Software Patents: The new MAD

With the recent news of Microsoft being told to stop selling MS Word in the US due to it’s infringement of a patent owned by i4i I am really hopeful that perhaps, just perhaps, someone will start to realise just how MAD this all is.

Reading the first story I linked to, there is a reasonably understandable explanation of the patent in question but lets be honest here. Does this sound like an truly new and innovative invention?

“What we have developed at i4i is what’s customarily referred to as ‘customer-centric’ or ‘custom XML,’ which is allowing people to create customer-driven schema — we’ll call it templates or forms. So, while XML is used to tag and to mark the data that’s created, our technology is used to create the whole schema and the management of the data.”

They’ve managed to patent the ability to create your own schema by the sounds of that. Isn’t that what XML is for?

Anyway, I can’t see the good ‘ole boys really winning in the long run. I’m sure it will get over turned when hopefully someone shows up with some prior-art. But it seems to me that with this ridiculous system in the States, they are building their own new version of the Cold War. Remember Mutually Assured Destruction? That’s where they are now.

Businesses like Microsoft, IBM and others build vast portfolios of patents on the most ridiculous things not for their inherent value, but mainly as a safeguard against being sued for infringing someone else’s equally ridiculous patent. ‘If you sue me for patent xyz, then we’ll sue you with zyx’. Then we have the other wonderful group of [ahem] businesses known as Patent Trolls who bring nothing to the party except litigation. Nice.

Who wins out of all this in the long run? The worst group of parasites on the planet (yes, even worse than estate agents): Lawyers.

Surely, the US Government must see the stupidity and waste that this daft situation has created? I really hope that this is the litigious straw that will break the back of the patent camel.

Finally, get this. The last paragraph of that story reports on a patent that Microsoft has just been granted, which they applied for several years ago.

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.

Hmmm – this appears to have far reaching implications. OOXML, ODF, any word processor supporting XML file formats… Jeez. How the f**k can you call this an invention?

Please, UK Government and the EU Commission, don’t let the patent trolls of the world make you think that software patents are a “good thing”.