Microsoft Wants A Patent For Conjugating Verbs

from the I-Am-You-Are-He-She-It-Is dept

theodp writes "Microsoft's just goofing on us, right? Its latest batch of published patent applications includes one for Conjugating a Verb." Sort of reminds me of the Onion's satirical piece on Microsoft patenting 1s and 0s -- but this one is for real. It's just an application, so it hasn't been granted -- but it says something about how easy it is to get a patent these days that Microsoft and its lawyers would even think this is worth applying for. When so many bogus patents get approved, and the awards for enforcing them are so high, it only encourages more ridiculous patents to be filed -- which probably contributes a lot more to the supposed staffing problem at the patent office than anything else. If the USPTO followed the original purpose of the patent system, to only grant patents in the rarest of circumstances, then the issue of hiring more patent examiners wouldn't even be up for discussion at all.


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  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 31st, 2006 @ 3:18pm

    Original purpose of patent system?

    If the USPTO followed the original purpose of the patent system, to only grant patents in the rarest of circumstances This is an interesting comment ... what exactly is the source of this statement?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 31st, 2006 @ 3:22pm

    So does this mean Apple is going to file for the use of adjectives??

    More over, if I use a conjugated verb in a non-MS application do I owe them a nickel?

     

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    Matt Bennett, Aug 31st, 2006 @ 3:24pm

    "conjugating a verb" link didn't work, or didn't go to a patent anyway.

     

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    Andy Armstrong, Aug 31st, 2006 @ 3:29pm

    Bleeding Obvious

    I've just set up a Wiki where people can explicitly record 'obvious' ideas in the hope that we can lay down at least some prior art. It's at bleedingobvious.org There are other prior art database projects but this is designed to be quick, lightweight and friendly.

     

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    Jimmy the Cookie Counselor, Aug 31st, 2006 @ 3:30pm

    Your link is broken

    ...rarest of circumstances" - I think that's based on something that Thomas Jefferson said about patents.

    If only there were some easy way I could access information to either validate or refute that vague hunch... oh well...

     

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    cybertones, Aug 31st, 2006 @ 3:33pm

    post a working link

    post a working link or source of this information

     

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    Xanius, Aug 31st, 2006 @ 3:34pm

    Depends on format...

    It depends on how they are trying. If it's a patent on a method of making word or some other program they have reliably conjugate a verb if you give it "io avere" then that's an entirely different story. The original post doesn't have any details about it which leads me to believe it was something reasonable and they just wanted to make microsoft look like idiots.

     

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    Motopsycho, Aug 31st, 2006 @ 3:43pm

    Patent link worked for me. Looks like a load of crap too. Essentially what they are doing is patenting the idea of incorporating a verb conjugator into a computer system. Not a particular program, but "Computer System".

    It's pretty obvious, as it simply stems from the idea of a grammar check.

     

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    Mike (profile), Aug 31st, 2006 @ 3:45pm

    Re:

    "conjugating a verb" link didn't work, or didn't go to a patent anyway.

    Hmm. It works for me. I've had a bunch of people test it and it seems to work for them. What is it taking you to?

     

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    Grandfather Time, Aug 31st, 2006 @ 3:56pm

    Next thing you know, Mike Judge will patent the fart, and it'll cost us a buck everytime we cut one.....

     

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    Susheel Daswani, Aug 31st, 2006 @ 3:58pm

    Re: Original purpose of patent system?

    If the USPTO followed the original purpose of the patent system, to only grant patents in the rarest of circumstances

    This is an interesting comment ... what exactly is the source of this statement?


    Yes, I'd like to know too. Mike?

     

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    Susheel Daswani, Aug 31st, 2006 @ 3:59pm

    Re: Original purpose of patent system?

    If the USPTO followed the original purpose of the patent system, to only grant patents in the rarest of circumstances

    This is an interesting comment ... what exactly is the source of this statement?


    Yes, I'd like to know too. Mike?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 31st, 2006 @ 4:01pm

    ahhahaha... that onion piece is hilarious

     

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    DittoBox, Aug 31st, 2006 @ 4:09pm

    Re: Original purpose of patent system?

    I don't doubt you Mike, but do you mind citing your sources on this?

     

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    mark, Aug 31st, 2006 @ 4:13pm

    This all is completely in line with Bill Gate's long-standing philosophy of gaining rights to anything software related someone may use in the future, whether he or his company were the originators or not. I think maybe the smart folks who do think up useful software solutions need to be filing patents just to keep such ideas openly available and out of MSFT's stable of co-opted ideas. I can't help but believe if Windows was open sourced from the beginning, it would be largely bug free and more secure. I have a hard time getting my mind around MSFT getting as much as they do for an operating system that has so many software issues it supports a whole other software industry.

     

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    Tyshaun, Aug 31st, 2006 @ 4:28pm

    Is it necessarily an obvious patent..

    I read over the patent application. Besides from the obvious "onjugator" the patent also seems to cover a multilingual spelling "guesser" as part of the algorithm, which is a bit on the unique side.

    As a programmer I can sort of understand why they might want to apply for a patent for the second part. Being able to guess the correct spelling of a word, in diffierent languages and in the context of the sentence it is in, is a non-trivial more-than-simple-lookup system.

    At any rate, seems to be a bit more meat to the patent than techDirt implies, even if it's only a buffalo wings worth.

     

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    ConceptJunkie (profile), Aug 31st, 2006 @ 4:37pm

    Re:

    Sorry. I've got documented proof of prior fart.

     

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    Brian, Aug 31st, 2006 @ 4:50pm

    patents-a-plenty

    It's because there are no sources to cite. Despite Jefferson's pro/con view of patents, he administered the first patent laws in the US and then drafted their more liberal replacement. The Colonies as a whole were VERY pro-patent legislation that protected IP and compensated the patent-holder...

    see also: http://www.ladas.com/Patents/USPatentHistory.html

    (emphasis is mine) ...The first United States Patent Act, that of 1790 was a short act of seven sections only entitled "An act to promote the Progress of Useful Arts". [12] Under its terms any two of the Secretary of State, the Secretary of War and the Attorney General were empowered to grant patents for terms of up to fourteen years for inventions that were "sufficiently useful and important" provided that the grantee submitted a specification describing the invention (and where appropriate a model thereof) to the Secretary of State at the time of the grant.

    In 1793 this act was repealed and replaced by a slightly longer act, the drafting of which is largely attributed to Thomas Jefferson, who was at the time Secretary of State and therefore intimately involved in the administration of the 1790 Act. The Act is notable for its definition of what constitutes patentable subject matter in the United States, which definition is almost unchanged up to now:

    "any new and useful art, machine, manufacture or composition of matter and any new and useful improvement on any art, machine, manufacture or composition of matter."

     

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    Sonya, Aug 31st, 2006 @ 5:32pm

    Good LORD....... You've GOT to be kidding....

     

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    Mike (profile), Aug 31st, 2006 @ 5:34pm

    Re: Original purpose of patent system?

    This is an interesting comment ... what exactly is the source of this statement?

    If you read the history of patents, such as in Britain, you see that early on, patents were given out in very specific circumstances, rather than thousands at a time. So, I was mostly referring to that. Patents were recognized as being a monopoly and thus were seen as being extremely powerful, and not just something to be handed out over some minor thing.

    However, it also is in reference to Jefferson's stated views on the patent system, as he made it clear he was not comfortable with granting patents. I gave this link the other day as it contains more details on his views about the dangers of patents... even as he was in charge of the patent system.

    It does seem clear that, while not everyone agreed, Jefferson recognized that patents were potentially damaging and therefore should only be granted in the rarest of circumstances where they actually were promoting, rather than hindering, innovation.

     

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    Steve, Aug 31st, 2006 @ 5:45pm

    Which is right

    Seems Brian's comments are contradictory to Mike's.

    Given the obvious exaggeration in the original article, I'm inclined to take Brian's interpretation of Jefferson over Mike's.

    Hmmm...just goes to show you...don't believe everything you read on the internet.

     

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    Brian, Aug 31st, 2006 @ 6:02pm

    Re: Which is right

    Love the site, but we'll go round and round on this one...

    "any new and useful art, machine, manufacture or composition of matter and any new and useful improvement on any art, machine, manufacture or composition of matter." Jeffersons own language in the 1783 Act...

    How does that possibly compute to "rarest of circumstances"??? The word ANY is used 3 flippin' times in that one sentence...

    However, if you need to conjugate any verbs in order to debate this, I guess you're off the hook. Can't risk that C&D letter from MSFT...

    P.S. Only the first paragraph of my first post is original. Everything below the link is taken from the link, which is one of the more definitive web sources on Patent History.

     

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    Mike (profile), Aug 31st, 2006 @ 6:10pm

    Re: Re: Which is right

    From the link I provided:

    He "agreed that inventors should have full rights to their inventions" but worried about the constitutionality of patents and that patents would delay the arrival of new inventions to the public. And, he believed that the "abuse of frivolous patents is likely to cause more inconvenience than is countervail by those really useful." (As cited in McLaughlin, 1998).

    It also notes that he set up strict rules and wanted to make sure each patent was truly new and truly added to science.

    He created a very specific and strict definition for what would obtain a patent and what would not. Jefferson's first test for judging inventions was that they had to be useful. A patent would not be given when it was an old invention built with a different material or if it was just another application of something already invented (Malone, 1951).

    Jefferson often insisted on testing the invention himself, not just reading the specifications or examining the models. He once brought in several chemists to test a devise that claimed to turn salt water into fresh. Even though it showed promise, a patent was not granted because it did not work as expected.

    The procedure he developed was careful and time consuming.

    "The Board of Arts met the last Saturday of every month and then read all the applications received since the last meeting. These lay over for another month, but were not acted on then unless suitable specifications, drafts, or models had been submitted. Beginning in July, 1791, the three members read the descriptions separately in their own lodgings, the Attorney General first in order that he might pass on the propriety of the forms. The criticisms and amendments suggested by all three were consolidated by Remsen, the chief clerk of the department, and were considered by the entire group (Malone, 1951)."


    Perhaps it's open to interpretation, but my read on that is someone who is pretty clear that he only wants to award patents when it's clear the patent is actually encouraging innovation.

     

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    Brian, Aug 31st, 2006 @ 6:44pm

    Re: Re: Re: Which is right

    First, and I suppose I'm about to argue with Jefferson himself, but how exactly could a patent be unconstitutional when it is the Constitution that provides for patents in the first place:

    The Constitutional basis for federal patent and copyright systems is to be found in the Constitution of the United States Article 1, Section 8, clause 8 which states:

    "Congress shall have power ... to promote the progress of science and useful arts by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries. "

    I don't disagree with the spirit of your story submission, or most of the points in your latest reply. What got me typing in the first place was your characterization of the "original purpose of the patent system, to only grant patents in the rarest of circumstances". Maybe in China or Cuba, but not in any society based on a free-martket economy whose main motivator is profit.

    It's important to distinguish between "unique and/or innovative" and "the rarest of circumstances". Take for example, the little plastic doohicky on the ends of shoelaces: unique - yep, innovative - yep (revolutionized industry in more than one sense). In your "rarest of circumstances" scenario, does that doohicky even stand a chance? I can't see how, since it would clearly be competing with some much heavier weight for that rare patent.

    Besides, what would we do without Ron Popeil?

     

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    Mike (profile), Aug 31st, 2006 @ 6:52pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Which is right

    First, and I suppose I'm about to argue with Jefferson himself, but how exactly could a patent be unconstitutional when it is the Constitution that provides for patents in the first place:

    Susheel and I had this discussion the other day. You can read it here. But the basic point is that the Constitution makes it clear that Congress can grant exclusive rights *IF* it's for the purpose of promoting progress of science and useful arts.

    Therefore, if Congress is giving exclusive rights in cases when it DOES NOT promote such progress, then it would be unconstitutional.

    As for the question of the little plastic doohickey or Ron Popeil... why should they deserve monopoly protection rights? Why isn't just selling the product in the market incentive enough? As you claim, any economy based on the idea of the "free market" recognizes that you only submit to gov't regulation in cases of market failure. If the market can incentivize the innovations, then what market failure is there?

     

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    Brian, Aug 31st, 2006 @ 7:56pm

    Why should they deserve monopoly protection rights? -they don't deserve it. They earned it (risk vs. reward). In a more philosophical sense, those example provide more incentive to the marketplace. Hell, if Ron Popeil can build an empire from an 8-inch fishing rod, then maybe this gadget idea I've had in my head for 2 years may not be so insignificant after all.

    Compare technologicial innovation between, say, N. Korea and S. Korea.... I actually have zero clue about S. Korea's IP laws, just that they're better than N. Korea's...

    Why isn't selling the product incentive enough? -what are you selling again? That product that was never invented because there was no incentive to in the first place. Lets assume Super-philanthropist invents gadget X with no interest in patenting it, but only to profit from unit-sales. Except, with no patent protections, Gadget X is copied by 3 or 4 others with the same goal of unit-sales. I.E. you are now responsible for creating your own competition, drastically lowering the potential profit for the inventor, who also happens to be the only party with an actual investment spent prior to the first prototype. What market failure is there? none, since no products except those made by gov't would be available for sale in this market. Everyone else with an idea saw that last guy screw himself, and headed for a friendlier climate to produce their innovation....

     

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    Susheel Daswani, Aug 31st, 2006 @ 8:30pm

    Re: References

    If the USPTO followed the original purpose of the patent system, to only grant patents in the rarest of circumstances...

    Mike, I agree that Jefferson maybe thought patents should be given only rarely, but it probably isn't fair to say that was 'the original purpose of the patent system.'

    Also, patents were given out only rarely in the early days, but that could have been for a couple of reasons. First, the preference for rare patents was a response to government corruption. Second, the argument could be made that the pace of technological innovation was much slower when giving out patents was a rare thing. I'm sure there are other explanations too.

    Also, I'd like to say that I probably agree with Mike on most points when it comes to patent philosophy, but I've noticed that Mike has been a little sloppy with his patent postings lately. Given such a charged issue, it is important to be as precise as possible.

    Anyways, I believe that the general theory / architecture of a patent system makes sense. The problem with our patent system is in our implementation. At essence, our patentability bars, especially nonobviousness, are way too low.

     

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    steph, Aug 31st, 2006 @ 8:43pm

    Re: Original purpose of patent system?

    I have also heard this often attributed to Benjamin Franklin or the like althought a quick google search didn't turn anything up.

     

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    Mike (profile), Aug 31st, 2006 @ 10:23pm

    Re: Re: Original purpose of patent system?

    I have also heard this often attributed to Benjamin Franklin or the like althought a quick google search didn't turn anything up.

    Franklin famously turned down a patent as he felt it was unfair to limit the ability of the public to benefit from his invention... You can read about it here.

     

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    Mike (profile), Aug 31st, 2006 @ 10:28pm

    Re: Re: References

    Mike, I agree that Jefferson maybe thought patents should be given only rarely, but it probably isn't fair to say that was 'the original purpose of the patent system.'

    Why not? The original purpose of the patent system is 100% clear: to promote the progress of science and useful arts.

    Any use of patents that does not do that is outside the original purpose of the patent system. On top of that, the number of patents that do successfully promote that progress is pretty small, so I believe that it's perfectly reasonable to say the original purpose of the patent system was that patents should only be granted rarely.

    Also, I'd like to say that I probably agree with Mike on most points when it comes to patent philosophy, but I've noticed that Mike has been a little sloppy with his patent postings lately. Given such a charged issue, it is important to be as precise as possible.

    Hmm. We've had numerous discussions in my last few posts on patents where you've suggested I was sloppy, but in each case, by the end of the thread you haven't shown any actual sloppiness.

    I'll grant you that on this particular posting I could have explained the "rarest of circumstances" more clearly, but I still think it's supported by the facts.

     

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    Susheel Daswani, Aug 31st, 2006 @ 11:11pm

    OK, you grant that you could have explained the 'rarest of the circumstances' comment better. You also assumed that the link you've recently cited can be trusted to support your contention that Jefferson thought that the patent system was unconstitutional. That links seems suspect - I think it really clarify the situation if you produced something more substantive.

    So I don't think my sloppiness label is off-base. Sloppy may not even be the best word - rather, you seem to be using exaggerations (since some of your contentions lack good backing references) to bolster the persuasiveness of your blog entries.

     

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    Mike (profile), Sep 1st, 2006 @ 12:20am

    Re:

    You also assumed that the link you've recently cited can be trusted to support your contention that Jefferson thought that the patent system was unconstitutional. That links seems suspect - I think it really clarify the situation if you produced something more substantive.

    Susheel, I'm surprised at this claim. I did not say that the link was the only source of support on this. Go back and read what I wrote. I noted that it wasn't well supported in that article alone, and then explained what I had been told were the origins of his view that patents were against the Constitution. I didn't realize you required a specific citation.

    However, there is plenty of support concerning Jefferson's questions about giving inventors monopoly rights in the Constitution. He expressed specific concern to James Madison in a letter he wrote raising his concerns with the constitution, including suggesting monopolies should be banned, noting that the benefit of even limited monopolies is doubtful.

    He also expressed repeatedly in numerous writings his concerns about the patent system and the idea of locking up ideas. This is all well established.

    All of that said, this particular aspect of the debate seems fairly academic. Jefferson's views on patents are good to know, as a historical basis, but given the vast amount of research that we have on hand *today* showing the actual (often detrimental) impact of the patent system is much more important.

    The reason to invoke Jefferson's history is basically as a counterclaim to those who like to point to today's patent system as clearly being exactly what the founder's intended. That's clearly untrue. However, once that's proven, then debating the specifics of exactly what Jefferson did or did not believe is fairly pointless. The only one who knows that for sure has been dead for nearly two centuries.

    With that said, the more important point is to focus on the system today, and why it's causing plenty of harm. And, on that point, there continues to be considerable evidence, often discussed here. So, again, I disagree with the charge of "sloppy." I think I've been fairly thorough in backing up each point I've made when asked. As we agreed in the past, I may have left out some of the details due to the nature of the blog post, but that is not out of sloppiness, but the nature of keeping the blog brief.

     

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    Daniel (profile), Sep 1st, 2006 @ 4:49am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Which is right

    commenting on the following:
    "What got me typing in the first place was your characterization of the "original purpose of the patent system, to only grant patents in the rarest of circumstances". Maybe in China or Cuba, but not in any society based on a free-martket economy whose main motivator is profit."
    Patents are not free market entities - they are monopolies granted by government fiat and based on coercion.

    Free markets say once I have something - be it a chair or an idea - I can do anything I want with it. I can sell it, give it away, modify it, or even break it up into its parts, figure out how it works and build another. Patents say that once I sell you something, I can still tell you what to do with it and if you try to do what YOU want, I'll have the government punish you.

    Another way of looking at this is by examining how they behave. In a free market, competition tends to cause prices to drop - especially as supply increases. NON free markets attempt to manipulate this in some way - usually artificially inflating prices, but sometimes in the other direction too. This can be done in various ways - e.g. by restricting competition, creating artificial demand (like making a purchase mandatory or forcing) or by artificially limiting the supply. Copyrights attempt to artificially increase the cost of an idea (which would by nature approach zero since supply is not limited) and as such, fall into the non free market sphere.

     

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    Susheel Daswani, Sep 1st, 2006 @ 5:00am

    Mike,
    Fair enough. I understand your reasons for invoking Jefferson - as a counterclaim to those who like to point to today's patent system as clearly being exactly what the founder's intended.

    But you originally said:

    If the USPTO followed the original purpose of the patent system, to only grant patents in the rarest of circumstances

    Isn't the above more than a counterclaim, e.g., 'The evidence isn't all clear - some Founders wanted patents only in rare circumstances'? It seems to go a good deal farther than that, i.e., 'the original purpose of the patent system was....? Am I crazy for thinking that goes a lot farther than saying the issue isn't black and white? Seems to me like you are saying, 'Hey those who think the issue is black, well, it was actually white!'.

     

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    Araemo, Sep 1st, 2006 @ 5:40am

    Re: Bleeding Obvious

    The biggest problem with 'obviousness' databases is this:
    What is obvious isn't necessarily obvious in a vacuum.

    However: In the course of developing a new technology, or manufacturing process, or whatever..

    The first person to work on said system will encounter a number of problems with obvious fixes to anyone trying to do the same end result. They will likely also have one or two interesting, novel approaches to getting things done.

    Since they are the first person to encounter several problems, noone else would have thought of the solution - yet. But if anyone in their field hit the same problem, they'd find the same solution rather quicikly. This is what I take the 'obvious to an average practitioner' clause to mean. It should be something that those in the field wouldn't come up with in a reasonable amount of time if they were facing the same problem. Patents should be given for REAL innovations, things that change the general belief from "it can't be done" to "it can be done".

     

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    Mike R, Sep 1st, 2006 @ 8:02am

    Very simple solution

    There's a very simple solution to too many patent applications. If a patent is turned down because it is trivial, the application fee is now $100,000. Forces people to do their homework before flooding patent offices

     

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    midgetastic, Sep 1st, 2006 @ 8:37am

    Beat my patent

    Microsoft can have the verbs - I don't think I was ever able to knowingly conjugate a verb anyhow.

    Meanwhile, all you people out there breathing... Better stop right now...

    Breathing: Patent Pending.

    (oh yes, I'm also working on patenting sex, masturbation, and nudity)

     

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  38.  
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    Don S, Sep 1st, 2006 @ 9:52am

    Isn't this done already?

    Microsoft's patent application appears to describe something that you can already do at any online dictionary site, such as http://www.merriam-webster.com

    Microsoft is trying to claim a patent for the same thing, although Microsoft plans on only looking up verb forms and providing no definition of the verb. Granted, Microsoft would be looking up verbs in multiple languages, but they wouldn't even know what language they were looking up until after they found a match (or probable match) based solely on the spelling provided.

    Not only is that NOT worthy of a patent, it isn't worthy of being called an application. Applet, maybe, but not an application. I've created spreadsheets that have more functionality than what is described in Microsoft's patent application.

     

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  39.  
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    Peter, Sep 10th, 2006 @ 8:18pm

    Re: Isn't this done already?

    Yes, it's been done already, in multiple different languages. The Perseus Project has had several tools like this available for Latin and Ancient Greek for well over a decade. I particularly direct your attention to the morphological analysis tools: Greek,and Latin. (The original site at Tufts has two mirrors, at Chicago and Berlin, but all three are rather erratic.)

    The only novel aspect of this patent application is the bit about spelling errors, and that's certainly not very novel.

     

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    Bert, Oct 22nd, 2008 @ 2:26pm

    If Microsoft wants to waste its $$$ on absurdly broad patent applications claims, then I say let them. This thing will never issue as it is currently claimed.

     

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    clemenstimpler, Oct 25th, 2008 @ 4:26pm

    Conjugating Verbs - a Patent!

    I am under the impression that the patent application for conjugating verbs electronically has in fact been granted. Someone more proficient than me may check this - if it should be true, the idea is simply abominable.

     

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    groupshoes, Nov 5th, 2009 @ 3:43am

    my opinion

    I'm a little late finding this article, but I loved it.

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    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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