back to article Microsoft assembles unlikely band of brothers against patent trolls

Google, Apple, Yahoo!, Dell, Intel, Facebook and Hewlett-Packard have all come out in support of Microsoft’s efforts to upend a patent infringement verdict that ordered the software giant to pay $290m in damages. Microsoft is hoping to convince the US Supreme Court to rethink how the country’s judicial system decides the …


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  1. Shane Kent

    And while they are at it...

    they can throw away all the bulls#!t patents these U.S. companies have? God knows Apple and MS has more b.s. patents than all the Canadian companies combined.

    1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Different adgendas

      I'm sure that Microsoft and the EFF are in this for different reasons.

      Microsoft are treading a narrow path. They don't want their patents overturned, but they do want this one. They have clearly failed to convince the appeals process, but if a review is granted, it would enshrine by precedent a process that may further favour companies with big pockets.

      EFF wants at least software patents to more stringently examined before being granted, with a preferred outcome of ruling that software is not patentable.

      So it's a dangerous game for both parties, but at least it would air the problems somewhere it might do some good.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don't hate the player, hate the game.

    Or you know, fix it.

  3. Anonymous Coward

    And good luck to them

    Cheering on the big guy might not be the most sporting, but when the little guy is a parasite exploiting the horribly broken US Patents System, you can do little else.

    Let's not forget that The Union of U.S. Patent Examiners and Patent Office Professional Association have been stringently against all patent reform. They're against it because it might require them to actually do some work analysing patent applications, and might actually require them to understand how software works, the lazy incompetent shits.

    1. MacroRodent

      Not troll this time

      From what I have read, the small company in question actually did market a product related to the patent, which became irrelevant after MS employed similar technology. So they are not a typical patent troll, but rather the little guy MS has wronged in a way the patent system is supposed to prevent (if played by the rules).

      I truly hate software patents, but I'm not rooting for MS in this case, because they are not arguing against all software patents before the Supremes, only against this particular one that inconveniences them. Let MS find the hard way that software patents are evil.

    2. amehaye

      Sorry, can't hail the big patent troll

      Wasn't it Microsoft who claims Linux and co. violate more than 200 patents, without even disclosing which patents these are?

      First let them pay. Then reform the system.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    When the devil fights your enemies

    Do you back the devil (knowing they'll turn on you after they've done with their grizzly meal), or back out of the ring altogether?

    1. Ed Deckard
      Gates Horns

      If i4i sued Hell

      I would at least make a favorable reference to the Devil in an El Reg comments thread.

    2. Ef'd
      Jobs Horns

      The devil?

      That's quite some hyperbole.

      Microsoft doesn't have the quite the same power that they wielded at the turn of the millennium.

      Furthermore, there's a lot at stake considering the precedent this ruling would set - for everyone involved. And no, this isn't some sort of karmic payback, since this kind of ruling harms the industry as a whole.

      Plus, haven't the pitchfork and horns been passed on to Google or Apple in your eyes?

  5. Nick Kew

    not to mention Apache

    Why have you listed corporate bigcos, but omitted others including the EFF and ASF from your list?

    Open Source folks may not have the means to fight patent battles on our own behalf, but can sometimes lend expertise to support someone who is fighting the pirates. The ASF has submitted an Amicus brief to the US supreme court, and I understand EFF is also involved.

    1. mccp

      RTFA to the end before complaining...

      "But Microsoft continues to dispute that claim, and it now has the backing of some big name tech firms, a couple of US trade groups, retail giant Walmart and even an endorsement from the Electronic Frontier Foundation."

      And so on.

      1. Woodgar

        RE: RTFA to the end before complaining...

        What MCCCP said...

        There were even numerous quotes from the EFF

  6. Keith Williams
    Thumb Down

    US Patent System


    It's ok when a US patent troll goes after a Canadian company, but a Canadian troll going after a US company...

  7. Tom 35

    i4i is no Texas Troll

    They have actual products, not just an office full of suits.

    If i4i's patent is bad, MS must have hundreds of equally junk patents.

    MS are the ones saying Linux infringes their (not going to tell you) patents, so you better not use it. If they clean up their act first I might feel a little sorry for them when they get hit.

  8. OSC

    Consider i4I as the general case "SME with a patent"

    Yes, it's a software patent, but in the USA system it's been tested and found to be valid.

    No doubt i4i have spent a few quid getting this far but look, every annoyed megacorp is spending shed loads in legal fees to avoid i4i collecting.

    Imagine if the situation were reversed (can anyone hear the beating of a Tom-Tom drum?) and the company cannot spend shed loads to prevent megacorp collecting and so has to capitulate.

    So for an SME they might as well publish rather than patent, except that if megacorp were to then patent the same idea the SME would find itself in the same hole.

    This is true of all patents not just software patents (which are a specific kind of rubbish) so perhaps a legal beagle could explain why the patent system is good for innovation and not a merely a system to support economic hegemony?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Down


      "perhaps a legal beagle could explain why the patent system is good for innovation"

      The concept behind patents is that those who invest time and money developing new technologies can get legal protection to allow them to exploit the value of their discoveries/inventions.

      Without some kind of patent system there is no value in developing new technology, as someone else will be able to sell products based on your efforts; and without the overhead of development costs they can pretty much guarantee to beat you on price. The end result would be that no-one would invest money in developing new technology, so innovation would just cease.

      Of course patents must be administered carefully so that obvious ideas can't be used to prevent legitimate competition between technology companies; and there has to be some way of industry groups agreeing on open standards so that interoperability can be assured.

      I don't think anyone would dispute that their are a lot of stupid patents awarded, especially for software, but you can't throw the baby out with the bath water.

      1. Michael Shaw

        That was not why patents were invented....

        Patents were invented because in the industrial revolution, the way to protect you invention was secrecy. That meant the knowledge of the invention died when the inventor died. Patents were introduced as a mechanism to grant a time limited monopoly for the inventor in exchange for full public disclosure of the invention.

        Great idea. The problem is that the concept of "inventive step" has been so watered down that there is often no benefit to society.

  9. John Bailey

    Funny thing

    Sorry to ruin the careful astroturfing..


    As I remember reading.. i4i is(were) a company producing an actual product for sale to customers. One that Microsoft absorbed, and didn't pay for. So in what way are they trolls?

    Oh yes..They took a big important company to court and won.. I can see how this would not be a good thing for the software industry as a whole.. Patent law was intended to protect the big powerful companies from the small weak ones.. Silly me..

    You just can't get competent legislators these days. A bought law should stay bought with none of this silly applying to everybody malarky.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      The patent is for xml editing (yes, ok they've worded it slightly more ambiguously but that i what it is) - how is this not trolling? Yes they have a product, so sure they have something they sell - but it is in no way unique or special.

      This is not the worst kind of Troll (the one that makes nothing but expects everyone else to pay them for an obvious invention); but pretty close to it.

      1. John Bailey


        And if some little guy was suing a huge multinational company over cold fusion, would you say it's just a patent for generating energy?

        Sorry.. Devaluing the patent in question strategy has been tried and failed. In courts too.

  10. Big-nosed Pengie
    Thumb Up

    The expression you're looking for... "hoist with his own petard".

  11. Terry H

    Hoping microsoft doesn't get heard

    The patent system is not just horribly broken. It has been perverted into true evil. As I've said many times if the system in place today existed in 1903 the Wright brothers would have patented heavier than air flight and no one else would have EVER been allowed to build an airplane. Yes, patents are SUPPOSED to expire, but so are copyrights!

    The solution is not for microsoft et al to whine at the supreme court. The solution is for them to pay up. They lost fair and square. Then they need to use their utterly unstoppable lobbying might to instruct their lap dogs in Congress to change the law.

    This case presents a unique opportunity wherein the shoe is on the other foot. Suddenly, one of these mega-corps has lost a case which is in fact indistinguishable from the business world terror attacks their legal departments routinely launch against world+dog.

    If microsoft wins this case they, and all the rest, will have no incentive to fix this abomination of a "system". It can't be patched up with "standard of proof" tweaking. It needs a comprehensive rewrite; step 1 of which is to remove software from the list of things you can patent. Who wants to bet microsoft had rather pay out $290M than change a system they routinely use to bludgeon innocent victims.

    Copyright, software? absolutely! Patent, software? It doesn't even make semantic sense. It's like saying it is hotter in here than the length of a football field.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How odd...

    I'm sure these "giants of industry" think its just fine to rip on someone else with a patent, but I'm sure they think that their patents are "bulletproof." America, the land where you get the justice you can afford. No wonder the place sucks more than the wrong side of Whitechapel during the ripper murders.

  13. Colin Stratford

    Where's the troll?

    All I see is a niche technology company protecting the IP for the products that it sells. I've never heard a definition of patent troll that covers that....

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Horns


    The parties mentioned are the ones that need to take this action to fix the mess that is the USPO. I say sadly, because Micros~1 have gotten away with bulling smaller companies for years, to the point that they have benefited from the mess that is the USPO. Micros~1 aren't the only guilty party either, I'm highlighting them *because* they are the ones talking about taking action. I guess this goes to show that bullies don't like the taste of their own medicine.

  15. Paul 172

    Custom editor ?

    XML != editor

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    As the saying(s) go...

    To Microsoft et all: Karma's a bitch. You can't have your cake and eat it too. What goes around comes around, etc. etc..

    Toss software patents, keep software source code copyrights.

  17. bofh80
    Dead Vulture

    Ahh Cmon.

    Why do El Reg no longer sink their teeth in.

    If memory alone serves correctly, this is a little different to the usual story.

    This is not a simple, you used an idea I patented.

    Microsoft had access to the source code for this, then they refused to buy it, then they stole the software. I mean it's how the company began, and it's how they will carry on.

    But i don't want to make these points. El Reg used to it properly.


    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Ahh Cmon

      "Microsoft had access to the source code for this, then they refused to buy it, then they stole the software."

      That would be a copyright violation then. (If MS had sight of the source code then it would be hard for them to argue that theirs was a "clean room" implementation, so i4i probably have a case here.)

      The problem with treating it as a patent violation is that the patent was worded to cover any application that read a document type definition and constrained an editor to that DTD. That is, the "inventive step" was to use DTDs for their originally intended purpose, several decades after they were introduced. Both obviousness and prior art were ignored.

      And whilst we're griping, can I just point out that this patent also falls into the class of "what you've always done, but using XML syntax". There are quite a few atrocious patents in *that* category.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    So what's happening is MS has stolen a patent and been fined for it, and now they are getting together a band of mega industries to back them? And they think this will make a difference?

    I'm sure in the end, they will come out on top, but if a millionaire steals my property and is found guilty, getting several other millionaires together to change the ruling doesn't make him innocent, it simply means they think they are above the law.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Screw microsoft

    They are just as bad, if not worse than i4. MS gets bitch slapped by a company playing on their own terms, good. Didn't they just finish up a lawsuit against salesforce over things like a patent on pivot tables of all things?

    The only patent "reform" that makes sense is the one that gets rid of software patents for good. It hurts everyone but the lawyers. The field is already level because there is almost no barrier to entry for software development. So things like amazons one-click patent should never have happened.

    Patents discourage innovation, screw the little guy, and just make it easy for giants to stomp on us.

    I hope they lose. I also hope the next next time they lose it really hurts. I'm thinking of a number that starts with B. Maybe then they will fight to get rid of this stupid system.

  20. Dick Emery
    Thumb Down

    Ideas should not be patented...

    unless you have a working model of it. Or at the very least a written plan that can be made into a working model. Simply saying 'A method to compress an image file with such and such algorithm' for example is not enough IMHO. This is why we have so many BS patents.

    There should also be a timeout period whereby if you don't put your patent into practice withing say 5 years you lose the right to hold that patent anymore.

    Also there should be a pot that ALL patent holders who benefit from their 'inventions' should pay into to protect small fry from big companies. There should be a level playing field when it comes to legal challenges and not the current situation where 'usually' the one with the biggest pockets wins. I do not know the details of i4i's case against MS so it's hard to say who was trolling who here. I just know that the current system is broken and needs a major overhaul.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Horns

    what was their name again?

    ***Microsoft***, who threaten Linux over patents, get screwed themselves over a patent by a firm called - i4i ...

    i4i ...

    i4i ... anyone? anyone got anything?

  22. IceMage

    Patent Expiration

    I think many of the problems with patent trolling would be fixed if patents didn't last so long. Back in the day, 14-20 years seemed like a good amount of time to let a company recover the costs, but for software and technology, this isn't always the case.

    Simply revising software and technology patent expiration to be, say 3 - 4 years would be a good step in the right direction. Patents shouldn't stifle innovation, they should encourage it, they're obviously doing the wrong thing here.

  23. henrydddd


    Funny that Apple is part of this. Am I mistaken or is Apple trying to create its own patent pool

    against OGG Theora?

    I guess its where the bucks are.

  24. D. M

    what goes around, comes around

    I hope MS lose, then be fined 30 billion dollars. Then, maybe we have chance to get rid of the stupid US patents system.

  25. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    i4i had and has a shipping product

    @Dick Emery, i4i had and has *shipping software* that does what their patent covers. The thing is, they even are suing over a narrower claim than they could -- they are not suing over an editor that *uses* XML, they sued over a feature that allowed *directly* manipulating the XML tags inside the file. Why would you want to directly manipulate XML tags inside an XML file? I don't have a clue. But that's what i4i's product did, and that's what they are suing over.

    I think software patents are pretty bogus anyway -- IMHO patents are more to recover the high costs of prototyping a physical product, and software doesn't have those costs. But the fact of the matter is i4i is not a software troll, i4i shipped this product first, then when it turned out people would buy it Microsoft duplicated it within Office.

  26. Stephen Bungay
    Jobs Horns

    And now for something...

    completely expected...

    Microsoft is suing Google over Android.

    Watch your back fellas... something wicked this way comes.

  27. simpletruth

    Can someone please help me here?

    I have been looking over this patent marlarky and it seems that software patents on now patenting methods as well? For example ad delivery to a device on the internet, can this be patented? I am very confused if anyone can help. I have a patent i can show you as an example of what i mean!

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