January 29, 2007 12:06 PM PST

Microsoft backpedals on programming patent

Microsoft plans to withdraw an attempt to patent technology already used in a free Java programming project called BlueJ, the company said Sunday.

BlueJ creator Michael K?lling complained of a Microsoft patent application on Friday on his blog. By Sunday, Dan Fernandez, lead product manager of Microsoft's Visual Studio Express, apologized and said the company is changing course.

"We can officially say that the patent application was a mistake and one that should not have happened. To fix this, Microsoft will be removing the patent application in question," Fernandez said on his blog.

Kölling said Monday that he's mollified by Microsoft's new position. "Some helpful and reasonable individuals within Microsoft have set the machinery in motion to put things right, and that's a good thing," he said.

But the experience has heightened his concerns about software patents, Kölling said in the interview.

"I think software patents are currently granted for things that are much too trivial," he said. "Employees are very much encouraged to file a patent for every single thing they do. I believe that there is a culture that says that they should file a patent in any case, even if they think that it may not be justified, on the pure chance that it may get through."

Microsoft didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Begun in 1998, BlueJ is a programming environment designed to help people learn how to develop object-oriented Java software. Deakin University in Australia and the University of Kent in the United Kingdom oversee the project, with support from Java creator Sun Microsystems, and the software is widely used at hundreds of universities.

The patent in question concerns visually representing interactions of the software objects that make up object-oriented programs, Kölling said in an interview. BlueJ provides a visual representation of such objects' interactions. Kölling had developed the technology earlier, in 1994, and described it in his Ph.D. dissertation, he said.

Microsoft included a similar feature, called Object Test Bench, in its Visual Studio developer tools in 2005, Kölling said in his blog. "I didn't really mind that Microsoft...copied our ideas, but I was a bit peeved that they claimed it as a new innovation of theirs and proudly presented this 'newly developed' feature without attribution," he said.

On Friday, K?lling saw that Microsoft had filed a patent for the technology in 2005--four months after Fernandez said on his blog that Microsoft had added the Object Test Bench in response to academic customers who "wanted this because of the success of this BlueJ feature."

"To my nose, it doesn't get much smellier than that. That stinks," Kölling said.

Microsoft is investigating what happened with the patent, and Fernandez promised to publish an account. "I'm glad in the end we did the right thing," he said.

See more CNET content tagged:
patent, programming, object-oriented, Microsoft Visual Studio, blog

14 comments

Join the conversation!
Add your comment
That's what you get when you permit software patents
This is exactly what you get when you permit software patents. You get scumbags like Microsoft attempting to stifle the market through patenting every twit and twiddle they can. Their ability to out-lawyer you then becomes their competitive advantage. This case perfectly illustrates why software patents should be banned- because they do NOT promote science and the useful arts in software, which promotion is a prerequisite for patent issuance as per the US Constitution.

Look, it's crystal clear to anyone who isn't either a patenter-hopeful, a patent attorney or a large corporation planning to use patents as a means to exclude competition that software patents are just a financial drag on the software industry, retard innovation and discourage and disincentive small software companies and individual programmers from even trying to participate in the economy. So why do we permit them? So another generation of Microsoft upper management can send their kids to a $40,000 a year pre-school? Where is the social utility in that?

Getting a patent is NOT an Any-Randian or God given (choose only one please) natural right - it's a tool society uses to encourage and reward innovation. Since all the real, fundamental breakthroughs we use today was created in a non-patent software environment, it's obvious that software developers DON'T need them to innovate.

The real issue is this- any group of 6 or 7 software engineers could dominate any given niche market through sheer competence, industry creativity and leanness. Microsoft knows that only too well. So they need an advantage that a small group of developers don't have and that is the ability to file a flood, literally, hundreds a week, of software patents which then form the basis to litigate out of existence small innovators.

It must be hard for Microsoft to have to deny something society has an existence proof for- that software can thrive in a non-patent environment. It's like saying there is no sky.

The fact of the matter is Microsoft is a sociopathic company run by and for the benefit of sociopaths; if it can abuse and overrun a governmental agency, a process or a social contract just by using its sheer vastness, which in this case is its ability to spew patents like a coal plant spews pollution, then they will and if anyone complains they'll tell you how it's all legal. And that's the issue. It's legal. MS can crap all over society for two reasons; one, society hasn't explicitly disallowed this particular ***** in the law and two, Microsoft has been permitted to continue to exist. Society and people rule corporations and not the other way around. MS has done enough during it's time to warrant a revocation of their corporate charter. When MS can jack the market yet again through yet another anti-social tactic, then what are we waiting for? It should have been done long ago. Pull the plug on this craven pack of megalomaniacs.
Posted by asdf (241 comments )
Reply Link Flag
That's what you get when you permit software patents
This is exactly what you get when you permit software patents. You get scumbags like Microsoft attempting to stifle the market through patenting every twit and twiddle they can. Their ability to out-lawyer you then becomes their competitive advantage. This case perfectly illustrates why software patents should be banned- because they do NOT promote science and the useful arts in software, which promotion is a prerequisite for patent issuance as per the US Constitution.

Look, it's crystal clear to anyone who isn't either a patenter-hopeful, a patent attorney or a large corporation planning to use patents as a means to exclude competition that software patents are just a financial drag on the software industry, retard innovation and discourage and disincentive small software companies and individual programmers from even trying to participate in the economy. So why do we permit them? So another generation of Microsoft upper management can send their kids to a $40,000 a year pre-school? Where is the social utility in that?

Getting a patent is NOT an Any-Randian or God given (choose only one please) natural right - it's a tool society uses to encourage and reward innovation. Since all the real, fundamental breakthroughs we use today was created in a non-patent software environment, it's obvious that software developers DON'T need them to innovate.

The real issue is this- any group of 6 or 7 software engineers could dominate any given niche market through sheer competence, industry creativity and leanness. Microsoft knows that only too well. So they need an advantage that a small group of developers don't have and that is the ability to file a flood, literally, hundreds a week, of software patents which then form the basis to litigate out of existence small innovators.

It must be hard for Microsoft to have to deny something society has an existence proof for- that software can thrive in a non-patent environment. It's like saying there is no sky.

The fact of the matter is Microsoft is a sociopathic company run by and for the benefit of sociopaths; if it can abuse and overrun a governmental agency, a process or a social contract just by using its sheer vastness, which in this case is its ability to spew patents like a coal plant spews pollution, then they will and if anyone complains they'll tell you how it's all legal. And that's the issue. It's legal. MS can crap all over society for two reasons; one, society hasn't explicitly disallowed this particular ***** in the law and two, Microsoft has been permitted to continue to exist. Society and people rule corporations and not the other way around. MS has done enough during it's time to warrant a revocation of their corporate charter. When MS can jack the market yet again through yet another anti-social tactic, then what are we waiting for? It should have been done long ago. Pull the plug on this craven pack of megalomaniacs.
Posted by asdf (241 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Defensive patenting
It's not just a culture of filing 'in case it gets through' - a lot of the
time it's filing to stop someone else doing so.

Software patents are still an enormously bad idea though - at worst
they will slow progress down as developers need to check every
idea they have to ensure someone else doesn't 'own' it.
Posted by JulesLt (110 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Defensive patenting
It's not just a culture of filing 'in case it gets through' - a lot of the
time it's filing to stop someone else doing so.

Software patents are still an enormously bad idea though - at worst
they will slow progress down as developers need to check every
idea they have to ensure someone else doesn't 'own' it.
Posted by JulesLt (110 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Wouldn't have been granted anyway... would it?
As there was such an egregious example of prior art, the patent
office wouldn't have granted the patent. What's that? I'm
incredibly naive to think that?

I think that's where the key problem is: the patent office is good
at accepting money to rubber stamp what many people would
regard as self-evident concepts (especially in the software
industry, where most processes are inevitable), and very poor at
researching prior art that should prevent the idea being
patentable in the first place.

So, for what is it now, $2000?, a company can buy itself a legal
fortress that makes it hard for smaller players to operate.

Patents encourage innovation? I think not. Patents retard
innovation by setting up legal roadblocks.
Posted by dotmike (154 comments )
Reply Link Flag
sneak it through
Prior art -- if someone objects. If the professor doesn't know about the patent application, how can he object? Then once the patent is granted, takes a LOT of time and money to prove you were the real inventor. Also, what about all the patents in other countries? Microsoft doesn't just patent/trademark in the U.S. Microsoft theivery.
Posted by ChazzMatt (169 comments )
Link Flag
Wouldn't have been granted anyway... would it?
As there was such an egregious example of prior art, the patent
office wouldn't have granted the patent. What's that? I'm
incredibly naive to think that?

I think that's where the key problem is: the patent office is good
at accepting money to rubber stamp what many people would
regard as self-evident concepts (especially in the software
industry, where most processes are inevitable), and very poor at
researching prior art that should prevent the idea being
patentable in the first place.

So, for what is it now, $2000?, a company can buy itself a legal
fortress that makes it hard for smaller players to operate.

Patents encourage innovation? I think not. Patents retard
innovation by setting up legal roadblocks.
Posted by dotmike (154 comments )
Reply Link Flag
sneak it through
Prior art -- if someone objects. If the professor doesn't know about the patent application, how can he object? Then once the patent is granted, takes a LOT of time and money to prove you were the real inventor. Also, what about all the patents in other countries? Microsoft doesn't just patent/trademark in the U.S. Microsoft theivery.
Posted by ChazzMatt (169 comments )
Link Flag
Microsoft theft
This is yet another example of how Microsoft has NEVER innovated anything. They have bought, borrowed and stolen all their ideas. Even MS-DOS was BOUGHT from someone else, then LICENSED to IBM -- thus starting the whole "you don't own the software you paid for" era. They licensed Mosaic web browswer, written by Marc Andreeson & friends, to compete with Netscape, written by Marc Andreeson & friends -- and changed the name to Internet Explorer. They couldn't write a web browser worth anything so they had to get code by the same guys who went on to create Netscape. (Mosaic is still listed as the source code in the IE help/about credits) Only by monopolistic and unethical business practices did they win the "browser war". A useful feature "System Restore" didn't appear in Windows until AFTER another company created an almost identical popular 3rd party application called "Go Back".
Why didn't they think of it first instead of stealing the idea? Oh, and Microsoft made sure that "Go Back" caused conflicts with "System Restore". Typical Microsoft strategy. And it's pretty well documented that Microsoft looks to Apple for inspiration and ideas for other nifty OS features. Too bad they can't also make it work as well as Mac. :)

(and no I have never owned a Mac in my life. I just wish Windows worked as well. I also wish Microsoft was not as arrogant as they are, considering their moral and ethical past.)
Posted by ChazzMatt (169 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Meaningless rant
Example? How is this an example of all the evils you accuse (falsely BTW) of MS of when MS is pulling the application, has apologized to the true innovator and has promised a report on exactly how this application got filed in the first place as well as how they're going to change things to try to prevent it from happening again?

Are those the actions of a company that would do all the things you accuse them of?

No way.

I could respond to your long and ignorant rant but all of your claims have been refuted time and time again but you and hundreds of others like you never comprehend the actual truth because you've decided rage and irrational hatred are the course you're going to take and let the facts be damned.
Posted by extinctone (214 comments )
Link Flag
Microsoft theft
This is yet another example of how Microsoft has NEVER innovated anything. They have bought, borrowed and stolen all their ideas. Even MS-DOS was BOUGHT from someone else, then LICENSED to IBM -- thus starting the whole "you don't own the software you paid for" era. They licensed Mosaic web browswer, written by Marc Andreeson & friends, to compete with Netscape, written by Marc Andreeson & friends -- and changed the name to Internet Explorer. They couldn't write a web browser worth anything so they had to get code by the same guys who went on to create Netscape. (Mosaic is still listed as the source code in the IE help/about credits) Only by monopolistic and unethical business practices did they win the "browser war". A useful feature "System Restore" didn't appear in Windows until AFTER another company created an almost identical popular 3rd party application called "Go Back".
Why didn't they think of it first instead of stealing the idea? Oh, and Microsoft made sure that "Go Back" caused conflicts with "System Restore". Typical Microsoft strategy. And it's pretty well documented that Microsoft looks to Apple for inspiration and ideas for other nifty OS features. Too bad they can't also make it work as well as Mac. :)

(and no I have never owned a Mac in my life. I just wish Windows worked as well. I also wish Microsoft was not as arrogant as they are, considering their moral and ethical past.)
Posted by ChazzMatt (169 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Meaningless rant
Example? How is this an example of all the evils you accuse (falsely BTW) of MS of when MS is pulling the application, has apologized to the true innovator and has promised a report on exactly how this application got filed in the first place as well as how they're going to change things to try to prevent it from happening again?

Are those the actions of a company that would do all the things you accuse them of?

No way.

I could respond to your long and ignorant rant but all of your claims have been refuted time and time again but you and hundreds of others like you never comprehend the actual truth because you've decided rage and irrational hatred are the course you're going to take and let the facts be damned.
Posted by extinctone (214 comments )
Link Flag
 

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot

Discussions

Shared

RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.