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Microsoft Patents Your Rights Online

Microsoft Patents 1826 Choropleth Map Technique 183

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

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  • by X0563511 ( 793323 ) on Tuesday October 09, 2012 @06:21PM (#41601743) Homepage Journal

    The patent is on how to do it with a computer; which is a different thing.

    No, it isn't.

    This is why we can't have nice things.

  • by localman ( 111171 ) on Tuesday October 09, 2012 @06:23PM (#41601761) Homepage

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

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

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

  • by fustakrakich ( 1673220 ) on Tuesday October 09, 2012 @06:28PM (#41601803) Journal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • by tolkienfan ( 892463 ) on Tuesday October 09, 2012 @06:31PM (#41601821) Journal

    The patent system grants monopolies on machines in order to encourage people to put in the effort to invent. They are supposed to have time to earn back the money spent inventing.
    This patent covers something which isn't new, and probably cost more to patent than to "invent" since it already existed.
    It also doesn't achieve any if the original goals of the patent system.

    And just because someone takes an existing method and patents executing it on a computer that doesn't make it new or novel or worthy of protection.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • by westlake ( 615356 ) on Tuesday October 09, 2012 @06:53PM (#41602029)

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

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

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

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

  • by Drishmung ( 458368 ) on Tuesday October 09, 2012 @08:14PM (#41602723)
    You appear to inhabit a different dimension to mine, for in mine, first to invent seems to most benefit big, rich corporations. Are you arguing that the current system is NOT broken? Are you arguing that 'first to file' as used everywhere else in the world is better than 'first to invent'? The evidence for this is?

    The patent system is broken. Making 'first to file' is not going to fix the whole thing. It probably won't make any significant difference (other changes are needed as well), but it won't make it any worse or any more corrupt.

    Start by throwing out business process patents, then software patents. That will fix a lot. I'm almost persuaded that we should just abolish patents altogether, because I don't see much economic justification for them. Are the big companies, at least the ones that actually make something, going to stop innovating because of a lack of patents? Really? REALLY?

  • by chrismcb ( 983081 ) on Tuesday October 09, 2012 @10:39PM (#41603671) Homepage

    No, it isn't.

    This is why we can't have nice things.

    You HAVE nice things.

  • by langelgjm ( 860756 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @04:36AM (#41605139) Journal

    There are no technical details that are not obvious to a person having ordinary skill in the art.

    I'm not a programmer. I was a social science major in undergrad. My languages of choice are Perl and Visual Basic for Applications.

    Why do I open myself up to the scorn of the /. community by revealing these facts? Because just this summer, I was about to implement EXACTLY what this patent describes when I was happy to find that the functionality already existed in Microsoft Excel. Thanks, Excel, for saving me some time. You deserve credit for that. But a patent? 20 years of exclusivity?

    If the idea to do this, and the implementation (gee, look at maximums and minimum, set up a color scale or other visual indicator corresponding to certain values) was readily accessible to me (a person WITHOUT ordinary skill in the art), there is no reason this should have been granted a patent.

    As the summary suggests, the claims seem broad enough that some of them (1, 8, and 15) might be invalidated by chloropleth mapping techniques present in GIS software.

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