Microsoft Seeks Patent On Virtual Graffiti Years After The Idea Is In Use

from the a-little-late-to-the-party dept

theodp points us to a new patent application from Microsoft for the concept of “virtual graffiti” that someone could leave for mobile devices connected to a real geographic area. As theodp notes: “Here’s what passes for inventive these days in Redmond: ‘Mary, while at Tom’s house, may create graffiti on her cell FVG-enabled phone that says, ‘Party Here Friday Night!’ and make the graffiti available to all her friends. Then any of Mary’s friends (with their FVG-enabled devices) passing by Tom’s house would become aware of the graffiti associated with the house and be able to view it, thus becoming aware of the planned party.’ Microsoft proudly boasts that the technology can also be used to shout ‘Subscriber!’ to newspaper boys as they pass customers’ houses and exclaim ‘Great lunch joint!’ to those passing by a restaurant.”

If that doesn’t sound particularly new or non-obvious that’s because it’s not. We wrote about nearly an identical system that was already in use at Cornell University in August of 2003, more than three years before this Microsoft patent application was filed. Even in writing about that story, we noted that there were a few similar systems already out there and that “people have been talking about such things for ages”). How this could possibly be considered new or non-obvious seems like a reasonable question. Hopefully the patent examiner agrees and rejects this application.

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Companies: microsoft

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Comments on “Microsoft Seeks Patent On Virtual Graffiti Years After The Idea Is In Use”

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Pope Ratzo (profile) says:


So, how can this patent application possibly go through?

Is it starting to sink in that these big corporations are openly hostile to the greater good? That they would readily forfeit the well-being of their customers if it meant a bump in their quarterly stock price?

IMHO, these big corporations, and the rich that live off them, are simply begging for a class war. They’ll be the first ones wailing and gnashing their teeth when that class war comes and they are confronted with their behavior.

mobiGeek says:

Re: Why?

While I don’t think it is the case, there is the possibility that MS is doing this in order to “protect themselves” from others going out and patenting the same idea.

This is a big problem with the patent system. You are damned if you do get a patent (“evil corp trying to stifle…”) or you are damned if you don’t (being sued by someone who actually does get a patent on “prior art” or “obvious invention”).

Anonymous Coward says:

It can go through because patent examiners are overloaded. Undoubtedly Microsoft attorneys dropped off boxes of documentation with the project and the examiner effectively has a few hours to go through it.

Besides, it is a lot easier to approve an application than it is to turn it down. Turning down an application for a company with deep pockets means there will be more paperwork for appeals.

Overloaded examiners isn’t the whole problem, but it is one factor in a totally broken system.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Had This Invention In 2000 and 2001

I was the Director of Wireless at that major media firm that owns all the theme parks in the year 2000. I worked on some brainstorming projects for the parks in which a personalized guide (at the time a Compaq iPaq) would sense your location, and offer guiding, games, information, and media content based on your location at the park. There were other innovative ideas, too, but since they are slightly less obvious, I’ll leave them in confidence.

At the time, I’d say the ideas were novel, slightly innovative, but hardly “inventions” worthy of patents.

A year later, as I launched into independent consulting in the wireless industry, my first client was a Vegas Casino that was being built by a wealthy upstart Vegas impresario. The idea was that a mobile Guide could be offered to high rollers when they arrived. The guide (an iPaq) would be able to book shows, dining, offer schedules, request services, and offer location-specific information based on where the guest was in the facility.

At the time, this was fairly innovative for the hotel industry, but not really too inspired.

So, 8 years later, we’re considering patents on basically the same ideas? This is annoying.

It’s like wireless email. Wireless data was an obvious progression. Email is a massively horizontal application, thus it was inevitable that we get wireless email, and yet dozens of patents were issued, and the lawsuits still rain down.

LBS are now inevitable, and blogs, forums, and community sites are very horizontal, and it seems inevitable that we will have LBS-enabled forums. Why our patent examiners can’t see the obvious is non-obvious to me.

Computer Consulting Kit Preview Blog (user link) says:

re-inventing ideas of copyright, trademark, etc.

I think we’re seeing that, as technology continues to expand beyond the laws we have in place protecting intellectual property, etc., we’re running into a lot of gray areas. I’m not sure that there will ever come a time when we actually catch up, as thanks to the Internet, etc., we’re not going to be able to slow down progress, even if we want to. Thus, I think we just have to accept that in many cases we’re “making it up as we go along” when it comes to interpreting instances of possible patent infringement, etc. Hopefully we’ll continue to bring a little bit more order to the system, but I think it will always be a little bit uncertain.

unknownsoundman says:


A friend of mine, at least 15 years ago had Graffiti on his start up screen. It was a paint program >spray painted graffiti style phrase “MICROSOFT SUCKS”. It was not an original thought, just true. Re-boiled muck at the best.
And that is all we need, is to be bombarded with the phone going off every block as we drive down the street, just because they can do it,(and they think their restaurant is the tops > greasy chicken and all).
PS: Who do I sue if the restaurant is terrible?

unknownsoundman says:


PS: And a Wealthy Vegas Impresario should have known,
that “we whales” prefer that someone else do it for us, as compared to having to learn to deal with a iPaQ screen of options to get satisfaction.
(and a machine is not going to give all us those freebees), and does not receive the respect and attention that a beautiful hostess gets…(one that has been told to “Extend All Hospitalities” in order to keep the whale in the pool.

Jeran (user link) says:

New idea

This is common to see people trying to spin an old idea to look like a new one. I too hope that the examiner’s notice that this isn’t new and reject the patent. If you can see that there were similar patents/ideas already in place, don’t try to patent the same thing! You can search through the database of patents and even download them at

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