back to article i4i pats self on back for Microsoft patent win

The Canadian software maker that saw a US federal appeals court uphold a ruling against Microsoft yesterday, has described the decision as a "war cry for talented inventors whose patents are infringed." As we reported on Tuesday, Microsoft has been ordered to pay $290m to i4i, following a long-running patent spat with the firm …

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  1. riCh chestMat
    Thumb Down

    but i4i didn't invent this

    They just bought the patent from someone with the sole intention of squeezing money out of a large company.

    1. raving angry loony

      shilling for nonsense.

      Actually, chestmat, Vulpe and Owen are the inventors of record on the patent. Vulpe is the FOUNDER of i4i, and Owen is his business partner. So do try to stop being such lying little Microsoft shill would you?

      They did "invent" it, as much as you can "invent" a product that is (1) mathematics and (2) discovered, not invented. But hey, if the patent system is going to be fundamentally broken, might as well target those who are most in favour of the direction its broken in, to the point of lobbying hard for it to continue being broken.

    2. Gerhard Mack
      Stop

      not true actually

      This was one of the few times the patent system worked as it was supposed to. i4i has a product that uses this patent and not only did Microsoft copy the idea from their product they were actually dumb enough to email each other and leave a large paper trail saying they did so.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Alert

      @ riCh chestMat

      Funnily enough MS haven't exactly produced much off their own back it is usually bought in via buyouts of other companies!

  2. iamapizza
    Thumb Up

    i4i must be proud

    Stifling productivity, making a quick buck, that's what this day and age is about, right?

    1. Paul RND*1000

      Since the system is broken anyway

      Might as well see the broken patents system turned against some of the biggest supporters of keeping it broken for their own benefit.

      Petard, hoisted, etc.

  3. Dave 129

    Undecided

    I can't help but snigger and laugh that i4i won. It's always nice to see yet another company stick a dagger into that big ol'bag o'lard that is MS. HOWEVER this patent and "invention" is, well, crap really and just highlights why software should not be patentable. Because of that I do have a small amount of pity for MS - only a little mind - a tiny sliver ;)

    It's a shame that these days too many companies view software patents as cash cows (MS included) and I really hope that no other countries allow them. The more they are allowed, the more that they will cause irreparable harm to software development in general - especially to small developers / companies as there is no way to be able to ensure you are not infringing without spending vast sums of money on very expensive patent lawyers.

    At any rate I am sure (once again) that the irony of all this is completely lost on MS.

    1. Andrew Williams

      Undecided?

      So, you'd rather have a world where you could make a handy dandy wee program that you were making oodles of money from, and then along comes Microsoft/Apple/Oracle/Whoever and says, dang that's sweet, and hijacks your unpatented work and includes it "for free" in their product range thereby boosting their sales and removing your earnings?

      1. bob3

        re: Undecided?

        Patents are not licences. And whether you close your source or even leave it open, who says that licences don't protect you at least as well as patents do?

        In many cases, especially with intangible goods, alternatives to patents may be more transparent and beneficial to innovation ... and money making.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Boffin

        (c) 2009

        That's why we have copyright available for software - we don't need patents. Infringe on my copyright (which can be screen images, text of source, user help text describing how it works, etc), and you get sued $250,000 per instance of infringement (which is each piece of software sold, each time that sold piece of software is used (performance violation)... think about those exponential numbers there) - which makes $290 mil (only 1160 instances) a mere pittance for something distributed like Word... for SEVEN YEARS.

        Besides, copyright lasts forever (100 years past author death for companies), while patents last maybe 17-25 years? Done and done, eh?

        Only reason companies went with patents is so they gained instant exclusivity instead of instant requirements for licensing infrastructure.

        - A Software Development AUTHOR.

  4. Gene Cash Silver badge
    Flame

    Frigging retarded US news sources

    They're all reporting "injunction will prevent the sale of its popular Word software!!! OH NOES!!!!" and it can't seem to penetrate their thick skulls that MS can simply remove the offending feature.

    If I get another "OMFG MS Word is illeegalz!!!!" email I will kill them with fire.

    Thanks, El Reg, for getting it right.

  5. Colin Millar
    Alert

    Microsoft Office and XML editor

    Just thinking about the horrible products of that conjunction makes me feel ill

  6. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    FAIL

    @ riCh chestMat

    "They just bought the patent from someone with the sole intention of squeezing money out of a large company."

    No. US Pat No 5787449 is authored by M Vulpe and Stephen Owens and is assigned to "Infrastructures for Information" Inc of Toronto.

    They are the founders of I4I, which you would have known if you read the story and looked up their web site. Had you checked their web site you would see they actively supply products to edit XML and create new DTD. The products probably (but I cannot definitively confirm) use the tech described in the patent.

    Trolls are pretty nasty (and MS is not above breeding them. SCO anyone?) and software patents seem a dubious way to encourage innovation (never really an MS strong suite) but as this seems a clean cut case of a large corporation saying "We do what the f^&k we like and can't afford to stop us" and their opponent stopping them I'd say you have no idea what your'e talking about.

  7. DrXym Silver badge

    Talented inventors?

    Splitting the contents of a file in two with a glorified index / lookup table hardly seems like an earth shattering invention to me. And that's what this patent more or less amounts to. Instead of intermingling the xml markup with the content, the markup is applied to the content at generation time using a lookup table. Whoopdee do.

  8. Trevor Pott o_O Gold badge

    DrXym

    In hindsight, most patents are obvious. Usually because they contain ideas that make smart people go "d'oh! Why didn't I think of that?"

    Easy to implement once the idea has been thought of...not so easy to think up the idea in the first place.

    To use the common patent example: Velcro is one of the easiest concepts in the world to grasp. It is something any one of us could make, and in hindsight, it is very much a "whoopdee do." But once upon a time, it was new and previously unconcieved.

    WHY DIDN'T I THINK OF THAT?

    1. devnull

      Trevor Pott o_O

      But the problem is this is not an obvious idea that i4i came up with and others went why didn't I think of that.

      This is an idea which had been implemented as the basis of most of our technologies is so common place every one else had avoided patenting.

      i4i might have produced a legitimate product but patenting the ability to store context specific information in a separate file is just plain patient trolling..

      All websites that use DTDs (but not css's because the patient is limited to xml).

      All webservices.

      All editing documents that use dtds.

      All applications that use xlsts for transformation.

      I admit this was once new and previously unconceived. As was the wheel, word processing, the number zero, chaos theory, evolution, the fact the earth was round and declarative programming (which is essentially what is being patented all be it with xml). That doesn't mean if someone successful patients the concept the have any real right to it.

      The W3C released the first RFC for xml in 1996. This defined the xml standard (as based on SGML) and included (via dtd and other definitions. The concept of an external formation xml document.

      Given the whole point of xml is this kind of thing patenting is really insulting to people who do real innovation.

      1. Trevor Pott o_O Gold badge

        @devnull

        They are not patenting XML, they are patenting very specifically using XML to do a specific task as applied to word docs.

        They came up with this tech, they sold it as their main product and were an MS partner for ages. MS looked at what they were doing, thought it was interesting, and stole the idea. Since MS did not steal the code, rather re-implemented it, copyright would not apply.

        They are simply fortunate they applied for a patent on this process, (which is no more stupid than patenting a "business method,") and now have a club to beat MS with. MS is 100% in the wrong on this, and it's nice to see someone feeding them their own dogfood. (MS holds many software patents, a large number of which are overly broad. They have used many of these to beat competition about the ears and force them out of business.)

        Now, if you want to argue that SOFTWARE PATENTS IN GENERAL are a terrible idea, I would agree with you 100%. So are "business method" patents, and the bloody lot of them should be thrown out. That said, as far as software patents go, this is not one of the bad ones. It's actually reasonably specific. For a software patent, it's positively narrow in focus. (Seriously, go read some of MS or Apple's software patents.)

        i4i is quite simply not a patent troll. They are a legitimate business that once saw a need in the MS Office ecosystem, took advantage of that by innovating and creating a product, then got their entire business taken away from them on a whim by Microsoft. This is completely different than a company that buys up a patent that is overly broad/generic and goes after everyone they can as a source of revenue.

        So let me reiterate: software patents in general (and business method patents) are a terrible, horrible, and fantastically stupid idea. Accepting that they do exist, however, i4i's patent is not an overly broad one, and the actions they took against Microsoft were not an offensive strike, but purely a defence...Microsoft struck first.

  9. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Go

    @devnull

    "This is an idea which had been implemented as the basis of most of our technologies is so common place every one else had avoided patenting.

    i4i might have produced a legitimate product but patenting the ability to store context specific information in a separate file is just plain patient trolling.."

    You might like to read the patent before you vent. Afterward maybe you'll still feel that the novelty was obvious and "any fule knows" to do it this way, or not.

    Trolls patent (or buy up patents) of stuff *waiting for others to use it. AFAIK i4i built their products (and their business) around this (and presumably other) patents. MS acted as if it did not exist. They resisted.

    What exactly are you complaining about? Keep in mind it takes 2 to make a patent. 1 to write it, 1 to accept it's novel and *issue* the patent.

    So do you dislike the fact that businesses patent (it's a business to these guys, not a hobby)? That the USPTO issues patents which don't seem to be very novel (possibly because they don't do deep enough prior art checks)? Or that a Canadian company *dared* to say no to MS?

    i4i did *not* make the software patent system. They are merely playing by the rules imposed by the system. It's MS that ignored those rules and are frankly whining about it.

    If you wish to reform the US law on software patents (and you're a US voter) write to your congressman and/or senators. Join the EFF. Challenge the patent under prior art if you're sure it's out there.

    So what is your complaint against?

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      @John Smith 19

      "Keep in mind it takes 2 to make a patent. 1 to write it, 1 to accept it's novel and *issue* the patent."

      Er, no. Keep in mind that the second person hasn't been required in the US for over a decade.

      For all these pleas to read the original patent, I've never seen a patent that was written in anything remotely resembling English and I've certainly seen no "explanation" offered here (or related threads) that makes me believe this isn't just a bleedin obvious implementation of what DTDs were originally designed to do. (Note also, that whilst XML dates from the 90s, SGML and DTDs date from much earlier.)

      There is no benefit to society in allowing individuals to say "any application of this international standard in the following application area belongs to me". There is no evidence that i4i did anything innovative beyond that normally exhibited by a programmer skilled in the art and given a specification. This patent is neither novel nor non-obvious. It should not have been granted, but the USPO is broken. It should not have been upheld, but courts have no inherent expertise in this area and seem to generally err on the side of upholding anything that got the original rubber stamp.

      Here's hoping that MS are sufficiently narked by this judgement that they start lobbying for reform.

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