e-mask686 writes in to point out the bizarre story of a new Microsoft patent application on a concept the company already admitted it had copied from someone else. Back in early 2005, one of the developers of BlueJ was alerted to the fact that Microsoft's Visual Studio included some features that seemed likely to have been copied directly from BlueJ. The developer noted that he didn't mind in a competitive sense, but would have appreciated some credit. Someone at Microsoft then wrote a blog post in June of 2005 admitted that some of the Microsoft developers admitted they developed the features in response to what customers said they liked about BlueJ. In other words, Microsoft clearly admitted that they were modifying their own product to include features from BlueJ -- which is the nature of competition. There's nothing wrong with that. If your competitor is doing a good job satisfying customers, of course you'll want to offer something similar. However, four months after they admitted that they built the feature based on BlueJ, they filed for a patent on the same feature. It's only an application, not an approved patent -- but it's still quite problematic. The prior art is clear (and glaring!) but there's no guarantee that the folks at the patent office will know any of that or find the prior art (or other prior art). If the patent is granted, to then challenge it is quite a pain, and Microsoft would enjoy the patent being considered as valid for the ridiculous length of time it then took to go through the long review process. This isn't something that's specific to Microsoft (and it's unlikely this is a nefarious move on their part, but rather more likely just a mistake). However, it does highlight some of the major problems with a patent system where everyone is encouraged to patent every possible concept they can find. And people wonder why the Patent Office is overwhelmed with more patent applications than it can handle. The solution isn't to hire more examiners, but to make it so it doesn't make sense to file bogus patent applications any more. Update: Apparently Microsoft has now announced that they'll be retracting the patent application, and that it was "a mistake." That's great, but the fact that it took a ton of publicity for them to recognize this highlights the problems of the patent system as it currently stands.
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