Microsoft Caught Trying To Patent Software Concept It Already Admitted It Had Copied

from the lovely dept

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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  1.  
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    Bumbling old fool, Jan 29th, 2007 @ 10:51am

    Better idea..

    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.

    The solution isn't to hire more examiners, but to make it so it isn't economically feasible to file bogus patent applications any more.

    Make a second patent system. One that grants royalty free usage fo the patents. Make that one free to submit requests for. This would solve the "we're patenting it so noone else can" argument.

    Take the regular system we have now, and charge a hefty fee for it, and this fee would be used to hire consultants from the applicable fields to actually certify that yes, the patent is something new and inventive. Award that a patent that can be used in arbitration. (or whatever word fits there better.)

    Of course, thats just one of a million ways to improve what we have. Noone will take it seriously, and we will continue in our downward spiral until a patent nuclear war kicks off, and the hundreds of big name companies go bankrupt.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 29th, 2007 @ 11:24am

     

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  3.  
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    W.B. McNamara, Jan 29th, 2007 @ 11:48am

    I just wrote pretty much the same post...

    ...and though while I don't draw horns and a tail on Microsoft, I do point my finger a little more in their direction: assuming this was a mistake (which I basically believe), it points to a huge disconnect between the parts of Microsoft that are doing R&D and the parts that are responsible for managing IP.

    The researchers clearly knew (and were relatively open about) where they were pulling the ideas from, but that just didn't make it through to the folks that handle patent applications. There's some really, really essential communication that should be happening there, but apparently isn't.

    MS published 3,308 other applications in 2005 and 2006; it scares me to wonder how many others were "mistakes," and how much it will cost to fix the situation if those "mistakes" are approved.

    My post here.

     

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  4.  
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    Michael Long, Jan 29th, 2007 @ 11:49am

    Re: Better idea..

    First, the "no one else can" (note: noone is not a word) patent doesn't help wihen someone comes after your product with a submarined patent and you countersue with one from your portfolio, as yours is "royalty free".

    Second, the "expensive" second patent simply ensures that only companies with bucks can afford the system, shutting out the small inventor.

    It's a complex problem to solve, and one of the reasons why there's not "a million ways to improve what we have", as nearly every potential "solution" has a negative impact.

     

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  5.  
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    Bumbling old fool, Jan 29th, 2007 @ 12:06pm

    Re: Re: Better idea..

    Of course noone is a word. Just because its not in a dictionary doesn't make it not a word. My goal here is communicating, and you obviously understood what I was communicating, so why are you nitpicking on irrelevant details? Did it somehow help? Or just make you feel better about yourself? Or maybe you just don't understand the published accepted definition of the word "word". Go ahead, you can look it up, I'll be here waiting. (I won't really)

    The small inventor would not be shut out at all. They would simply have to believe in their invention in order to get the funding to obtain a patent for it. There's nothing wrong with that. Noone ever claimed inventing has to be free as in beer.

    And yes, it would take care fo the submaried patent concept, becuase someone that actually is in the business of knowing would have to certify that the patent was truly inventive. That goes for the submarine patent as well.

    Its not a complex problem, its very simple. What makes it complex is when people try to pile more crap onto crap. Thats not going to work. If its crap, get rid of it and replace it with something better.

    The laws will have to be scrapped to move forward. We cannot continue down the course we are headed now. The "little guy" inventor cannot survive in this system.

    Of course theres going to be a negative impact. But whether or not a solution can be found where the negative impact is lower than the negative impact associated with "staying the course" can be found is up to the politicians to decide. ...Oh right, we're doomed.

     

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  6.  
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    AnonymousE, Jan 29th, 2007 @ 1:54pm

    Isn't this how M$ got where it is today? Using other people's ideas??

    Nothing new here.... :-P

     

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  7.  
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    |333173|3|_||3, Jan 29th, 2007 @ 3:04pm

    prior art rule

    BlueJ would have had a simple means of getting the patent thrown out, by showing that htier product was on the market before M$ filed for thier patent. Maybe there should be a rule that says that companies convicted of trolling are banned from filing for petents for X months.

    Another alternaltive would be to say that only a group of named individuals can have a patent, not a company, so when thoise people retire, they keep the patent. SUre, thier employment contract can say that they have to liscence any patents thaty gain as a result of thier work, but then the company cannot troll, and the small inventors are protected.

     

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  8.  
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    Hegemon, Jan 30th, 2007 @ 10:54am

    RE: Article

    "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."

    Yes, but it also shows the strength of the internet as a tool for quick public awareness of these issues. Up until recent years, this kind of thing would have slipped by without anyone knowing about it.

     

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  9.  
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    kenbo (profile), Jan 30th, 2007 @ 5:04pm

    Re: Re: Re: Better idea..

    http://wsu.edu/~brians/errors/noone.html

    I find it amazing you dedicated an entire paragraph to that! :)

     

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


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