LXer 'classics': 101 patents Microsoft may infringe

Posted by hkwint on May 15, 2007 3:46 PM EDT
LXer.com; By Hans Kwint, The Netherlands
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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 ]



Background



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, Ravicher, replied 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.



Motives



“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 source.
I'll explain how you can help later on. If you're new to patents like I was, it's really educational.
(There's also the original LXer thread in which I came up with the idea).



Bashing



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

bashing.
The politicians are responsible for the bad patent laws, including the possibility to patent “http://www.european-patent-office.org/legal/gui_lines/e/c_iv..."> In computer implemented inventions” which includes software.
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 bring.



Some examples



To 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 patents.



  • 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 to http://www.nzherald.co.nz/index.cfm?c_id=5&ObjectID=1011...">patent 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 help



Now, 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 engine:



  1. Get a good idea. You can google for “ Microsoft sued patent” or so, and look for stories.



  2. See 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.



  3. If you can't find the number and assignee, look for catchwords, like “Method implementing preview window” or so. This could be in the abstract.



  4. Head over to the USPTO database.





Second way: Being creative



  1. Think 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?



  2. Head over to the USPTO database.



  1. 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.



  2. 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.



    Let's 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



    Note 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 range.



    After 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!



    The 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 ABST).



    Now, if we drop ISD and ABST part, we get 113 hits, and on the second page we find patent 6,167,394.



  3. 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.



  4. If 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.





  5. 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 park).





Add comments to the entries



It's 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.



Contact



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.

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