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Patents Roundup: Why Microsoft's Patents Are Useless; More Patent Failure News

Summary: More 'stolen' ideas get patented by Microsoft while the USPTO shows its weaknesses

EVERY once in a while it is worth reminding everyone that numeric counts of patents mean too little if the quality of the patents is low and thus they are simple to invalidate.



Microsoft was never known for innovation, no matter how much it repeated the word "innovation". Since its early days, Microsoft's modus operandi was to "copy the product that others innovate, put them into Windows so they can't be unplugged, and then give it away for free," to quote Oracle's chief, Larry Ellison.

Microsoft is known to have copied Lotus (see antitrust exhibits which shows that they systematically do this with other products too) and then patented this copying of features. That too is just so typical when it comes to Microsoft. Here is Microsoft patenting the "emotiflag", which is not Microsoft's invention at all. From the news:

Microsoft wins 'emotiflag' patent, despite Lotus Notes precedent



[...]

A few years ago, Microsoft made headlines for seeking a patent on the email "emotiflag" -- an emoticon, chosen by the sender, that appears along with the subject line in the recipient's inbox. The application was controversial because the idea was actually introduced years earlier as "Mood Stamps" in Ray Ozzie's Lotus Notes.


As Scientes puts it, "USPTO fails to do a simple web search for prior art, gives Microsoft invalid patent."

Network World (IDG) asks, "Why would Microsoft patent a 'butt hinge with butt straps'?"

You can look for yourself in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office database: Patent No. 5,819,372; inventor: Robert D. Magoon, Duluth, Ga.; assignee: Microsoft Corporation, Redmond, Wash.

I asked Microsoft's public relations department at the time but they were unable to assist.

Then life moved on.


Microsoft has been actively engaged in brainwashing (indoctrinating) children so that they become fans of patents.

“Microsoft has been actively engaged in brainwashing (indoctrinating) children so that they become fans of patents.”One of our readers brought to our attention a Web site called "Invent Now"

"It's like a "patent Kool-Aid kit" for children," explains the reader, adding that it "seems to be sponsored by the UPSTO."

To quote from the parental section: "Teachers, inspire your students through problem-solving exercises, exploration, creativity and the inventive process. At the same time engage them in learning about the intellectual property protections of patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets."

"I think the whole purpose of this site is to push patents now that they're being questioned," opines our reader.

There are many other interesting posts and articles about patents this week. Here is a sample of some that are more relevant:

No Patents for Circuits? Since You Insist...

I love this argument:
Arguments against software patents have a fundamental flaw. As any electrical engineer knows, solutions to problems implemented in software can also be realized in hardware, i.e., electronic circuits. The main reason for choosing a software solution is the ease in implementing changes, the main reason for choosing a hardware solution is speed of processing. Therefore, a time critical solution is more likely to be implemented in hardware. While a solution that requires the ability to add features easily will be implemented in software. As a result, to be intellectually consistent those people against software patents also have to be against patents for electronic circuits.



[...]

Since software is just algorithms, which is just maths, which cannot be patented, and this clever chap points out that circuits are just software made out of hardware, it follows that we shouldn't allow patents for circuits (but they can still be protected by copyright, just as software can.)


The Fact That A Credit Card Is Patented Is A Selling Point?

In the (snail) mail this week I happened to get an ad for the Visa Black Card, which Visa is pitching as "exclusive," though I'm guessing that exclusivity is mostly based on finding enough suckers to pay a $500 annual fee for the card.


D Ravi Kanth: A Trips-plus agenda at WIPO

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it’ is a timely reminder for key actors who are bent on pushing failed agendas. As governments and multilateral institutions struggle to recover from a pervasive crisis of confidence stemming from the current political and economic climate, it is important to not make the same mistakes all over again. But the tendency is to cock a snook at such warnings.

[...]

Internally, the abrupt removal of Ram Kishan Singh, a junior official, who worked for nine years in the organisation with an outstanding record and the proposed reforms in the staffing pattern raise serious questions whether developing country officials are specific targets in the onward march of a renewed western IP agenda at WIPO!


In China And India, Stronger Intellectual Property Is Unnecessary

Stronger intellectual property may also be unnecessary in another way. Although they are promoted as a tool for enhancing economic competitiveness, readers of Techdirt will know that their effectiveness is, at most, questionable. In the 1980s, there was a boom in American patenting activity, seemingly corresponding with changes to intellectual property laws that were made in response to worries about diminishing national competitiveness (Dahlman 2001). A measure of useful innovation, Total Factor Productivity, should have increased accordingly with the rise in useful, novel and non-obvious inventions, but this has not been the case (Boldrin 2008), providing compelling evidence that, contrary to common usage, patent activity is not equitable with economic benefits.


Costly Drugs Known as Biologics Prompt Exclusivity Debate

For starters, whatever the exclusivity period, biologic drugs would also continue to be protected from copycats by patents. And in many cases, the patent protection would last longer than the exclusivity period, making the Congressionally mandated exclusivity a moot point.

Genentech’s Avastin, for instance, has patent protection until 2019 — 15 years after the drug’s 2004 approval by the F.D.A. The company’s breast cancer drug, Herceptin, has patents that extend 21 years from its 1998 approval.


Another bad day for IP auctions as first ICAP sale hits record low

I have just heard the results of the first ICAP Ocean Tomo IP auction, held this afternoon in Chicago. According to the reports I have had, a total of just over $1.5 million was raised, excluding buyer and seller premiums. This is lower than any amount raised at any Ocean Tomo auction and is comfortably less than the approximately $2.75 million generated in San Francisco in March - which itself was seen as pretty disastrous.


Has Google Forgotten Celera?"

One of the reasons I wrote my book Digital Code of Life was that the battle between the public Human Genome Project and the privately-funded Celera mirrored so closely the battle between free software and Microsoft - with the difference that it was our genome that was at stake, not just a bunch of bits.


Patent unrest is very high these days, and not just in the field of software.

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