Microsoft patents XML word processing documents

Microsoft patents XML word processing documents

Summary: The patent would appear to cover all usage of XML and XSDs in word processing document, which would effectively leave all other modern word processors - and other software that used their documents - liable to licensing by the company.

The US patent office has granted a Microsoft patent application, 7,571,169, which "... is directed at providing a word-processing document in a native XML file format that may be understood by an application that understands XML, or to enable another application or service to create a rich document in XML so that the word-processing application can open it as if it was one of its own documents. "

The patent, filed in December 2004 and granted on August 4 2009, specifies that this is done using an XML Schema Document (XSD), which contains more information about the document's formatting, and also covers systems that can open the document without using the original word processing software.

Both XML and XML Schema are long-established open standards, designed to do exactly this, among many other functions.

The patent also specifies that the document can contain formatting information such as line, paragraph and page breaks, font styles and sizes, and other standard components of text documents.

Within the patent, Microsoft has included a list of over a hundred references to books, articles, patents and other software that bear on XML usage in word processing.

On the face of it, the patent would appear to cover all usage of XML and XSDs in word processing document, which would effectively leave all other modern word processors - and other software that used their documents - liable to licensing by the company.

This article was originally posted on ZDNet UK.

Topics: Legal, Microsoft, Software Development

Rupert Goodwins

About Rupert Goodwins

Rupert started off as a nerdy lad expecting to be an electronics engineer, but having tried it for a while discovered that journalism was more fun. He ended up on PC Magazine in the early '90s, before that evolved into ZDNet UK - and Rupert evolved with them into an online journalist.

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  • Property List Editor

    How would this patent relate to Apple's already existing Property List Editor application, a Developer Tool for editing "plist files" written in XML (along with any other XML files that might wander onto a Mac without being a .plist file)?
  • The US patent system is ridiculous

    Nobody can make a word processor now that uses XML and XSD? Good Lord, what if we did that with all of our applications?
    • MS would patent breathing if they could get away with it.

      There is no level too low for them to stoop.
      • Sorry,

        the state of NJ has already taken that one, along with the taxation of the air.
        • I once lived there...

          they have to charge by volume, because they couldn't generate much off of quality.

          Sorry... couldn't resist, now back to the subject...
      • You act as though...

        Microsoft is the only company that does this.

        Who invented the TV? Wasn't RCA, who fought Philo Taylor Farnsworth for the patent and with a 50 million dollar patent suit. Why? Because they thought of it first. However, Philo Farnsworth created the working version for which the patent was issued.

        Big corporations will always fight for patents to avoid royalties. It is in their best interest, whether you agree with it or not.

        It's the nature of business.
        • It's the nature of today's business....

          ...the robber barons of the 1800's said: "It is how capitalism works and how mankind acquires progress..." Nonsense...

          The brought onto us the great depression of the 1920's and World War I and II...

          In real terms, the U.S. Patent system is broken, and needs fixing.

          This as well as other stuff really created the Great Recession... it wasn't housing or NINJAs... that's the story every bank wants to tell you...
          • RE: No one

            In most countries a patent can only be granted if a technology can be shown to b 'not already in the public domain'. To some that is the very definition of 'open'.

            XML is an open standard, the purpose of which is to create documents (of all kinds). What Microsoft has done is to patent the use of doing something with a particular tool, akin to patenting the use of a paint brush and paint to paint a house.

            There are many word processors that used XML to format documents long before Microsoft made the application. The application should have been denied, however, it has no real meaning as it does not affect the use of XML to format text in document management systems, content management systems or page formatting suites (dtp).

            The main problem with your view point is that many people come up with the same idea at the same time. Intellectual Property laws may be intended to protect the entity who comes up with an idea (mainly the company th hard worker works for) but mainly has the affect of ham stringing innovation. They also tie up a lot of resources that are needed in times like now... but thats another discussion.
        • Right, RCA was constantly in court...

          fighting anyone who had patented a circut that would stablize any function in a TV. What RCA didn't already have, they would sue the REAL inventor until the patent holder went bankrupt and/or couldn't collect royalties.
        • But if you stop them...

          you still have to stop all the others that do it as well. Good luck.

          Did I say it was right? Nah... just saying that is business as usual.
      • But the Apple Corp....

        Would gladly trademark the term "Apple", banning any reference to the word that didn't reference their company (heaven forbid either the apple farmers, or the record label that produced the Beatles) if they could get away with it.

        Before you get all Anti-MS, look at when the patent was applied for. It may have been approved of 2009, but the application was submitted 2004. For flaws, look instead to the US patent system which has still not caught up with the times!
        • Apple is a licensee of the word

          Apple is already owned by the Beatles (Apple Records). Apple computer got their permission to use it as long as Apple Computer didn't get into the music business, thereby competing with Apple Records.
          • Is iTunes in the music buisness?

            I think they may have over stepped as well.

            Even if MS has the patent, it depends on how they use it. They may just want the patent so they can use that type of file and not have to worry about someone else patenting it. If that happened, wouldn't they be the ones that got burnt. This may simply be CYA.
          • Technically no.

            iTunes is a distribution platform. The agreement stated that Apple stay out of the music business... i.e. the business of making music. They are free to engage in music distribution.
          • Patent for free utilisation?

            I don't know much about US patent law, but I'd expect that you do not abuse a patent once you can proof you used the technique before the patent was applied for.
            That in mind, I am sure MS wants to make money out of it by sub-licensing and their own products!
          • It's simple enough...

            MS need their own to stop those other clowns screwing their business. Much the same as RIM had to invent some of their own methodology when they were put off air by some weasels a few years back.

            They need to patent something purely to be allowed to sell, never mind make extra from Word.

            It has zippo to do with 'making money', just getting round an absurd patent against them.

        • Maybe the patent office can't afford...

          the WinWord and Excel license fees from MS???

        • Actually...

          ...Apple had to get clearance from the Beatles' company to use the word commercially.

          And from Nabisco when they brought out the Newton.

          And it's "the record label the Beatles created", not "that produced the Beatles".
      • Re: MS would patent breathing

        No doubt they would -- the laws that allow and establish
        corporations pretty strongly force managements to maximize
        shareholder benefit to the exclusion of any other concerns. So
        MS management is just doing what they are chartered to do.

        The real culprit here is the U.S. Patent Office which is NOT
        chartered to be stupid, but routinely shows abysmal ignorance of
        prior art and/or "obviousness" in technical patent approvals.

        They are also not chartered to be in thrall to corporations that
        are trying to build massive patent portfolios -- their
        constituency is supposed to be the American public, but they
        seem to have long-ago forgotten that.

        Some would say that you can always challenge a bad patent in
        court. Yes, if you have the money and time.

        Government regulatory bodies always tend to end up captive to
        those they are supposed to be regulating. That has happened to
        our Patent Office, and we have a broken system.

        The solution to that is supposed to be serious Congressional
        oversight of regulatory bodies -- something we don't seem to get
        from our Congress, it's members are too busy serving lobbyists.
        • What about the open source community?

          I have to put blame on them as well. How often have you heard the open source market complain about Microsoft and others in this regard, then sit by and do absolutely nothing to correct the abuses.

          Microsoft habitually accuses Linux of violating their patented intellectual property. The Linux community responds by saying they don't but what else do they do? Nothing.

          If I was in the leadership of that community, I would organize and get supporters and file a law suite against Microsoft for defamation of character. This would require Microsoft to put up or shut up.

          If open source is so honorable in their work, and so good for everyone, why do they not oppose things like this patent and Microsoft's continued claims of them violating patents?

          My take is that they are cowards.