by Chess_the_cat ( 653159 ) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @10:27AM (#11589558) Homepage
    Q. What does Microsoft feel is unpatentable? A. Apparently nothing!

    Pretty sure the US Patent Office has a say in what is and isn't patentable.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      You must be new to this country.
    • Pretty sure the US Patent Office has a say in what is and isn't patentable.

      No. The law tells us what is and isn't patentable. The USPTO is just the institute that applies the law and has the power to grant patents. Unfortunately, by and large the USPTO lacks the (scientific) knowledge to apply the law according to its spirit.

      • Don't know wether this is really true or not:

        If my memory serves, both the USPTO and the EPO are receiving money for each granted patent as their funding. Hence, neither patent office is very eager to reject any application.
        • by tambo ( 310170 ) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @11:34AM (#11590041)
          If my memory serves, both the USPTO and the EPO are receiving money for each granted patent as their funding. Hence, neither patent office is very eager to reject any application.

          Nonsense.

          You are correct in asserting that the USPTO makes money from issance - as per their fee schedule [uspto.gov], they get $300 (plus extra fees for various things like multiple independent claims) when the app is filed, and $1,400 when it issues.

          But the examiners - the people who make the allow-vs-reject decision - aren't responsible for the fiscal well-being of the USPTO. Were that the case, virtually every application would slide through to issuance with barely any examination. We'd be back to the patent registration scheme of the early 1800's, where you got a patent simply by filling out the right paperwork.

          We don't have that system - in name or in practice. The examiners do a hell of a lot of rejecting, with backing references to other patents, journal articles, etc. They don't have the resources for an exhaustive search - but the typical application garners at least two separate rejections from the examiners.

          But this is a classic catch-22 example: people often examiners for spending too much time on examination, and thereby contributing to the 2.5-year average pendency of patent applications.

          - David Stein

    • by reporter ( 666905 ) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @10:46AM (#11589689) Homepage
      Why would anyone want to do base-30 mathematics? I hazard a guess that non-binary (i.e. not base-2) computational devices may exist in the distant future. Consider the quantum computer [sciencenews.org]. Perhaps, a physicist can weigh in on this matter. Is the number of states in a quantum computer always a power of 2?

      Although M$ churns out mundane but fairly good software as the main line of business, this company has a huge R&D budget, and the central research laboratory at M$ is the equivalent of the old Bell Laboratory. I suspect that the M$ laboratory is not confined to only software research. There is likely small, upstart efforts exploring other technologies.

      Certainly, X-Box took me by surprise as, up to its debut, I had always thought of M$ as a software company.

      May be, there is something to the warning: "Resistance [in any technology] is future. You will be assimilated."

      • by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @11:02AM (#11589809) Homepage
        It just makes it shorter to represent numbers. 11111111 in binary is 255 in decimal which is FF in Hex. Representing large integers in base 30 allows them to appear shorter in URLs, using standard character like 0-9 a-z. Pretty smart idea, but I don't know if it's really worth a patent.
    • by RootsLINUX ( 854452 ) <rootslinux AT gmail DOT com> on Sunday February 06, 2005 @11:14AM (#11589904) Homepage
      "Pretty sure the US Patent Office has a say in what is and isn't patentable."

      Oh really? I beg to differ. I've come across a couple fun examples recently

      Method of Swinging on a Swing [uspto.gov].
      Gee, I wouldn't have thought of that one! I think I heard somewhere that this patent was granted to a 5-year-old? 0_o

      Method of Exercising a Cat (with a laser pointer...) [uspto.gov]

      Here's a nice little read on the US Patent System that was in IEEE Spectrum a couple months ago. The US Patent System sucks ass [ieee.org]

      So you see, the US Patenting Office appears to patent just about everything. Oh no, I hope they haven't patented my favorite peanut butter and jelly sandwhiches...!

      Patent 5,567,454 [uspto.gov]
      Patent 5,855,939 [uspto.gov]
      Patent RE37,275 [uspto.gov]

      OH NOES!!!!
  • Ha (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Haydn Fenton ( 752330 ) <no.spam.for.haydn@gmail.com> on Sunday February 06, 2005 @10:27AM (#11589562)
    Who care's what they patent? There's no chance in hell this would stand up in court, the judge would laugh it off and Microsoft's patent gets revoked.

    Is there prior art? Probably.
    Is it obvious?
    Probably.
    Is it capable of winning a course case? AAHAHAHAHAHAAHAA!!!

    End of story.
    • Re:Ha (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Xeo 024 ( 755161 )
      Is it capable of winning a course case? AAHAHAHAHAHAAHAA!!!

      With the justice system, you can never [overlawyered.com] be too sure.
    • Re:Ha (Score:5, Insightful)

      by CosmeticLobotamy ( 155360 ) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @10:46AM (#11589685)
      Of course it would win a court case. Why would someone convert latitude and longitude into base-30 integers with implied arbitrary precision? There's no reason to ever do that. Microsoft actually invented this one, because nobody else would want to. And they patented it to prevent interoperability. That's a problem. The patent itself, though, would stand up fine.
      • Re:Ha (Score:5, Informative)

        by daniel_mcl ( 77919 ) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @11:34AM (#11590043) Homepage
        This is not justification for a patent. I cite Atlantic Works vs Brady, 1882.

        "It was never the object of patent laws to grant a monopoly for every trifling device, every shadow of a shade of an idea, which would naturally and spontaneously occur to any skilled mechanic or operator in the ordinary progress of manufactures. Such an indiscriminate creation of exclusive privileges tends rather to obstruct than to stimulate invention. It creates a class of speculative schemers who make it their business to watch the advancing wave of improvement, and gather its foam in the form of patented monopolies, which enable them to lay a heavy tax on the industry of the country, without contributing anything to the real advancement of the arts. It embarrasses the honest pursuit of business with fears and apprehensions of unknown liability lawsuits and vexatious accounting for profits made in good faith."

        Latitude and Longitude are normally expressed as base sixty rationals, so changing to base thirty integers isn't particularly innovative. This would never win a court case strictly; however, Microsoft has the money to keep this in court all the way to the U.S. Supreme court, so it would take a large amount of money to contest.
      • Re:Ha (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Alsee ( 515537 )
        Microsoft did not get a patent using base 30. They got a patent on encoding latitude or longitude in ANY base.

        -
    • Well, I don't know about you, but I can't afford to fight them in court.
  • Jeez.... (Score:3, Funny)

    by writermike ( 57327 ) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @10:28AM (#11589569)
    Don't you think the title is a little trollish? I get it, already. MS is evil. But they're not going to deploy interceptors to stop ships using LAT/LON coordinates while out at sea.

    Wait... maybe they will...
    • I'd say it's not so much a finger-pointing about how Microsoft is evil (though of course, this is Slashdot, so I'm not disputing they are), but mainly an indictment on the USPTO itself.

      Companies are supposed to do whatever they think they can get away with to maximize their profits. That's capitalism. When the government agency assigned with forcing reason onto the situation drops the ball, however, the majority of the blame lies with them.

      I'm not sure what it will take to get some substantive, informed
  • They should really stick to just patenting things that someone else might want to do at some point. That said, anyone who actually read the patent would have to be squinting pretty hard to be upset with either MS or the patent guys about this one. I normally like me some MS bashing, but this one's pushing it.
  • Good gosh. 60 seconds per minute, 60 minutes per degree, use base 60 for Pete's sake!

    Good grief. This only confirms what we have all known for a long time, Microsoft is run by a bunch of morons. They can't even get a silly patent right.
    • Give me a break. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Faust7 ( 314817 ) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @10:39AM (#11589646) Homepage
      This only confirms what we have all known for a long time, Microsoft is run by a bunch of morons.

      For a "bunch of morons" they seem to have done a pretty good job establishing and maintaining desktop and office suite dominance.

      For a "bunch of morons" they seem to have made a pretty big warchest of cash.

      For a "bunch of morons" they seem to have gone from nothing to second place in the game console market rather quickly.

      For a "bunch of morons," in other words, they're pretty damned successful. The last thing you or anyone should be doing is writing them off.
      • It's a bunch of morons and a few geniuses. Unfortunately for them, and fortunately for the rest of us, they have both morons and geniuses in control, so sometimes they do something really stupid that they should have seen coming and so far it's been stopping them from ruling the world.
    • Good gosh. 60 seconds per minute, 60 minutes per degree, use base 60 for Pete's sake!

      Perhaps that one was already taken?

    • Maybe you're the moron for spending your morning on Slashdot, criticizing a very enviable company, and making an ass out of yourself.

    • Before calling people morons, perhaps you should expend a tiny bit of thought yourself.

      Two word hint: URL encoding.

      (sheesh, the arrogance displayed on Slashdot knows no bounds)

  • There is a long list of claims which are essentially the same, except that the later claims are more specific so that they are less likely to be kicked out in court. Before someone actually get sued using this patent, most lawyers in the US could not be sure which claims are valid, which are not. However do you want the power balance between inventors and the general public to be (personally I think abolishing patents in most fields might be a good idea), this uncertainty is bad for everyone.
  • Tomorrow, they'll add an amendment to that patent saying that they own the location of that coordinate too, and if granted, Microsoft will own any piece of land they want. MS: We own this coordinate. Linus: But this is my house. MS: Not anymore. Linus: I'm homeless :-(.
  • by Psionicist ( 561330 ) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @10:34AM (#11589613)
    This is a problem with USPTO, not Microsoft. I mean, how is this any different from me downloading pirated movies? It's wrong, but I do it anyway because I can (get away with it). It's the same with Microsoft, they can patent pretty much everything because the problem lies with "the system". Fix the USPTO, fix the problem. Fix the distribution system for movies, fix the warez problem.
  • Bogus patent (Score:3, Interesting)

    by yotto ( 590067 ) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @10:35AM (#11589617) Homepage
    I'm usually pretty lenient about what I consider a good patent, but this one seems dumb. It's not even an optimal way to do it. They're just using a fairly cheesy form of compression to make a string shorter.

    So, they remove the ability for a human to tell what the lat/long is by inspecting the string, but compress the string suboptimally? Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?
  • Isn't this math? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ddewey ( 774337 ) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @10:39AM (#11589642) Homepage
    What happened to not being able to patent a mathematical formula? Isn't something like this basically just a math trick?
  • Wasn't FractInt doing this 10 years ago?
  • RTFP! (Score:3, Informative)

    by mOoZik ( 698544 ) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @10:44AM (#11589680) Homepage
    I know it's in your blood to hate Microsoft, but least take the time to read the patent! What they are seeking to patent is a METHOD of encoding LAT/LONG in a URL in a better way than is currently employed. I think this patent is incredibly valid.

    • You think representing numbers in different bases is something that should be patentable? Oh shit, there goes bc.
  • tinifying the URL? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mmThe1 ( 213136 ) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @10:46AM (#11589688) Homepage
    From the patent abstract:
    "Methods are disclosed for encoding latitude/longitude coordinates within a URL in a relatively compact form. The method includes converting latitude and longitude coordinates from floating-point numbers to non-negative integers."

    Where are tinyurl [tinyurl.com] and similar websites to claim that they have been converting URLs to relatively-compact-form, using non-negative integers and letters?

  • by mrjb ( 547783 ) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @10:46AM (#11589692)
    "The set deliberately omits vowels to avoid the possibility of the algorithm inadvertently generating real words that could be offensive."

    Wow, that is SO "politically correct". Still it does't prevent people from constructing URLs saying fvck 0ff. It would be better if people would simply learn to respect other peoples freedom of speech.

  • I worked on something like this three or four years ago for my employers - lat/lon positions were stored in text fields with base 16 representation. I think we filed a patent application on it too (the lawyers' idea, not mine). I wonder whatever became of it...
  • The early claims of the patent are simply for converting a floating point representation for embedding in a URL. While this is all fine and dandy, wouldn't uuencoding the binary form of the coordinates be an obvious way to serve this purpose?
  • Microsoft Patents One's and Zero's... Sun & IBM Scared. The US Patent Office says, 'We're just doing our job.'
  • Prior art (Score:2, Interesting)

    by smalgin ( 750257 )
    At least one part of this encoding method - converting floating-point to non-negative integers - looks like prior art.
    For instance, ESRI does this for their spatial database (SDE):
    URL is here. [esri.com]

    And most likely it was known even before...
  • You can't see a sillier accepted patent than the "circular transportation facilitation device" patented in Australia [cnn.com]. If you think that your patent system is stuffed, with the addition of software patents that seem likely in Australia our patent system will be thoroughly rooted.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 06, 2005 @10:49AM (#11589715)
    This type of patent is NOT about protecting their rights to an innovation. It's about restricting interoperability.

    After patenting this encoding method, they can create some kind of software interface based on it, e.g. have a web application that uses this encoding in it's URLs, or an extension to Internet Explorer that uses the encoding somehow. Then if the server/extension becomes popular, they can use the patent to lock out OSS and other vendor's applications.

    Location-awareness is a hot topic these days -- that probably has something to do with this particular patent.
  • by jolyonr ( 560227 ) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @10:51AM (#11589732) Homepage
    I suspect the real reason for this is so they can control/prevent deep linking into their Terraserver (etc) geographical systems. If my website has a way of generating their coordinate URLs and linking directly to their content bypassing their front page, they could now prevent me from doing this because of this patent.

    Jolyon
  • For those too lazy to read even the article summary, here' the abstract...

    Honestly, it's threads like these that make me want to stop bothering with the comments on /. Even the abstract is fairly specific. Relax, people, they're not patenting maps.


    Methods are disclosed for encoding latitude/longitude coordinates within a URL in a relatively compact form. The method includes converting latitude and longitude coordinates from floating-point numbers to non-negative integers. A set of base-N string repres
  • The Point: URLs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jfengel ( 409917 ) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @10:55AM (#11589753) Homepage Journal
    The point of encoding lat/lons this way is to allow a compact coding in URLs.

    That's useful in mobile devices, where URLs are limited. It's also useful in that now you might be able to memorize and type in your latitude/longitude, since in a higher base (30 is just an example) you can get good precision in few digits (their example is 5 characters, with 2-meter precision).

    Why base 30? That's 10 digits and 26 letters, minus 6 vowels "to avoid the possibility of the algorithm inadvertently generating real words that could be offensive". Funny.

    So it's useful. As far as I'm aware nobody's ever done it before, which makes it both non-obvious and novel. Those are the three tests of a patent. If you don't want to use it, keep using base 10. If you do want to use it, at least give Microsoft credit for coming up with a reasonably clever idea. As another poster pointed out, this is the type of patent MS usually uses defensively, so that nobody goes out and patents an idea they're already using in live software.

    I think MS would like to see everybody memorize the lat-lon of their home as two five-digit strings, but it's not going to happen. First of all, the patent requires you to pick a precision beforehand; decimal degrees and degrees/minutes/seconds don't require that. Second, even if MS introduced a standard, they'd better release the patent for public use, or nobody will bother lest they risk being sued. Decimals are wordy, but everybody understands them and they're free.

    I have one other gripe about the patent. They spend considerable time explaining how to convert a number in base 10 to a number in base N. It's not one of the claims, and it really could have been taken as given.
    • by Jeff DeMaagd ( 2015 ) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @11:05AM (#11589838) Homepage Journal
      It's 10 digits and 26 letters, minus 6 vowels "to avoid the possibility of the algorithm inadvertently generating real words that could be offensive". Funny.
      B00BZB4BY.
    • Re:The Point: URLs (Score:5, Insightful)

      by raboofje ( 538591 ) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @11:16AM (#11589914)
      > So it's useful. As far as I'm aware nobody's ever
      > done it before, which makes it both non-obvious
      > and novel. Those are the three tests of a patent.

      Whoa, wait a minute. I agree it's useful (though the reason for choosing base 30 is indeed funny).

      It is *not* novel or non-obvious. Anyone who has ever seen various forms of primitive compression, as well as most people with common sense, could easily have come up with this.

      Patents are meant for the kind of really intelligent stuff that requires hard research work. This is not such an idea.
    • by Paul Crowley ( 837 ) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @11:31AM (#11590020) Homepage Journal
      Just because no-one's ever done it before doesn't mean it isn't obvious - it usually means no-one's felt the need before. If you came to me and said "Paul, we need a compact way to represent latitude and longitude in URLs, what do you suggest?" this is exactly what I would have reeled off at my desk without even needing to pause for thought, modulo the rather silly thing about leaving out vowels. I'm sure the same is true of every programmer in my workplace.

      MS aren't introducing a standard, quite the reverse - they are trying to prevent people interoperating with their servers.
      • Of course it is a standard, of course it is for a type of interoperativity.

        You must be unaware of the new MS location server.

        Soon when all cell phones have GPS receivers built in, you will want to transmit your coordinates constantly ... either to find your location (using mappoint no doubt), to find the nearest starbucks, to find whatever the heck it is you need to find relative to your position using any brand of cell phone / pda / laptop / etc.

        Of course it will also allow pinpointed targetted spam, bi
    • Re:The Point: URLs (Score:4, Interesting)

      by dabadab ( 126782 ) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @11:50AM (#11590142)
      Non-obvious? Novel? Look at uuencoding or base64 encoding, they use a very similar concept, but they are case-sensitive and include other symbols besides letters and digits.

    • Re:The Point: URLs (Score:3, Insightful)

      by daniel_mcl ( 77919 )
      "If you don't want to use it, keep using base 10."

      The patent covers *every* value of N, including 10. Under this patent you are no longer allowed to convert a "geographically-oriented number" into a decimal (or binary) integer representation.

      "Decimal degrees and degrees/minutes/seconds don't require [picking a precision beforehand]."

      They do exactly that -- it's a base ten integer, a base sixty integer, and then a base sixty real.
  • IANAL - but I read/skimmed through the patent as much as I could decipher the doublespeak, and the description of a computer, etc. Not knowing about patent law or prior art, I have to say this looks like a patentable idea. The patent is describing a very specific problem, and an implementation for its solution. Some of the aspects, like the base-30 character selection, are thoughtful enough to not be obvious, IMO.

    The headline is misleading, becuase they are not patenting lat/lon, just one method of rep

  • Clearly, msft is on a mission to patent every piece of prior-art msft can possibly imagine.

    Could there be any downside for msft? Could this clearly unethical behavior possibly bite msft in the azz? Could the DOJ say "Um, msft, you have 4000 patents for stuff you didn't invent - that's no good."

    Could somebody suing msft point out all the fake patents as evidence that msft is a scam organization?
  • Ok, so MS does crafty things. Been there, not changing, not going back.

    What about MS hardware though? I was thinking about it the other day and I *love* MS's hardware. I have since my first SideWinder. All my keyboards and mice are MS. I never used any WindowsCE devices but I'm told they are top notch also.

    Does MS farm those out? And if so, to who? Anyone care to admit they love MS's hardware? You can post AC if you're afraid. :)
  • Is the definition-of-silly-pattents dept a subdepartment of the should-have-previewed-for-spelling dept?
  • The primary case law concerning what is and is not patentable was set forth in 1980's SCOTUS decision in Diamond v. Chakrabarty [findlaw.com]. The court ruled that "n choosing such expansive terms as "manufacture" and "composition of matter," modified by the comprehensive "any," Congress contemplated that the patent laws should be given wide scope, and the relevant legislative history also supports a broad construction. While laws of nature, physical phenomena, and abstract ideas are not patentable, respondent's claim is
  • by Jugalator ( 259273 ) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @11:08AM (#11589859) Journal
    First, they're obviously not trying to patent the coordinate system like the article title suggests in all its sensational style.

    Second, I think there's prior art possibly in the universe simulator Celestia which supports URL encoding of coordinates (I don't know if it's uses the lat/long system though, that's why I'm bit unsure), and there definitely seem to be prior art in NASA's World Wind application. It uses a compact Lat/Long => URL encoding scheme as follows:
    worldwind://goto/world=Earth&lat=48.5&lon=15&view= 0.21
  • by Maljin Jolt ( 746064 ) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @11:30AM (#11590016) Journal
    Patent application in its wording uses conversion to compact ASCII string.

    So, you can avoid infringement of this patent by using conversion to ISO-8859-1. Or perhaps a new patent, anyone? Just leave ISO-8859-2 for me, please.
  • If I understand it (Score:5, Informative)

    by mattr ( 78516 ) <mattrNO@SPAMtelebody.com> on Sunday February 06, 2005 @11:39AM (#11590080) Homepage Journal
    Say you have a geographical coordinate like 39.2670N, 141.6000E. If N,E are treated as positive integers this could become:
    0392670 and 1416000, seven digits each. You concatenate them together in a base-N alphabet. So if in base ten you have 03926701416000, nothing gained except I would like to know what is at that digit of pi maybe but no real use regarding the patent.

    You could use a websafe alphabet (like I use when encrypting form data between one page and the next, based on a public CPAN module.. encryptform or some such) or a little bigger alphabet that would be MIME or Base64.

    From item 8 they are dropping accuracy in order to encode in less characters. Um. Well yes you can shorten numbers to lose accuracy. If you write the numbers using letters instead, like in base 16 or some substitution alphabet it may look like you are shortening a word but really it is just dropping decimal places. Microsoft claims they are unique at being able to go back and forth between string length and allowable error. They have a patented subroutine that you feed say a floating point latitude, number of characters to use, the number of characters in the alphabet (i.e. the base) and required accuracy, and it will spit back something like "KXW" maybe.

    Likewise you can feed another patented subroutine "KXWCMY" and it will give you back something like "39.3N, 142E" (well higher res than that really, it doesn't seem that useful unless you are measuring GPS coords to the inch). Perhaps this is the code a mobile device will shout whenever it can triangulate its location from a few known wifi points. :)

    Well I just skimmed the end of it but it seems this is for use when you really don't want to use all those decimal places (8 digits for meter resolution). Needless to say 32 bits is enough to handle it but it looks so *long*! So instead of just lopping off the last few digits, they want to compress it (okay so far) but then they tell the compression algorithm how compressed they want the string to be, how much they are willing to give up (I would think in decimal places but ultimately in meters I suppose).

    They then talk about personal info managers and map display programs on pdas, and the bs starts to pile up real fast. They start talking about nonvolatile memory, video tape, scanners, joysticks, office environments, what have you.

    There is mention of an URL (301) that 'contains a geographic parameter "mapcoord", which has a parameter value "ry7cx4tp95"'. There is some talk about users inputting information which sounds interesting, until you realize that in the end this is really a quintessential rot13 for the 21st century, written by a corporation that does not care if users cannot decipher the codes or tell how accurate it is at a glance, or find it on a globe or non-M$ map, that assumes every gps manufacturer will liscense the patent, who cares if you don't have alpha input on your keypad etc. Someone should tell them you could do it all in just a couple characters on a kanji-equipped Japanese phone. While it gets more seductive as you read more and more, it also hits you with a sledgehammer that you have to have a calculator with the patented subroutines built into it, just to understand what codes your are typing.. it can only ever be useful among a weenies who have been brainwashed to think in corporate speak and that is the problem with Microsoft and Windows. If they just published it for free openly most people would forget it (it seems neat maybe but in the end it's just too much trouble unless it is an accepted standard like geo8 for an 8 letter string.. and even then). As it is I think it is utterly disgusting. Also it is probably beaten by error checking code, lossy image compression code, and the CPAN module I mentioned. Yuck!

  • by bigdan ( 28386 ) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @12:49PM (#11590560)
    This co-ordinate encoding scheme sounds similar to one used by US (and other) military forces for air targeting.

    See this description of GEOREF co-ordinates [fas.org] for example. Basically you divvy the world up in to a grid and use letters to reference the major fractions of the co-ordinates and numbers the minor fractions. So 106 25' 44" W 310 48' 06" N becomes EJPB 3448.
  • by Quill345 ( 769162 ) on Sunday February 06, 2005 @01:29PM (#11590832)
    Come on, it's legitimate, it is innovation that supports their trademarked slogan. ;)
  • A few points (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nimblebrain ( 683478 ) on Monday February 07, 2005 @03:08AM (#11594770) Homepage Journal

    It's an application for patent. It's not a patent yet, and hopefully it won't make it through the gauntlet. That said, it could easily make it through the gaps in the system.

    Don't get bogged down by the "base 30" part. Patent applications have a "preferred embodiment" or current invention part, but this is not the part you have to worry about. Patent applications, if you have a good patent lawyer, try to cover off as broad a space as possible without getting summarily struck down. Look at the claims; they're the part that other companies can run afoul of. Other parts are supporting documentation to show that yes, it is an invention (you must make mention of the device the software runs on in software patents, for example) and to preemptively strike down the examiner's questions.

    So, what we have here is a patent on turning lat/long information into fixed point (trivial), then represented as base anything. It does not have to be in a URL. It does not have to be base 30.

    I don't think this one should stand.

    I'm wondering how many other software developers hang out on here, and what they think of software patents. I'll say, for my part, that I've never had to refer to patents to help me in my line of work in any way whatsoever. Never mind the triple-indemnity-if-you-knew clauses. If you're given a problem to solve, you cover them with assumptions to make the problem easier, standard techniques and analysis, and other peoples' components to bring up the shortfall. Patents that are broad enough to worry about rarely contain content that's helpful.

    I can't foresee patents helping software developers - unless you count learning to dance in minefields... 'helpful' :)

    I don't even actually see Microsoft being the main worry on an ongoing basis. I see our industry being held to blackmail by IP "holding companies" who do not develop software, and thus who cannot be threatened or counterattacked in the same way as Microsoft can.

    -- Ritchie

  • by rebill ( 87977 ) on Monday February 07, 2005 @09:32AM (#11596085) Journal

    I love base-30 systems - we have one that is about to expire, and has already caused all sorts or predictions of doom and gloom here on slashdot: The Serial Number for the Vehicle Identification Numbering system (VIN).

    Of course that was created to make it harder for your local sherrif and local auto dealer from writing down the VIN as "I2FO0000" instead of "12E00000" . . . despite the reality that rolling over the VINs at the end of this decade should only be an inconvenience for the corporate executives that have the "I must start numbering everything at 1" mind-set. But getting back on topic . . .

    Let's break this down:

    • They have a pair of floating point numbers: latitude, longitude - no immediate patent claim here, as the lat/lon numbers have been in use for a very long time.
    • They convert that number to a digital format, with a minor loss of precision. Prior Art: Every Analog to Digital Converter that has ever been made, from joysticks to MP3.
    • Storing a number in a specific base-30 format. Prior art: IEEE 754-1985, Standard for Binary Floating Point Arithmetic. Prior Art: RGB Monitors - the colors specified in HTML "*color=" tags actually represent a floating-point value in a base-16 numbering system.

    Sigh. Nevermind. Our entire society is built upon a foundation of information sharing - the public school system. We spend 12 years forcing our children to accept and regurgitate information from a small number of sources (teachers), and to share information freely amongst themselves (recitation in class), and then to prove that they know it (tests) . . . only to turn around and slap the label "Intellectual Property" and to forbid them from doing precisely what we just spent 12 years training them to do.

    Self-defeating.

    Information is the INFRASTRUCTURE of technological advance. Just like roads and the electrical grid is the infrastructure of modern society. Any nation that figures this out, and acts to build its infrastructure will do precisely what the United States did between 1865 (backwater nation fighting a civil war) and 1945 (superpower) . . .

You mean you didn't *know* she was off making lots of little phone companies?

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