LXer Feature: 15-May-2007
A new database ("counterFUD") was released in 2005 at LXer showing patent numbers where parts of Microsoft might infringe upon.
[Note: This is an old LXer story, but I posted it again, since the topic is hot again, and included some new comments - hkwint ]
"If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today's ideas were invented, and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today." - Bill Gates, Challenges and Strategy Memo. 16 May 1991, almost forecasting 'patent armageddon'
A database is released today [April 2005 - ed.] at LXer showing patent numbers where parts
of Microsoft might infringe upon. I am not a lawyer, however,
so that doesn't grant Microsoft actually infringes on the patents. The
matter is really too complex and difficult to just mention some
patents and say Microsoft infringes upon them.
I did try, however, to be as precise as possible, and definitely think a
judge would decide Microsoft infringes upon some of this patents,
if they were sued by the assignees of the mentioned patents,
and that's what it's all about. It's not about "to infringe or
not to infringe", but about whether a competitor might sue someone
for probably infringing.
Additionally, of course, it's about the fear of being sued. It's also an
effort to show people why software patents are bad, as a part in
the ongoing struggle against software patents.[ Note: This story was written in the times of the software-patent battle in Europe in 2005 - ed ]
In August 2004, OSDL http://techrepublic.com.com/5100-22_11-5293039.html">released the results of research
that Linux may infringe 283 patents.
As you probably will remember, following that, Steve Ballmer, speaking to Asian governments, http://www.theregister.com/2004/11/18/ballmer_linux_lawsuits...">had
a remark about intellectual property. He said:
“somebody will come and look for money owing to the rights
for that intellectual property”. [ Now doesn't that sound familiar? - ed]The writer of this report,
that Ballmer got it wrong: "The bottom line is there's no reason to believe that Windows,
Solaris, AIX or any other functionally similar operating system has
any less risk of infringing patents than Linux does." Ravicher said.
So, if that's true, one must be able to find at least 283 patents
Microsoft might infringe upon. After digging in the USPTO database,
I think that's indeed possible.
“So why this database?” Well, it isn't really meant to scare Microsoft. It's meant to
be able to show to people that Microsoft may infringe patents as well.
Of course, we could be lazy cowards and just simply say:
“Microsoft may infringe more than 400 patents, and somebody
will come looking for his money!” without providing which
patents we mean, as Steve Ballmer did. [ Note: I was talking about his claims of 2004 here! - ed ]
However, I believed we could do a better job. The story would be
bigger if we could actually point to the patent numbers we believe
Microsoft might infringe upon, and also provide which part of
Microsoft we believe might infringe the patent. It could maybe be
qualified as anti-FUD.
Anybody can help on this database, as in the true spirit of open
I'll explain how you can help later on. If you're new to patents
like I was, it's really educational.
the original LXer
thread in which I came up with the
You may wonder if this is ordinary
Microsoft bashing. There are two answers possible:
Short answer: Yes, it is.
Long answer: No, it's not. It's more like politician / USPTO / http://www.european-patent-office.org/index.en.php">EPO
The politicians are
responsible for the bad patent laws, including the possibility to
In computer implemented inventions” which includes
IBM, Apple and other companies submit very bad patents, which
Microsoft might infringe upon, to the USPTO / EPO, and the latter
grant the patents because it's their job, and they make money by
doing so. Microsoft is the victim here!
However, instead of being against patents, like http://www.msversus.org/node/81">Bill Gates was back in 1991,
they're now the most important proponents of software patents, and
also play a large role in the European Union, trying to push
through the software patents, as you might now if you read my
earlier LXer story “http://lxer.com/module/newswire/view/32951/index.html">Software patents in the banana union”.
They also started an initiative to submit http://flaphead.dns2go.com/blog/archive/2004/07/30/231.aspx">3,000
software-patents a year. And since this database is to show how
bad software patents are, it's also to show how bad Microsoft is,
and also how stupid they are by supporting patents that they might
suffer from; remember Eolas? This time they http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/03/03/microsoft_eolas_pate...">
got away with it, but nobody knows what the future will
show what I mean with bad patents, let's give three examples, in
this case Microsoft patents, but IBM et al are also holding such
One of the best examples of the
USPTO-guys being sleeping, is the patent on “tabbing through
a web page”, granted by USPTO. As you might know better than
me, since I almost never use a text browser, back in the 80's, you
could use your keyboard to jump from link to link on a web page
using the tab key. Well, Microsoft http://www.theregister.co.uk/2004/09/07/microsoft_patents_ke...">
patented it in 1997 and said it invented it.
Second example: Microsoft http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO1&Sec...">
patented the doubleclick. This isn't an invention, it's an
idea, and it shows ideas can be patented, even if there's prior
art, they just throw with their money, hire some lawyers and patent
things other ones invented.
Last example, is the process
whereby a word-processing document stored in a single XML file may
be manipulated by applications that understand XML. Microsoft tries
it in New Zealand, claiming they invented it. At the moment
they are overwhelming the New Zealand Patent Office with new patents
they want to be granted.
I hope you're convinced software patents
are bad. If this is still not enough, you could visit a patented web shop made by the ffii as a
nice example.[Note, some web-services related patents are owned by the Open Invention Network today. Those patents are meant to threat anyone who threatens Linux - ed ]
As you can see,
anybody writing an OS with applications, could infringe upon his
ideas, even if he invented the named ideas himself and never saw
the “prior art”.
Well, that goes for the entries in the database too.
How you can
you might think finding patents which Microsoft might infringe is
difficult. That's not true, although it isn't easy either. But
anybody with some imagination could find a patent Microsoft might
infringe upon, especially if they use Microsoft's software / have
used it for some time. There are two methods:
First way: Using a search
Get a good idea. You can google for
patent” or so, and look for stories.
if you can find any patent numbers in the story, or the name of the
patent, and see if you can find the assignee. The assignee might be
different from the company-name you know, for example, JVC is
always mentioned as Victory Co. in patents.
you can't find the number and assignee, look for catchwords, like
“Method implementing preview window” or so. This could
be in the abstract.
over to the USPTO database.
Second way: Being
of Microsoft and other companies. Which invention not made by
Microsoft does Microsoft use, and in which part does Microsoft use
it? Might the original invention be patented by another company?
What's the name of the assignee?
over to the USPTO database.
The USPTO database has a http://patft.uspto.gov/netahtml/search-bool.html">quick-search
form, http://patft.uspto.gov/netahtml/srchnum.htm">patent-number search
form, and an http://patft.uspto.gov/netahtml/search-adv.htm">advanced search
form for more complex queries.
The quick-search form is pretty
self-explanatory,. For the advanced search form, http://www.uspto.gov/patft/help/helpnum.htm">help is
available, but an example might be quicker.
say you want to something with “Information system remote
access”, you think it's being patented by General Electric,
and you think it's patented between 1-1-1999 and 1-1-2001. You
could then use the query:
AN/(General AND electric) AND ABST/(Information AND system AND
remote AND access) AND ISD/1/1/1999->1/1/2001
the / after the field names (AN etc.). In this example, AN is the
assignee name, ABST are the words that are the abstract of the
patent, and ISD is the issue date of the patent, and -> gives a
you started the search, you have to wait some (long) time, and if
that bothers you, start some several different searches in
parallel. Microsoft is very busy using this db, you know!
example query turns up nothing by the way, so you should be
creative and change the query as much as necessary. (In this case,
the given catchwords are part of the patent-title, and you should have used TTL instead of
Now, if we drop
ISD and ABST part, we get 113 hits, and on the second page we find
We jump to the http://lxer.com/module/db/viewby.php?dbn=13&uid=115">LXer
database , and click on “http://lxer.com/module/db/viewby.php?uid=115&option=&...">
Patent NR”, which is the heading of the second column.
Now, the LXer database is sorted by number. We could now easily verify
this patent is already in the database.
your patent number isn't in the database, read
the Abstract of the patent, and after that, if still necessary,
jump to SUMMARY (capitalized), using the search function of you're
browser. However, there's not always a SUMMARY.
Decide if Microsoft may infringe this patent. If it does: http://lxer.com/module/db/add.php?dbn=13">add it! Once done,
you can say you personally found a patent Microsoft may infringe
upon! (Be sure to tell it to Ballmer too if you see him in the
to the entries
nice to make write comments so normal people (not lawyers) can
understand what the patents are about, in human language, if
necessary. The titles are normally rather vague. For this reason, the database has a "add a comment" feature where you can write in whatever notes you like.
If you have any questions, start a
tread at this article, or http://lxer.com/members/mail/mail.php?user=hkwint">send a
message to my LXer account (http://lxer.com/members/member/hkwint/">hkwint). I hope I can
answer them soon.