Microsoft – The New Destructor of Innovation?

If you read our blog from time to time, you’ll know that Brad and I dislike the U.S. patent system with a particular distate for software patents.  Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court issued a couple of rulings that seemed to be nudging the system in the right direction.

Today, Brad sent me an article regarding Microsoft’s claims that free software infringes upon as many as 235 of its patents.   The article talks about how Microsoft filed nearly 3800 software in 2004 and is a vertible software patenting machine.

Now Steve Ballmer is seemingly on a press tour saying that Microsoft deserves royalites from anyone who uses free software and yes, this includes Linux.  He is quoted as saying “what’s fair is fair.”  What’s fair is that people can create innovative software products and bring them to market to keep our economy competitive.  What Microsoft has apparently done is rushed to “patent” everything in the world without any intention of bring any of these products to market.  Apparently Microsoft has “patented” software. 

Is Microsoft really this desparate in it’s battle with Google?  Can they not compete, so that their options are buying Yahoo! and / or trying to raise revenues holding innovation and corporate America hostage?

Whatever the reason, they ought to know that their behavior will do nothing more than potentially raise short term revenues and help destroy innovation and competitiveness of our country. 

Shame on you Microsoft.  If this isn’t anti-competitive behavior, than what is?

  • Neilc

    (1) How is what Microsoft is doing any different than what has been the long-standing practice of many tech companies, most notably IBM? ( IBM registered 2941 patents in 2005!) That is, patent everything you conceivably can, and let the USPTO sort it out.
    (2) How is any of this behavior “anti-competitive”? The USPTO grants these patents and the US government sets the rules, not Microsoft; it’s up to Microsoft to play within the system as best they can. Microsoft’s monopoly position in certain markets has nothing to do with whether they should be allowed to apply for patents.
    (3) Microsoft are potentially faced with enormously expensive litigation from other companies for violating their patents, many of which are bogus (remember this? Part of the strategic justification for acquiring a large portfolio of patents is to protect yourself from patent litigation from other firms (when they sue you for infringement, you counter-sue for infringement on another patent you hold).

  • dcd

    We, The People who have been forced by your monopolistic practices to buy your software, in addition to being Linux users, are now being forced to show that each and every one of your so-called patents is excruciatingly obvious to any college computer science student, and that each and every one of your patents should, can and will be revoked, overturned and burned to ashes.
    In fact, in a fit of common sense, I speculate that thousands of Computer Science students violate your patents every year simply by completing their homework assignments. And so I make this request and challenge to the global Computer Science community at large.
    When Microsoft exposes which patents it believes are in violation, each and every one of you geeks must reach back into your homework assignments and produce code that “infringes”. Please find and include the problem statement from your instructor or text book as well (this is important). This large expected body of evidence should then be forwarded to the US Patent Office in order to show how these patents should never have been awarded. It is further hoped from this expected avalanche of prior art, that the entire body of patents awarded to Microsoft in the Brad Smith years should be opened for re-examination.
    Bring it on Steve. Bring it on Bill and Brad. Give us the infringing patents so we can finally make good use of the blood and sweat we put into our school homework.

  • Jason

    Just because the rules are the rules and other big companies play the same game shouldn’t absolve Microsoft of bad behavior.
    I have real problem with a company that’s apparently been stockpiling patents at a record rate and not bring these inventions to market. In this case, they are stifling innovation by inventing things and not bringing them to market, but letting others spend time and effort in developing new products and then when successful, coming out to get their payday.
    Remember, this company was in the opposite boat when it “borrowed” the concept of “window.”

  • “Whatever the reason, they ought to know that their behavior will do nothing more than potentially raise short term revenues and help destroy innovation and competitiveness of our country.”
    I would add another possible outcome – one that warms my heart – patent law reform. If M$’s bullying crosses some threshold of ridiculousness, I am optimistic that it will spark a fire (fueled by lobbyists) under the legislature for patent reform.

  • Would these 235 patents withstand the world-wide search for prior art that any enforcement threat/action might bring? Microsoft has some pretty wacky ideas of what constitutes something being new, useful and non-obvious to someone skilled in the art.
    For example, a few years ago, they were granted a patent covering the brilliant invention of symbolic filesystem links. Another recent invention was a method for non-administrative users to gain “super user” administrative privileges.
    There are a bunch of smart people at Microsoft. I don’t know if they could win this one though.

  • Randy Potter

    I was most intrigued by Jason’s original post and the implication of one of his comments – that software shouldn’t be patented (well that’s how I took it but he may not have meant it that way). So with that in mind my initial reaction was to disagree but the more I think about about it the more I like the idea. Patenting software is kind of like patenting a mathmatical formula or a technique for a trig proof – something about it just seems wrong not to mention anything about proof and enforcement
    That’s all fine but what’s really sickening is what APPEARS to be a tactic that both Microsoft and IBM are engaged in. I will demonstrate with an example. Hover your mouse pointer over the following link
    There is a patent application from MS for the “hover-bubble” but the patent was filed November 26, 2006
    My first question is – hasn’t this alread been out in th public domain for sometime. If so it’s likely that someone else invented but never bothered to patent it – so who’s patent is it assuming the original inventor can prove the invetned first?
    Note the date of application Just 6 months ago but this “technique” has been available much longer. So is part of what’ happening is that MS is patenting ideas already implemented and trying to pick the patent AFTER it’s been invented?
    Either way its pretty dirty way to go after additional revenue.