Micro$oft claims patent on web feeds

Story: Microsoft answers IP questions posed in LXer open letterTotal Replies: 1
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Dec 23, 2006
2:01 AM EDT
Quoting:Microsoft has filed for two patents covering technology used to organise and read syndicated web feeds, such as those delivered via the widely used Really Simple Syndication, or RSS, family of formats.

The pair of applications were made public by the US Patent and Trademark Office for what appears to be the first time on Thursday, following the expiration of a requisite 18-month window in which applications are generally kept secret.

Redmond actually filed for the patents on 21 June, 2005. That date, incidentally, is just three days prior to the company's formal announcement that it planned to build support for RSS into the next version of its Internet Explorer browser and into its planned Windows Vista operating system — then referred to as Longhorn.

Jane Kim, program manager for RSS in Internet Explorer, detailed those features in a blog entry last year. Kim and her colleague Amar Gandhi, who serves as group program manager of the Windows RSS team, are among the inventors listed on both applications.

RSS is typically used by news publishers, bloggers and podcasters to notify subscribers of new postings. Web users can choose from a number of freeware applications to collect and read those feeds.

If granted, one proposed patent would cover "finding and consuming web subscriptions in a web browser". The invention, for example, could allow a user to "subscribe to a particular web feed, be provided with a user interface that contains distinct indicia to identify new feeds, and... efficiently consume or read RSS feeds using both an RSS reader and a web browser".

A related application, titled "content syndication platform", appears to describe a system that can break down feeds into a format that can be accessed and managed by many different types of applications and users.

This is not the first time a company has attempted to patent a means of web syndication. Last year, an application surfaced for a patent sought by Google that would cover delivery of advertisements via syndicated news feeds.

Word of Microsoft's applications drew fire from Dave Winer, a self-described co-inventor of RSS. "Presumably they're eventually going to charge us to use it," he wrote in Thursday morning's dispatch at his site, Scripting News. "This should be denounced by everyone who has contributed anything to the success of RSS."

Other bloggers criticised the patent applications as unoriginal or overly sweeping. But Nick Bradbury, who created the HTML editor HomeSite and the RSS reader FeedDemon, said he wasn't ready to jump on the "Microsoft is evil" bandwagon yet. By his estimation, Microsoft's patent claims were questionable, but, for better or worse, they were perhaps a response to the state of the US patent system, he wrote in a blog entry.

"Companies like Microsoft often file patents to prevent having to shell out millions of dollars to predatory lawyers who haven't invented anything other than a legal pain in the ass," he wrote.

A company spokeswoman said Microsoft doesn't generally make public statements about pending patents. Jason Matusow, Microsoft's director of corporate standards, said the company takes many steps to ensure the quality of its patents and invites anyone to "submit prior art or input on a patent application with relevant authorities before a patent is issued".

Dec 23, 2006
10:14 AM EDT
The trouble with reviewing patent applications in the US before they're issued is there are so many patent applications (and not just utility patents with regards to software.) The range of applications for design patents has been expanding astronomically.

I've been working with a patent attorney who has done patent work for companies like GM. He was a mechanical engineer in the Navy during WWII (he even visited Hiroshima after the atomic bomb was dropped there.) He has had many applications approved. After working with him, I can understand why he is so successful at getting applications approved (there are a significant number that do not get approved.) A big part of the problem, according to him, is that there are a lot of "patent attornies" who don't bother with any real due diligence. And the number of them is growing.

The patent office cannot simply rely on its own experts - there are too many applications. It must rely on the integrity of the attornies, and those applicants filing "pro se".

An idea I think that might go a long way toward patent reform is to institute a "three strikes" policy. If an attorney submits three patent applications that are later invalidated, their certification as a patent attorney should be revoked. If a company submits three patent applications that are later invalidated, then that company should not only be barred from future submissions, but any patents it currently holds should be placed in the public domain. The same should go for any inventor.

Can you imagine how many patent applications would suddenly go away?

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