01.18.11

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Microsoft’s Dangerous Obsession With Patents

Posted in GNU/Linux, Microsoft, Patents at 4:54 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Summary: Microsoft products like KINect get sued for patent violations following Microsoft’s legal action against Linux/Android, which shows the limit of this monopolist’s patent strategy

MICROSOFT is not in a healthy state and it is trying to earn patents like never before. Rather than produce a portfolio of products it increasingly produces a portfolio of patents and then pressures companies to pay Microsoft for “licences” (otherwise Microsoft sues, until the licensing deal is done). Microsoft booster Todd Bishop says that Microsoft wants to patent ‘fans’ and that it’s a “one-way public relationships”:

In a filing made public today, Microsoft is seeking a patent for something it calls “One-Way Public Relationships” in social networks and other online properties.

Even though you’ve probably never heard or used that phrase, chances are you’re involved in many of these types of relationships already. That’s because it’s more commonly known as being a “fan” of something online.

The latest item of news being debated is “Microsoft Seeks Do-Let-The-Bed-Bugs-Bite Patent”. From Slashdot‘s summary:

“In its just-published patent application for Adapting Parasites to Combat Disease, Microsoft lays out plans to unleash ‘altered parasitic organisms’ on humans, including mosquitoes, fleas, ticks, bed bugs, leeches, pinworms, tapeworms, hookworms, heart worms, roundworms, lice (head, body, and pubic), and the like. ‘Irradiated mosquitoes can be used to deliver damaged Plasmodium to individuals,’ explains Microsoft. ‘Instead of contracting malaria, an individual receiving the damaged Plasmodium develops an immune response that renders the individual resistant to contracting malaria.’ Don’t worry about runaway breeding, advises Microsoft — ‘a termination feature [that] can include programmed death’ makes this impossible. As David Spade might say, I liked this movie the first time I saw it — when it was called Jurassic Park.”

If Microsoft becomes too focused on patents and not actual products, then it puts all of its eggs in the litigious basket and risks going out of business when the law changes (more on that in a later post). Going through some Microsoft patent news which we missed over the past two months, we find that Microsoft expands its patent lawsuit:

Microsoft is rumored to extend the patent infringement lawsuit that claimed his property on the operating system (OS) of mobile Android.

Here is the WSJ blog post “What Smartphone Makers Can Learn From the Sewing Machine Patent War”:

The smartphone market is highly lucrative, has many competing players, and involves countless patents. In other words, it’s a recipe for lawsuits. In the last month alone, Microsoft lobbed a suit at Motorola, who in turn sued Apple. Nokia and HTC both have sued Apple, and Apple has sued both Nokia and HTC.

Remember that the patent system started with real inventors whose contributions included physical and complex inventions like sewing machines (not suing machines like today’s patent lawyers) and whose novelty involved sophisticated mechanics with improvements. Sure, some of these early patents were granted to people who merely improved very slightly the work of others — work that had not been patented. The likes of Edison are a good example of this form of abuse. Anyway, the sewing machine patent war is a decent analogy for the smartphones patent war.

By attacking Motorola (Android) with patents, Microsoft has put Xbox at risk, so this whole strategy is becoming rather dodgy and unpredictable. It’s all that Microsoft has left. Motorola is now using the KINect to sue Microsoft back:

Microsoft and Motorola were discovered on Friday to have expanded their countering patent lawsuits to include technology that could cover the wider industry. Motorola on Thursday filed a lawsuit in the Western District of Wisconsin to include two new patents that claim the Kinect motion controller violates its patents Microsoft responded the same day by filing its own lawsuit in a Southern District of Florida court that added seven new patents to its claims, five of which claimed infringements by Android while two more aimed at Motorola’s DVR boxes.

The mobbyists keep concentrating on this case against Linux, chatting with people who include Rob Enderle. They try to use it to cause damage to Linux’ reputation (or more specifically Android).

SCOny [sic] too is collecting more patents around its console these days:

Sony’s plans for their PS3 – A patent filing hinting on the future?

[...]

I’ve written on many occasions about Kinect, the tech which I believe Microsoft is hoping to take its 360 through the next five years. In the meantime Sony has been busy too and they have released their Move tech which won best hardware accessory at Gamescon 2010, beating Microsoft’s Kinect for the accolade.

As we showed last night, SCOny is suing rivals with patents, but mostly hardware patents. When it comes to peripherals, it’s about patents that are partly software oriented.

Going further back in time, Canesta was bought by Microsoft and resultant articles stress that patents are a major part of it, e.g.:

i. Microsoft Buys Chip Company Canesta
ii. If Microsoft Acquires Canesta, It’s Probably A Patent Play (MSFT)
iii. Microsoft buys gesture-chip maker (and patent holder) Canesta
iv. Microsoft Acquires Canesta, 3D Tech Patents

Here is another one that we missed:

i. Microsoft Patents Brain Implant Gaming Device

Microsoft Corporation Technology Chief Craig Mundie announced today that they have perfected a new “brain implant” gaming device that will assure frequent gamers of “the best gaming experience of their lives”.

And also:

i. Give your keyboard the boot? Microsoft patents foot interface

Microsoft’s research into a “foot-based user interface” seemed somewhat novel in 2006, when I first wrote about the project. Now that the company has released its Kinect full-body motion control system for the Xbox 360, the idea of controlling a machine with your feet seems like only part of the picture.

ii. Microsoft Patents Foot-Controlled Interface–Finally, A Way To Dedicate All Four Limbs To Work

Microsoft has apparently been kicking around the idea of a foot-controlled computer interface for some time now. They don’t want you to type with your toes, fortunately, but rather to use your feet for simple tasks like scrolling and opening email. But now that the company has finally patented the idea, will foot-powered computing usher in an era of healthier and more efficient screen time or just tie people to their machines by four limbs instead of two?

iii. Microsoft Earns Patent for Foot-Based Human-Computer Interface Technology

This one is familiar:

i. Microsoft applies for a patent for a verifying a ‘safe’ operating system

Microsoft has applied for a patent for an “automated, static safety verifier” that will help verify the type- and memory-safety of an operating system.

And notably:

i. Microsoft Files Patent for Tactile Touchscreen
ii. Microsoft physical touchscreen patent app tips dynamic Surface
iii. Microsoft patents a more tactile touchscreen
iv. Microsoft patents shape-shifting display
v. Microsoft tries to reinvent the mobile keyboard

To quote from the first (number i) item:

In what is touted as what could be the future of touchscreen keyboards, Microsoft filed a patent on Nov. 25 for a “shape-shifting” touchscreen.

The technology would let users feel contours of a keyboard as if they were typing on a real physical keyboard even though they are really typing on a touchscreen which has a projected image of a keyboard.

Raining on Microsoft’s parade is the following: “Microsoft Research’s tactile touchscreens: Is it really circa 1970s PARC?”

These patent applications always spark a mixed reaction from me. You cheer the innovative ideas and then the capitalist cynic kicks in. The other item about Microsoft Research worth pondering is whether commercialization even matters.

Also worth mentioning: “Sony, Microsoft Patent New Touchscreen Technologies”

Patents filed by Sony and Microsoft suggest both companies may be planning to take touch screen technologies in interesting new directions, with potential applications for future game platforms.

And finally we have: “Microsoft patent bribes people to watch TV ads”

The patent, originally issued in 2000, is called “System and method for encouraging viewers to watch television programs.” It’s not a bad idea, as far as ideas that have never come to fruition go. Seeing it reminded me of Microsoft’s Magic Wand and Holographic meetings patents issued in 2009. It made me wonder what other oddball patents Microsoft has acquired recently. Answer: quite a few.

It is worth remembering that Microsoft buried Massive, which says a lot about its ventures that involve putting ads on TV.

The bottom line is, Microsoft is becoming a patents company. It’s everywhere in the news and it suggests that Microsoft’s vision is one of extortion and litigation.

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