Software patents are horrible inhibitors of innovation and destructors of the competitive landscape. We need to make this statement early and often every time evil doers like Microsoft attempts to lock down an area of interest in IT or computer science. And this is exactly what they're trying to do with US patent application #20040210818:
Word-processing document stored in a single XML file that may be manipulated by applications that understand XML
A word processor including a native XML file format is provided. The well formed XML file fully represents the word-processor document, and fully supports 100% of word-processor's rich formatting. There are no feature losses when saving the word-processor documents as XML. A published XSD file defines all the rules behind the word-processor's XML file format. Hints may be provided within the XML associated files providing applications that understand XML a shortcut to understanding some of the features provided by the word-processor. The word-processing document is stored in a single XML file. Additionally, manipulation of word-processing documents may be done on computing devices that do not include the word-processor itself.
Are you kidding me?! For every step in the right direction of openness and transparency that Scoble is able to take Microsoft, the true nature of the beast unveils itself and goes 10 steps backwards.
The problem with that patent is that it's nothing new; XML was intended to be used in the way that the patent describes. The only difference between the situation described by the patent and normal, un-patentable use of XML is that it applies specifically to word processors.
It would be like patenting the occurence of browsers using XML, or database servers using XML, or any other specific application.
"Sorry, you can't use XML like that without paying a royalty; Oracle has the patent on using XML with databases. Oh, and don't add XML export to your new blogging software; MovableType patented that." (yes, those are unlikely examples, but it illustrates the point)
Challenge by phil on March 17, 17:12
Actually, it seems like there is plenty of prior art. Hasn't Abiword used XML to represent documents for a few years now? Same with OpenOffice, I believe. Also, SGML (of which XML is a subset) was intended to represent documents if I recall correctly.
Most of the claims should be invalidated due to prior art; certainly the first indendent claim is too broad. The problem is all those dependent claims with slightly narrowed scope, even if they seem "obvious" uses of XML. We won't know until it gets challenged.
Indeed Microsoft are not alone. A while ago Apple filed a patent application for their Spotlight search technology.
I'm interested in your opinion on software patents. Do you think patents in general are bad? Or do you feel software like Spotlight is a worthy candidate for a patent but trivial stuff like this particular patent (Office's XML format) is ridicilous? Would you ever consider patenting your own software?
I can indeed imagine some innovations being truly worthy of patent protection, but I don't believe that we'll be able to device a system that only protects the truly worthy without opening the gates for horrific abuses like this.
So I'm more than willing to give up the protection of the truly worthy to prevent the clogging of innovation as we see happening all around us.
No, I wouldn't consider patenting my own software. Copyrights are plenty protection.
Also, I have no doubt that Spotlight would have happened even if patents weren't available.
I agree that our software patent system is broken, but let's not throw the baby out with the bath water. Most of our anger comes from companies trying to patent obvious ideas or simply laying patent landmines with no attempt to make products themselves.
Copyrights don't provide the same protection as patents. Clean room implementations aren't covered by copyrights, as far as I know. We tend to focus on web apps or simple GUIs/business methods, but very complex & unique software should be patentable. If in the course of your research you discover a really unique and great way of doing something, you should be able to have a monopoly for a couple of years. The obviousness of patents and the length of the monopoly, though, are both areas that need work.