Microsoft frowned at for smiley patent

Microsoft frowned at for smiley patent

Summary: A software patent filed by Microsoft in the US has been described as 'very dangerous'

TOPICS: Government UK

Various organisations have criticised Microsoft for attempting to patent the creation of custom emoticons.

The patent application, which was published by the US Patent Office on Thursday, covers selecting pixels to create an emoticon image, assigning a character sequence to these pixels and reconstructing the emoticon after transmission.

Mark Taylor, the executive director of the Open Source Consortium, said on Friday said this is such a basic concept that he would not have been surprised to see it posted as a fictional patent on a technology site.

"I would have expected to see something like this suggested by one of our more immature community members as a joke on Slashdot, and probably would have chuckled at the absurdity of the notion. We now appear to be living in a world where even the most laughable paranoid fantasies about commercially controlling simple social concepts are being outdone in the real world by well-funded armies of lawyers on behalf of some of the most powerful companies on the planet," said Taylor.

He said the patent could be particularly problematic as it covers basic human communication. "Emoticons are a form of language, and a precedent allowing patenting of language constructs is very dangerous indeed," said Taylor.

Jonas Maebe, a spokesman for the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII), said that such a patent could be used by Microsoft to prevent competitors from developing applications that compete with its MSN Messenger application.

"It is unfortunately quite clear such patents have nothing to do with protecting investments nor R&D, and only with obtaining exclusion rights which can help them [Microsoft] maintain their dominant position in the market," said Maebe.

Such patents are in contradiction to the original purpose of the patent system, according to Maebe's colleague at the FFII, Felipe Wersen.

"Patents were ultimately designed to benefit society — to have companies disclose things that benefit society which they wouldn't otherwise disclose. Who does this patent benefit?" said Wersen.

Although Microsoft does not appear to have filed this patent in Europe, it has filed a number of patents around natural language. These include a patent for segmenting text strings into tokens to allow further language processing.

A Microsoft spokesperson said that comments on its patent applications can be submitted to the US patent office.

"Microsoft receives dozens of patents every week. We support the ability of anyone to submit prior art or input on a patent application with relevant authorities before a patent is issued," said the spokesperson.

The Microsoft patent that organisations are concerned about is patent number 20050156873, which was filed in January 2004. The US Patent Office has not yet made a decision on whether to accept the patent application.

Topic: Government UK

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  • That language parsing patent's only technical aspect is that it can run on a computer. Without the computer its not technical. With the computer, its a computer program and disallowed under Article 52.
    [0020] FIG. 1 illustrates an example of a suitable COMPUTING SYSTEM environment 100 on which the invention may be implemented.

    More to the point, read up on word stemming algorithms, its in common use and has been since the 80's! Perhaps it's time to apply a fraud penalty when companies knowingly submit these false 'inventions' in order to extort money from other companies.
  • Microsoft did think the internet would grow to what it is today. They realized too late the implications of a world wide web. They [Microsoft] are no longer a fore runner in internet technology. They can't control the internet with their Windows OS. So, they are attempting to control the web content. Through DRM, patents and the high-jacking of open standards Bill Gates hopes to control the keys to the kingdom. What home user would want to go to an internet site that is pure text only? Average Joe User wants rich web media experience. Microsoft wants to be the only player in town to provide that experience.
  • This is the kind of shit I want to keep out of Europe!
  • Well said, Samuel,UK
    wasn't there somthing about wherther open source movement can trust Microsoft. Ofcourse NOT!!! This is proof!!!!!!!!
  • Microsoft is dead. Software Patents are dead. The first time Microsoft takes someone to court over something so stupid it will have a PR and economic revolt on it's hands so large even Steve Ballmer couldn't shove it up his fat arse.
  • Screw Microsoft. Actions like these are why the tech industry hates them so much.
  • I wondered how this differed from what a lot of open source software does - even the old Emacs mail reader - translating smileys into pretty pictures. The "novelty" if it can be called that is the customisation, though I wonder whether things like the old XFaces system could count as similar. (That was good when it was popular). XFaces embedded the image in the email header.

    This is typical of the bad software patents that don't protect a true invention but in this case a whole product feature. They're not as bad as the whole problem domain patents - things like the patent on e-commerce - but its not much better.

    Now of course, if the patent covered the specific implementation of how the original image is to be fetched, along with cache consistency handling, but then again such an implementation would be protected under copyright.

    Patents in the physical world are more like copyright in that they cover a specific implementation. Software patents just cover the idea of the problem.
  • The item you link to is a patent application, not a patent. The application has not yet issued as a patent. The application will be examined by the US patent office and it may or may not be allowed.
  • What's next? Microsoft attempts to patent fonts and the indo-european alphabet?
  • that sort of shit gives me a microsofton!
  • I think Microsoft is lacking talent, thats why their ideas of innovation are like this. No wonder linux is better...

    I thought the most funny and stupid patent granted was the Amazons comparison of two products patent, but this ones also comes under that category.
  • A true technical innovation (not)

    At first I thought, Microsoft had invented al algorithm to convert a Bitmap into a Smiley of the reduced form that we are used to know. That would have been a limited innovation, even though I am strictly against allowing to patent that, for many other reasons.

    Then I realized that something like that (even though not generating reduced smiley) already exists since years. It's called aalib and can even play DVDs on a large console! (That's the "DOS command prompt" for the Windows people.) See And that's even open-source, and has not been patented.

    Then I read the summary of the Microsoft patent in the original and saw that it's simply about sending the *bitmap* itself and the text is primarily a placeholder. If you read further, you see that it's not a text representation of the smiley, the text is rather just an ID and a URL! Thank you, but we could do that with AIM (HTML msg with img alt="..." title="..." id="..." src="...") and other systems. And with email, that was possible before "IM" even existed. The embedding of images in messages is truely nothing new.

    Basically, this is just am img-tag and the publication of small PNGs.
  • PRIOR ART -- what Microsoft is patenting has already been in use for more than 15 years; just take a look at the unofficial "X-Face" NNTP header that is used in Newsgroups by users to include a small graphical image with their messages.

    I view these silly patents as an attempt at abusing the system, but the real problem is the fact that Patent Office is approving these basic things. If they don't improve their processes for getting feedback from others in the applicable industries to find out if such technology either already exists (an excellent reason to deny a patent) or is just something that is an obvious solution (a reason for denying a patent after investigating it), then the system will be at risk of losing credibility and people won't respect patent law -- can you say "black market gaining popularity?"

    The author of the article made also pointed out that patent systems were created to encourage others to share their ideas with the world; I don't agree with this entirely. The main reason patent systems were created to make it possible for inventors to protect their ideas for an initial period of time so they can get a "head start" in the market place and profit from their works before others do the same.

    For this reason, I believe the patent system is a very good thing for society because it aims to be fair, but when I see silly patents being granted for things that have already been in use for very long periods of time (or other reasons that a patent really shouldn't be awarded), then I start to wonder about the credibility of the patent department.

    Randolf Richardson -
    Inter-Corporate Computer & network Services, Inc.
    Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
  • If microsolf truly does patent this, I hope that all of their executives are tar-and-feathered by angry mobs.
  • ... for me just another very good reason to definately change my system to LINUX - with no single look back, I won't miss absolutely nothing - rien ne va plus.
  • Dont the patents office have some form of prosecuting time wasters? if not they should have.
  • Is it April 1 ?
  • Huh, say what? If a technique has been used "widely", is it still possible to attain a patent on this? If so, I would like to get some patents on some things/ideas ....

    it would be wise to set up a company to attain patents on widely used ideas already, I would want to have shares of such a company anyway, if anybody wants to start, contact me ... ;-)
  • Hey, I think I'll just patent the alphabet and make a pile!
    The US Patent Office is allowing Big Corp to patent genes that have existed for millenia, so why not?
    Does anyone have a patent on water yet?
  • Perhaps Microsoft should apply for copyright protection using the words "for", "and", "the" and any others in common use since the language was invented.