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Judgement Against Microsoft Declares XML Editing Software To Be Worth $98? 230

Many people have written to tell us about the patent infringement lawsuit that resulted in a $200 million judgement against Microsoft by a small Toronto firm called i4i. Techdirt has a line on the details of the suit where the patent in question is for "separating the manipulation of content from the architecture of the document." i4i argues that this covers basic XML editing to the tune of $98 per application. "It's quite troubling that doing something as simple as adding an XML editor should infringe on a patent, but what's even more troubling is that the court somehow ruled that such an editor was worth $98 in the copies of Microsoft Word where it was used. An XML editor. $98. And people say patent awards aren't out of sync with reality?"
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Judgement Against Microsoft Declares XML Editing Software To Be Worth $98?

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  • ... but what's even more troubling is that the court somehow ruled that such an editor was worth $98 in the copies of Microsoft Word where it was used. An XML editor. $98. And people say patent awards aren't out of sync with reality?

    Well--and I stress that I am not defending this ruling--you could look at it like raising the stakes involved since there are so many patent cases.

    Example: You steal a piece of fruit. You are convicted in front of a jury and slapped on the wrist. So you and everyone else does it again tomorrow. To combat this they increase the penalty to a $70 fine and 4 days in jail. In an ideal world, people stop stealing fruit.

    Of course, I'm told hands get chopped off for stealing in some countries (could be wrong on that one though). I do know in Texas they're not opposed to electrocutin' ya for certain offenses though ... maybe they are just on their way to try to get all these patent cases prevented?

    Doesn't make a lick of sense at all considering you can't throw a goddamn progress bar [] on your application without risking litigation.

  • Filed in 1994 (Score:3, Interesting)

    by El_Muerte_TDS ( 592157 ) on Friday May 29, 2009 @05:23PM (#28144119) Homepage

    Granted in 1998.

    It took them that long to sue MS?

  • by capt.Hij ( 318203 ) on Friday May 29, 2009 @05:41PM (#28144331) Homepage Journal
    From that vague wording it seems that using the XML::RPC module in Perl would violate the patent. You can use that module to separate your manipulation of the xml and the data that is represented in the xml. Then again, it seems to me that this is exactly what word processors have been doing since wordstar. The editor allows you to focus on the contents while the program manipulates the file under the hood. The fact that it uses XML is not really relevant.
  • Ridiculous. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cdn-programmer ( 468978 ) <> on Friday May 29, 2009 @06:26PM (#28144809)

    This is just ridiculous.

    The patent would apply to any markup language. This is totally obvious and there are many implementations which have been around for more than 25 years.

    There are several errors here.

    1) the patent should not have been granted because to do something like this is obvious.

    2) the court must be totally incompetent.

    3) the defense must be incompetent as well.

    Any database driven web page is an infringement. It doesn't need to be XML. In fact most databases have this and Oracle is an example. PostgreSQL also has tools which do this.

    Any templating software does this.

    This illustrates just how bad the USA patent system is.

    I hope it goes to appeal and that this gets straightened out. The thing is we software developers are under attack these days We will find that the 3rd world will eventually do all our software development. I know I would not go into software development if I were back in my university days. If a person does anything of any significance they can expect to be sued. No other profession that I know of is attacked as we software developers are being attacked.

  • by xlotlu ( 1395639 ) on Friday May 29, 2009 @06:33PM (#28144871)

    Sounds like any type of stylesheet-based editing.

    That means office suites, HTML editors, vector graphics editors are all "infringing".

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 29, 2009 @06:35PM (#28144895)

    Before we had XML, there was a more elaborate ML called "SGML" (HTML 1-4 are simplified versions of SGML. SGML was standardised in 1986, was there prior art involving similar techniques around XML?

  • by digitig ( 1056110 ) on Friday May 29, 2009 @06:37PM (#28144921)

    You make it sound like it's a good thing...

    I haven't read the patent, but TFA makes it sound like it applies to any kind of "WYSIWYG" editing of a document that gets saved in a structured format, not only XML ("separating the manipulation of content from the architecture of the document").

    Not just WYSIWYG. There are TeX and laTeX templates that aim to separate content from structure, and have been for a long time. There are even elements of it in roff. Just how old was that patent?

  • Re:Ridiculous. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by stikves ( 127823 ) on Friday May 29, 2009 @06:39PM (#28144931) Homepage

    Defense does not necessarily need to be incompetent. As long as the accuser can demonstrate that the patent applies, defense has no choice, until the patent used itself is invalidated, which is not easy. (Remember that one-click shopping patent of Amazon).

    I've only seen one recent case of Microsoft using patents against competition (FAT vs TomTom). However, every year they have to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to unknown companies. Especially the Eolas case was ridiculous, and those money, unfortunately, goes from our wallets, as the MS tax, when we purchase a new Dell system.

  • by belmolis ( 702863 ) <billposer AT alum DOT mit DOT edu> on Friday May 29, 2009 @06:43PM (#28144983) Homepage

    The use of XML for documents may postdate the patent, but text processing systems that separate document structure from details of formatting go back at least to the late 1970s in the form of Brian Reid's Scribe. Unless I have misunderstood the patent, this constitutes prior art.

  • by FooRat ( 182725 ) on Friday May 29, 2009 @07:21PM (#28145313)

    You're joking, right? I develop an XML editor as my living, so I'm more than passingly familiar with this topic. Generating XML is on the order of a few hundred lines of code. A proper, full XML parser is on the order of 100,000 lines of code. The xerces source code is over 300,000 lines of code - there's a reason for that - does that sound "simple" to you? Even the simplest of XML parsers (and even if you only a tiny subset of XML) is orders of magnitude more complex and time-consuming than merely generating XML, which is trivial. Sure there's "very specific documentation" - so what? Have you even looked at that specification? The full specification is large. Having "very specific documentation" for something has nothing to do with difficulty of implementation (I'm sure there's "very specific documentation" for wiring a 747 too). And a parser has to handle so many more cases than a generator. And is much more work to test. For reasonably simple cases, you can write a generator that can generate a valid fairly complex XML document in under an hour. Good luck writing a proper XML parser in under an hour for an XML document of the same complexity.

  • Re:Ridiculous. (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 29, 2009 @07:21PM (#28145315)

    This patent does NOT apply to any markup language. Markup languages are generally handled as: [markup] some text [more markup] more text, etc. In general, the markup is embedded in the text with appropriate identifiers to separate markup from content.

    This patent is about removing the embedded nature of markup, so that the content is raw text, the markups are maintained as a list of markup codes with appropriate 'pointers' into the raw text. This way a single document can have multiple views while having only a single copy of the content. There is no 'transform' going on as others claim.

    Was this 'obvious'? All markup languages to my knowledge used embedded codes, so this does seem to me to be a new concept, strikingly different from the existing art. I think a strong case can be made that the concept was enough different to be patentable. Was there prior art? I don't know and won't spend the time to research it, thats the lawyers jobs.

    How does this apply to XML editors? I haven't read the court case, but if indeed the implementation of the editor stored the metadata separately with pointers into a raw content stream, then there is a potential lawsuit. But it is NOT so cut and dried as to be considered 'ridiculous'...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 29, 2009 @08:50PM (#28146015)

    Was the case undefended? Default Judgment?

    One would expect 1/2 competent lawyers to put in a discovery motion that would slow things down.
    MS should just ask the open source folk to identify prior art with a reward. They still assume they are pretty good at it - or don't or can't because their same Lawyers may spot some prior art MS is trying to claim.
    Produce a list of 100 prior arts, and then ask for costs

    Before computer 'editors' were mainstream on PC's, there were 'Editors' for newspaper layouts.
    Now metadata - Hello rest of world, how do you think Asian Languages like Chinese and Japanese get rendered - yup metadata. Markup languages were on mainframes before PC's existed. Also Fujitsu did the same for programs and data with DSECT's. I expect Fujitsu / Digital are not enforcing their patents or that they have expired.

    Note the US does not recognize foreign patents, and layers can weasel out of trouble claiming they are obscure, when things get tough and money is in the offering. Which is why the list of products made in the USA will cease if the BS prevails.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 29, 2009 @09:27PM (#28146195)

    As an old programming languages and compilers junkie, I never understood how XML people could make it so complicated. I have never bothered to implement a "proper, full XML parser" but I get the impression most of the work is in namespaces and schema validation.

    It seems entirely trivial to adapt existing tools like lexer and parser generators to scan and parse every well-formed XML document into a parse tree on which to do validation (and a parser generator is over-kill since it is a trivial recursive-descent tree parsing problem, just like s-expressions, once you lex the open/close tags). And if you realized that things like XSD are really defining new custom languages, you could transform the schema definitions into grammars for a parser generator and generate a totally custom validating parser/recognizer for valid XML docs with a given root element type. Or you could use one of the tree-parser/matcher tools constructed to do semantic checking and other more challenging analysis in traditional compiler environments. Most of the complexity of many XML tools I've looked at is in their strange insistence at trying to handle new schema dynamically instead of generating a custom parser for the working set of schemas, in spite of the fact that nearly every practical web service etc. works with a closed set of schemas introduced at development time and updated with new versions of the software. There is simply no need for trying to validate or parse new novel schema at runtime when the underlying application code will simply handle it as an opaque data blob anyway.

    Another amusement is that the XML and XSD specifications are so obviously constrained to limit the various syntactic constructs as little regular mini-languages embedded within the well-formed tree. Yet many of the XML processing tools I've seen seem to have a glaring lack of DFA compilers and other tools most appropriate for efficiently (and correctly) processing regular languages. It's as if the high priests of XML knew all about computational theory and made the specifications exceedingly easy to process, but most of the authors of XML tools turned out to be totally ignorant of those same theories.

    I hope I can some day read a history of web fads and finally understand how this all went so horribly wrong.

  • by amiga3D ( 567632 ) on Friday May 29, 2009 @09:48PM (#28146339)
    Is that it puts me in the uncomfortable and rare position of beeing on Micro$ofts side.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 30, 2009 @01:37AM (#28147375)

    I'm going to say i, albeit anonymously. I'm a patent attorney. I do mainly patent prosecution, but I also do some litigation, all of it on the defense side. The problem is not trolls themselves - property, including intellectual property, should be completely alienable. A patent troll has as much right to buy a patent as someone that will do something with it.

    The problem is Marshall fucking Texas, which is where all of my cases are tried. The judges down there built up an economy around patent cases. They are alleged experts in claim interpretation, but they always favor the plaintiff and they run their courtroom like the wild west - if one side has the judges best friend as counsel, it's not a conflict at all if the other side has the judge's second best frined on their side. The jurisdiction is very plaintiff friendly because the dumb hick juries there don't know their ass from their elbow and if the government gave someone a patent, well by golly the person shoulda got one. It is almost impossible to invalidate patents there due to this mentality. And if you want to actually TRY a case there, you have to use a Texan as lead counsel because they don't trust anyone that doesn't have a Texan accent. I fucking HATE Marshall Texas and the Eastern District in its entirety. It needs to be nuked from orbit so we can start over.

    I know people think the PTO grants bogus patents. I'm not that harsh. Some bad ones make it through, but there is a lot that doesn't. And on here, people weep and gnash their teeth because they rely on the summary and don't RTFP on their own. Of course everyone also thinks there is mountains of prior art available, when they couldn't produce one of these alleged references if their life depended on it. Anyway, the point is while the PTO has some part in it, Marshal TX bears the bulk of the what-the-fuck-is-going-on with our patent system. See how many ridiculous outcomes come out of other courts. It's simply mind-blowing the impact this backwater town has on our legal system.


  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 30, 2009 @03:05AM (#28147677)

    MS Write uses this format since Windows 3.0
    It's nice because you can easily read such a file in a text editor (just ignore the binary garbage at the end of the file).

A bug in the code is worth two in the documentation.