back to article Alarm raised after Microsoft wins data-encoding patent

Microsoft last month received a US patent covering modifications to a data-encoding technique called rANS, one of several variants in the Asymmetric Numeral System (ANS) family that support data compression schemes used by leading technology companies and open source projects. The creator of ANS, Jarosław Duda, assistant …

  1. b0llchit Silver badge

    Patenting pi, digit by digit

    We are back to patenting an obscure written variant of a plurality of 1+1=10 and 1-1=0 statements.

    The futility in this patent folly is clearly the result of a completely broken system where money can buy you the best patents available for maximum leverage. I am going to patent the creation of pi, digit by digit at one digit per year using a new algorithm each time. The next infinity years will be mine! Damn you dare using a circle or any other pi derivative!

    1. NoneSuch Silver badge

      Re: Patenting pi, digit by digit

      Software patents should be burned in a massive pyre.

      Barring that, Open Source software declared as "Patent Free" by the creator should not be able to be patented by anyone but them.

      PS. Reg, any chance of getting Dark Mode for the site? New 1,000 nit Predator monitor is burning my retinas when I visit from all that white.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Re: Patenting pi, digit by digit

        Turn the brightness down on your monitor to an acceptable level for daytime use, then install f.lux and use alt+page down to further dim the brightness at night.

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

      3. Flat Phillip

        Re: Patenting pi, digit by digit

        I agree with Kuhn, get rid of software patents.

        They are a curse on the industry as they don't promote innovation and remove it because, for example, anyone looking at doing something new and seeing a patent thicket (nice term) is going to give up.

        They are all about big large companies locking in their advantage.

      4. ScrappyLaptop2

        Re: Patenting pi, digit by digit

        Dark Reader browser plug in works on The Register. And pretty much any other site, too...

    2. Woodnag

      Patenting is wot appens, innit

      MFM took over from FM (Manchester encoding) for disk drives back in the day, and it was patented.

      CDMA was patented.

      It's how tech advances.

      1. Kabukiwookie

        Re: Patenting is wot appens, innit

        It's how tech advances.


        Most innovation is done by individuals and universities. Corporations prefer to have tax payers to pay for most of their reaearch, then make the tax payers pay again when these same companies use this research to make their products.

        1. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: Patenting is wot appens, innit

          >Most innovation is done by individuals and universities.

          And it can be argued because (for profit) companies have become overly focused on patents and their enforcement, individual researchers and universities have become much more protective (ie. less open) about their discoveries; until they get the patent...

      2. FeepingCreature Bronze badge

        Re: Patenting is wot appens, innit

        GIF was patented. Fountain codes and Simplex Noise were patented, which is why nobody used them. MP3 was patented, which is why we got Ogg - I guess "nobody could use it, so we made something better" is one way to spell "tech advances". But in software, "patent" usually just means "use the algorithm that this was based on that was not patented, splinter into divergent areas without ability to incorporate improvements, and wait 20 years." Software patents retard progress.

  2. ShadowSystems

    Ban software patents.

    Invalidate them all, erase the database of all current & proposed software patents, & just stop taking applications for any software patent at all.

    If it involves doing it on a computer, drop the application in the shredder, point the applicant at the sign that reads "No Software Patents. Period. Go Away.", and kick them out the door.

    We need to go back to the "If you can't bring in a physical working model of your idea, you don't get to patent it." style of patents.

    Bring in a working prototype, pay the application fee, leave the blueprints & model with the patent office, at which point the office goes through their records to determine if prior art exists. If not, you get the patent, if it does, you get a copy of the patent that covers "your" invention.

    If your patent involves doing it on a computer, go stick your head in a pig.

    I know this won't make me very popular among a bunch of coders, but if you stop to think of what you could do if folks like Alphabet, Apple, Ebay, Microsoft, Paypal, FaceBook, TicToc, etal couldn't use software patents to bankrupt you with, couldn't use threats of lawsuits because your code somehow violates some obscenely obscure software patent that was only granted yesterday, or otherwise screw you over because you dared to use some code library that you & others have been using for free for decades but that has recently been gobbled up by the beheamoth & is now no longer free to use.

    Yes it means they can rip off your code, but that works both ways so go grab a copy of the Windows source code, rewrite it to be faster, better, less buggy, more secure, & all around a better product, change the name to something like "Windows That Doesn't Suck(TM)", and beat them at their own game.


    1. Notas Badoff

      Re: Ban software patents.

      <mumble>ty years ago my boss asked for an explanation of how I did something (at the time) miraculous. When he understood the 'trick' he exclaimed "that's patentable!!" I said it was obvious, given some thought. He said "you should!" I said no. We parted, both shaking our heads.

      Just because it's 'genius' to you simply because you haven't thought much about it yet, doesn't mean it's non-obvious. Patents ought to be reserved for *actual* innovation that advances the art. Too many patents are merely X.X.1+ version increments.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Ban software patents.

        I knocked up some blindingly obvious code in a few hours and then had 6 months of my life wasted while the company patented it.

        I must track a mates mate who I met on holiday who had just received several million dollars to develop something he had a provisional patent on. I demanded he bought me drinks all holiday as I'd been using an open source version of it for 12 years or so.

        As Notas says:"Just because it's 'genius' to you simply because you haven't thought much about it yet, doesn't mean it's non-obvious." and I would add "And you probably missed the 101 software lectures where this was covered in the 60s."

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: Ban software patents.

      SOME software patents are legit in my opinion, but they should be VERY SPECIFIC. Blanket patent of an algorithm: NO. Just No.

      and rANS probably has a *LOT* of PRIOR ART, rendering their claims INVALID.

      If Micros~1 does the right thing, they'll protect rANS by giving the patent to a non-profit or other group that grants royalty free licensing (thus using the patent to PREVENT PATENT TROLLS from, well, TROLLING their patent lawsuits).

      Patents are supposed to be VERY specific. They need to include a precise definition of what the claims are and how they are unique. You might be able to patent a 'for' loop for a VERY specifioc thing, maybe calculating prime numbers (let's say). But the generic for loop should NOT be patentable. And the same goes for ENCODING.

      And, THEN, they have to be DEFENDABLE or they are WORTHLESS.

      And nothing invalidates a patent claim like PRIOR ART.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Ban software patents.

        And nothing validates an invalid patent claim like a massive bank account.

        Protection money nothing more.

        1. Robert Jenkins

          Re: Ban software patents.


          They are now "Protection of extortive claims", not "Protection of innovative claims".

      2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Re: Ban software patents.

        The existence of PRIOR ART should have prevented the award of the patent in the first place. But the US patent system has been issuing such patents for years. The problem is that you then have to litigate to get the patent withdrawn.

        In many jurisdictions software patents are not possible but the importance of the US economy and the tendency for US extra-terratoriality means that the rest of the world tends to live in fear of a district court in the US boondocks. This is a drag on innovation, development and commerce.

        But the underlying problem is that all software patents are essentially the expressions of mathematical formulae, which are not patentable.

        1. DevOpsTimothyC

          Re: Ban software patents.

          The existence of PRIOR ART should have prevented the award of the patent in the first place. But the US patent system has been issuing such patents for years. The problem is that you then have to litigate to get the patent withdrawn.

          I'm surprised that the larger companies haven't lobbied for "The patent office who issued the patitent where prior art exists has to pickup the legal fees"

          Same should apply when work is clearly a derivitave

          1. Roland6 Silver badge

            Re: Ban software patents.

            From the article it would seem both JPEG XL and CRAM are prior art and therefore the relevant committees need to simply go public to make such claim (and inform non-US patent offices of the obviousness of the MS US patent...), if they want to be kind, they can give MS 30 days in which to respond.

            MS are going to have fun defending their patent as I suspect whatever MS claims to be "their invention" is obvious to someone skilled in the relevant fields.

        2. Robert 22

          Re: Ban software patents.

          I understand that in the US , the Patent Office has to generate revenues to cover operating costs, so nobody has an incentive to reject a patent application as its acceptance would generate a fee for the patent office. On top of this, the staff are under pressure to process patents with a minimal amount of time. So they search through the patent database, and if they don't see something the same, the application gets accepted. Not surprisingly, questionable patents easi9ly get through the system.

          1. JulieM Silver badge

            Re: Ban software patents.

            This is completely the wrong way around. There should be a presumption of non-novelty and obviety, and it should be for the applicant to show beyond reasonable doubt that their physical prototype is new and non-obvious. Then the patent office should decide on a fair royalty amount; which might be nil if the invention is sufficiently important to need widespread adoption.

            1. Charles 9

              Re: Ban software patents.

              If you raise the bar too high and create an "impossible" standard, people don't see the point and start to squirrel, meaning everything remains Trade Secrets and nothing goes into the public domain anymore (remember, the tradeoff of patents is that inventions become public domain after the terms expire).

            2. doublelayer Silver badge

              Re: Ban software patents.

              You were going so well. I was nodding in agreement. Then "Then the patent office should decide on a fair royalty amount; which might be nil if the invention is sufficiently important to need widespread adoption."

              About that, no. The patent office isn't there to take inventions and push their adoption. They shouldn't be responsible for deciding how a patent that you've already acknowledged is valid by the point they're doing this can be used. If you do that, nobody will apply for patents anymore because you've given some examiner, the same people who already can't tell the stupid applications from real inventions, the power to declare your invention public property and negate any purpose. Why would anyone spend the time and money making a patent application if that was going to happen to them?

              Patent protection exists for a reason, and if you have real patents, it works. The reason is that people will get the protections of the patent, allowing them to be rewarded for inventing things, but then it becomes public knowledge and people can copy it when the time runs out. If you don't have the reward part, then inventors won't bother applying or telling people how it works. Some inventions will be reverse-engineered sooner, but some others will never be disclosed.

      3. LybsterRoy Silver badge

        Re: Ban software patents.


        I have to ask. Do you have your keyboard patented? I mean it can't just be you pressing the caps lock can it?

      4. Stork Silver badge

        Re: Ban software patents.

        Part of the problem here is the (US) tendency to grant the patent and leave it to the courts.

        1. ScrappyLaptop2

          Re: Ban software patents.

          We like corporations the best here in the United States, at least if you look at our laws and consider who they benefit most. And the bigger the corporation, the better we like them, because they tend to have more lobbyists, and more lobbyists means a more profitable Congress. Microsoft is a big corporation, and contracts with at least 24 lobbying firms.

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Ban software patents.

      "if prior art exists."

      I found out the other days that there may be a TV series made of Heinleins Stranger In A Strange Land. On my search through the interwebs to find out more, I noticed that some guy tried to patent the waterbed back in the 60's. He was refused a patent based on the description in Heinlein's novel being detailed enough to be classed as prior art. How times have changed :-)

      1. Stork Silver badge

        Re: Ban software patents.

        Even better: a Danish engineer invented a method of raising sunken ships by filling them with styrofoam balls. Patent application was rejected by the Dutch as a certain cartoon duck had used a very similar method, just with ping pong balls. (In Danish)

        1. Richard 12 Silver badge

          Re: Ban software patents.

          I read a book where they raise the Titanic that way, published before the found the wreck (the author thought it was in one piece)

          So yeah, the balls aren't an inventive step. Getting them down there and into the wreck on the other hand...

          1. Tom 7 Silver badge

            Re: Ban software patents.

            You can get them down easily - the trouble is they would be crushed! The pressure there is 400 times atmospheric so the lift would be around 1/400 of what it is at the surface and the balls would all pop out through holes long before you got enough in to provide the lift.

          2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
            Thumb Up

            Re: Ban software patents.

            The Ghost From The Grand Banks, Arthur C. Clarke, 1990 :-)

            (and IIRC, they used hollow glass beads because of the pressure)

        2. JakeMS

          Re: Ban software patents.

          That and mythbusters had previously - on public tv - proved that you could do such a thing with ping-pong balls around 2004.

          So it's already well established that you just need to have some balls to lift a ship.

          1. Stork Silver badge

            Re: Ban software patents.

            The styrofoam was used in 1964. The cartoon from 1949, and even pumped the ping pong balls down. I suggest to do a Google translate of the article if your Danish is a bit uncertain

            1. JakeMS

              Re: Ban software patents.

              That's what mythbusters were trying to do, take the usage from the cartoon (and other sources) and prove whether or not it could really be done, they weren't trying to say they came up with the idea. So they literally pumped ping-pong balls into a sunken boat to see if they could lift it (they did).

              I miss mythbusters, it was a good and entertaining show. Blowing stuff up "for science" was always fun to see. How do you get dried cement out of a cement truck? Blow it up with high power explosives of course! Then just say "It's for science!" :-D

              As for my danish.. yeah.. uncertain is not the word I'd use, more like "Non-existent" is what I'll go with as I've never studied it.

              1. logicalextreme

                Re: Ban software patents.

                I started watching the lot of them after hearing enough references to it to know it was my kind of thing, but gave up after about four episodes due to the format and, mostly, the sheer amount of filler. If somebody could distill the ~10 minutes of content per episode from all the rest of the stuff that was there purely to help them limp up to the next ad break, and also defragment the different myths in each episode so that it's not like watching fucking Memento, I'd give it another shot.

    4. John Robson Silver badge

      Re: Ban software patents.

      "We need to go back to the "If you can't bring in a physical working model of your idea, you don't get to patent it." style of patents."

      Mostly - the blueprints probably, but some working prototypes are just too expensive for a smaller inventor to build.

      If I come up with a likely method to provide a warp drive, or an on-earth teleporter, or whatever takes your fancy from SciFi... then I may well not have the resources to produce a working version.

      Should I be able to protect my invention?

      Could you reasonably say that you can register a pending patent with blueprints, but an actual patent needs a working prototype?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Ban software patents.

        In 18th century UK, a group of people formed a society that encouraged the application of new ideas rather than just talk about them, and they award monetary prizes to inventors who didn't seek patent protection. (Many years later, their successors were instrumental in developing the concept of national exam boards whereby young people were able to prove their own education and not be judged solely on the particular establishment they had been able to attend.)

        IMHO, patents should only be awarded where they protect investment in turning a new/novel idea into a practical application - and the reward commensurate with the scale of investment. Thus, patents are fine for developments such as new drugs, where the research and proving costs are extensive, but not for just coming up with a new idea. And prior art should be an automatic bar on a patent.

      2. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: Ban software patents.

        >Could you reasonably say that you can register a pending patent with blueprints, but an actual patent needs a working prototype?

        In my youth I remember seeing many things carrying the warning "patents pending", which would seem to indicate there was a time when it was normal to apply for a patent - to set a date in time, and go into production etc.

        1. matjaggard

          Re: Ban software patents.

          That's still the norm in sensible countries (eg Europe) where software patents are almost completely banned (if I recall correctly you have to show a real life, non-computer application of an algorithm for it to be patentable?) and the patent offices properly investigate before granting.

        2. Justthefacts Silver badge

          Re: Ban software patents.

          That was partly due to the *even more bonkers* previous US system of First to Invent vs First to File.

          Under First to Invent, the patent date is considered to be the date you wrote your thoughts into your lab book, rather than when you submitted. The US changed this to match the rest of the world in 2011.

          First to Invent was intended to avoid the case that the invention went to whoever had the faster lawyer. But the perverse incentive was this: patents are very expensive to get granted, and crucially you don’t know if the product of what you are filing has any commercial value. Almost always you get left with an expensive piece of paper and no revenue stream to pay for it. So almost all products were patent trolls: you write it in your logbook, and file a *request* which costs you £60, even today. And you don’t proceed any further. At some later time, *if* the product is successful and *if* someone tries to copy it, you have the date in your logbook, and you file properly and sue.

          First To Invent was the ultimate patent troll mechanism.

      3. Barrie Shepherd

        Re: Ban software patents.

        "If I come up with a likely method to provide a warp drive, or an on-earth teleporter, or whatever takes your fancy from SciFi... then I may well not have the resources to produce a working version."

        British Rail was in the same position 'back in the day';

      4. Charles 9

        Re: Ban software patents.

        Too late. Microchips are physical and can implement logical algorithms.

        What you need is to alter patent terms based on industry. While slow-moving industries like medicine and mechanics have use for longer patents, fast-moving industries like electronics need shorter terms like, say, three years.

        Remember, this also means the methods become public domain afterward. And if shortened terms encourage squirrelling, so will aboloshing nonphysical patents.

        1. Justthefacts Silver badge

          Re: Ban software patents.

          The squirrelling point is key.

          My small business is technical, and physical, and we don’t patent anything. It’s all just trade secret. My reason is threefold:

          #1 If we patent, we disclose. Bigger companies would just copy and worry about the legal fallout later. In fact, they’d probably have better lawyers who would patent something adjacent, and *we* would end up infringing *them*.

          #2 The biggest moat we have, is that most potential competitors don’t realise there is a technology here to hide. We have a small market manufacturing complex stuff, to ridiculous specs. Our customers don’t know or care how we do it. Our competitors just lose a few medium-size contracts to a company in the U.K.

          #3 Eventually other companies *will* catch on and develop their own tech. But we’re still the same people who developed the tech the first time, and we aren’t going to stop innovating, In five years time, our tech will be five years better. If it isn’t, we will die anyway, and will deserve to.

          I’m not alone in this. Musk has stated exactly the same reasons why Tesla doesn’t patent.

          Look at #2. The reason why companies like Ford didn’t copy Tesla straight out of the gate in 2005 is because they thought he was stupid, and there was no market. Why would you invest billions to make a better milk-float? It’s not like the concept of electric cars didn’t exist. That is what they thought it would be.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ban software patents.

      The purpose of a patent is to protect someone's effort and investment from theft; presumably if you spent money and time building a chair or painting a picture, you wouldn't want just anyone to be able to walk off with it. IP provides the same protection for efforts that produce non-physical results that are typically even easier to walk off with if there's no protection.

      The problem then is not with the principle of IP as such but perhaps the competency of the USPTO in particular in evaluating whether an idea constitutes an invention - but the solution is not simply excluding inventions in software just because you want to walk off with them.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Ban software patents.

        What it does is prevents people from having the same idea. That is not protecting your work that is actively restricting other people.

        1. Charles 9

          Re: Ban software patents.

          And that's a bad thing? Perhaps it'll encourage people to have different ideas instead. What's wrong with a little variety?

          A better idea would be to shorten nonphysical patents to just a few years. Since expired patents become public domain, this would expand the knowledge pool two ways.

    6. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Ban software patents.

      No need to be so extreme, simply judge them using the same standards as the publication of research papers: require peer review by at least 3 experts in the art. Naturally, the cost of this can be added to the cost of the patent - if the patent really is such a groundbreaking invention in need of patient protection, it will more than recover the additional costs.

      1. Charles 9

        Re: Ban software patents.

        Those experts will probably be bribed, then. See "regulatory capture". And raising the cost prices out the little guy, meaning the corporate bigwigs with their deep pockets can rule the roost.

    7. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ban software patents.

      Software patents don't exist in the UK or the EU

      1. Justthefacts Silver badge

        Re: Ban software patents.

        That’s a myth, Software patents *do* exist in both EU and U.K.

        Where people get confused is that you can’t patent software itself…..but then you can’t do that in the US either. It’s *copyrights* for (effectively) the lines of code. What you *can* patent is anything “technical” which means either running a physical machine, or an algorithm to process data, or an algorithm which makes the computer more efficient. The thing you *can’t* patent in the U.K. is a “business process”.

  3. Gene Cash Silver badge

    Why the hell isn't the existing code prior art?

    I don't get it. If "[Microsoft's patent] looks like just the description of the standard algorithm" then the standard algorithm should be prior art, should it not?

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Why the hell isn't the existing code prior art?

      And if you've got more money to spend than Microsoft you might be able to prove it.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Why the hell isn't the existing code prior art?

        The US Patent System relies on the income from granting as many patents as possible,

        They also rely on the notoriously slow and arcane US legal system to sort out the wheat from the chaff.

        If you have a few tens of millions and ten years of your life to spare then by all means challenge the patents and be prepared to fight the phalanx of highly-priced lawyers that MS will march into the courtroom just to swat your claim to the kerb.

        That aside, the actual inventor may have a legal case against the people named in the patent application for forgery and also for submitting a legal document knowing that it contained falsehoods.

        We need a test case for this. Once the precedent has been set then perhaps MS might think again. There again, they might just follow the example of No 45 and ignore all court rulings.

    2. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Why the hell isn't the existing code prior art?

      It depends what the patent does differently. Since it's an extension, it probably has most of the original algorithm in it, just as you can patent an invention that contains within it someone else's invention as a component. The definitional question will be whether whatever Microsoft added to it is a new invention. The original author doesn't see much that's new in it, and I'm inclined to think they would recognize a change, but they too might be biased. Of course, the decision about whether there is something new is not left up to the original creator or even the people at Microsoft who think they made something new, it's left up to a patent examiner who probably doesn't understand either, which is why we have so many crap patents out there. I have rarely seen a software patent that seemed at all plausible, but occasionally something will near that bar. I would favor a significantly more stringent process for obtaining a patent, but don't expect that to happen any time soon.

      1. Charles 9

        Re: Why the hell isn't the existing code prior art?

        Especially with the USPTO being starved to death by conservative policies against nigh anything government.

  4. Blackjack Silver badge

    Repeat after me, patent law, at least in the USA, is insane.

    1. Griffo

      Always been so

      The day they granted the infamous patent for a TV guide in a grid format, they should have been disbanded.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Always been so

        El Reg need to be careful... someone tried patenting a downloadable newspaper

    2. nijam Silver badge

      > Repeat after me...

      No-one is allowed to repeat it, it's patented.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    All in all, I'd say the patent systems of the world are an abject failure for the IT industry. The reviewers rarely understand what they're reviewing, if they do, they don't have or know how to find prior art (and don't have the time for it), and the result is shoddy quality patents that grant protectioins and abuse privileges for the most trivial of changes to well-known algorithms and approaches.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Just because the US patent system is fucked, doesn't mean everyone else's is.

      1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        I'm afraid it does, because multinational companies can be sued in the US and other patent bodies tend to respect US patents. It's a slow acting poison, but eventually the damage is done everywhere.

        1. matjaggard

          That's true but not quite the same. The non-US patent systems could be perfect and still companies could be sued in the US but at least they would be perfect.

          1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

            That's the point I was making, though I'd never describe any of them as perfect. The US system is flawed by design because it benefits directly from granting patents and by implementation due to the Munro doctrine and US extraterratoriality. This may change over time given the number of patents that China now has on key areas of technology; along with its own myriad bogus patents created by its own flawed system. Once a few US companies have been successfully sued, and this is probably only a matter of time, then there might be a move for a more cooperative system over time. Banning products is only going to give temporary relief there now that China has both the market size and the technological sophistication to drive new standards forward.

  6. Lorribot

    "I don't know what to do with it – [Microsoft's patent] looks like just the description of the standard algorithm," In that case it is pre-existing work and the patent should be thrown out stop whinging and start the process

    If it isn't but affect freedoms of stuff then the system is likely broken and lets face it the US patent system has very little credibility after it allowed Apple to patent the shape of a tablet amongst many other stupid patents.

    Oh and by the way just because the US patent office say yes those covering the other 95% of the worlds population may not agree.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "the US patent system has very little credibility after it allowed Apple to patent the shape of a tablet amongst many other stupid patents."

      That's because the US confusingly call something a "design patent" that's quite different from an actual patent. They are non-renewable and last for 15 years.

    2. gnasher729 Silver badge

      If you think that Apple received a design patent for "rounded corners" then you are very confused. First, design patents are not patents. Second, you can't get a design patent for rounded corners. You get a design patent for a complete design, of which rounded corners can be one part. Interestingly, Samsung also had design patents for devices with rounded corners at exactly the same time. But for whatever reasons, Samsung then built devices that matched Apple's design patents, instead of building devices that matched their own device patents.

      And then Samsung brought a lawyer to court who was shown an Apple tablet and a Samsung tablet and couldn't pick out which one was which... Which actually didn't mean much except it demonstrated they hired a lawyer who went to court embarrassingly badly unprepared.

      1. captain veg Silver badge

        What is "design patents are not patents" supposed to mean? Is there another kind?


        1. skwdenyer

          In the U.K., we have a “Registered Design” which serves a similar purpose.

          A “Design Patent” applies only to the specific article described. A general patent protects an idea and multiple embodiments of it.

      2. Proton_badger

        Indeed and apart from the Samsung device physically looking extremely similar, so did the packaging it came in, the icons on the screen and it didn't help they had emails discussing in detail how to

        copy Apple's designs.

        It is great Samsung got slapped for it because they then found their own design language and the resulting variety in Smartphones is a benefit to us all.

        Design patents are very common and are usually very specific, it's something the entire industry does and there was nothing unusual about Apples.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    ....and maybe you remember "Evangelism is War", James Plamondon, Microsoft, January 11 2000?


    ...Yup.....twenty two years and the leopard has not changed its spots!

    Why am I not surprised?

    1. Claverhouse Silver badge

      Re: Leopard....Spots......

      Amazing document.

      And quite as nutty 'evangelism' as seen anywhere in the last 5000 years.


      [ Of course Americans are less culturally suspicious of the word or concept. ]

      1. Robert Grant

        Re: Leopard....Spots......

        Americans are the reason anyone is suspicious of it. And you probably mean "Evangelical".

  8. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    A contradiction in terms

    "the Open Invention Network (OIN, a for-profit industry-controlled consortium) "

    The term Open used in the name of a for-profit company should be banned, pure and simple.

    1. A. Coatsworth Silver badge

      Re: A contradiction in terms

      Should change their name to People's Democratic Republic of Invention

      Makes as much sense

    2. gerryg

      Not really

      They are doing the job that the USPTO failed to do.

      They can't change the law but they can create tit-for-tat. It's free to join. As they say:

      "With 3,600+ members from more than 150 countries, we’re the largest patent non-aggression community in history. Together, we support freedom of action in Linux as a key element of Open Source & help members reduce patent risks."

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The cnuts are at it again

    A leopard never changes its spots.

  10. mark l 2 Silver badge

    What is needed if the US wants to carry on issuing software patents is they need to set up a patent tribunal, so for a nominal fee of say $100 dollars you can challenge the patent for validity, prior art etc.

    None of this court room and lawyer BS that only benefits those billion dollar corps and their lawyers and disadvantages the small guy.

    1. prh99

      There is the post-grant review system that was created by the America Invents Act of 2011. You can submit prior art etc as evidence that patent should be invalidated up to 9 months after it was granted.

      1. Rob F

        I didn't know that

        Quite a thorough process

  11. fidodogbreath

    Last sentence was longer than necessary

    These situations show the real downsides of allowing Big Tech to police themselves on their bad patent policies.

    There are no upsides of allowing Big Tech to police themselves on anything, ever, full stop.

  12. captain veg Silver badge

    > Jon Sneyers, senior image researcher at Cloudinary and editor of the JPEG XL spec, told The Register in an email message, "As far as I know, this patent doesn't affect JPEG XL. At least Microsoft has not declared to ISO that it does, even though they have had plenty of time to do so if they thought it did, and Microsoft is participating in JPEG so they are aware of the technology used in JPEG XL.

    I imagine that this is the same Microsoft that participated in the formulation of the standard CSS box model and then implemented something completely different in its (then dominant) Internet Explorer browser.


    1. MrBanana

      And the crap they pulled with the Open Document Format standard being hijacked for their own means.

  13. Mathman

    How to handle patents

    The practical approach to handle these kind of situations is:

    If you are aware of prior art that invalidates the patent, then ignore it and continue with your implementation. If the lawyers send a letter then you reply by pointing out the prior art. They will need to respond by defending the novelty of their patent and if it is clear cut, will avoid taking it further and having their patent overturned. This simply requires an exchange of carefully worded letters and need not be expensive.

    If your argument is weak you will need to license the patent at a fair price. This can not be set artificially high and for a business is generally a fairly small proportion of profits. If it's hurting too much then look for a workaround carefully examining exactly the claims in the patent. There's usually another way given a little time (meanwhile you license and pay what you owe).

    The idea that big companies can just win because they have clever lawyers is bunkum. They have a lot of patents to defend and a finite budget - especially if you are essentially "small fry".

    Big companies use patents to defend themselves when entering a market with other big companies.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just copying TV

    Just had a nostalgic watch of the 1966 film "Thunderbirds are Go" I sometimes wonder where we would now be if Gerry Anderson had patented all his inventions - I'm old enough to remember watching Twizzle and Torchy, through Four Feather Falls, Supercar, Fireball XL5, and Stingray to Thunderbirds (Captain Scarlet onwards didn't really grab my viewing attention back then). The same could be said of Star Trek gadgetry and many other sci-fi books and films. Gerry Anderson comes to the fore for me because he put so many futuristic, but eventually achievable, ideas on our TVs. Ideas that can only become reality as our technology catches up.

    1. that one in the corner Silver badge

      Re: Just copying TV

      I remember reading TV21 comic and being continually amazed at the idea of the spy (I forget the character's name) who opened his briefcase and switched on the screen in the lid. "How can you make a telly like that, it must be less than an inch thick and 18 inches across! Nah, impossible."

      1. Charles 9

        Re: Just copying TV

        It kinda was at the time because cathode ray tubes required a certain mininum rigid depth to work, and the liquid crystal display, to say nothing of fast-responding crystals and color-filtering elements, were still some distance off.

        1. MrBanana

          Re: Just copying TV

          Well yes. But your true visionary sees way beyond the current limitations and postulates a what if scenario that could well become reality. I fondly remember BBC Tomorrow's World in the 1970s and err, re-usable wall paper - that'll be a thing surely. Iron-on paint anyone? My coat's the one with the Sinclair C5 keys in the pocket.

  15. Rol

    The whole world knows a patent issued in America isn't worth shit.

    The American method is to issue patents left right and centre and let the lawyers fight it out in court. As I've said before, they should just issue them out at petrol stations and grocery stores.

    Thank God this model of help feed a lawyer has not been rolled out in the UK, yet, where a patent reflects the time and effort put in to confirm its integrity and worthiness, and is generally not worth challenging in court, as the patent office earns their fee.

  16. martinusher Silver badge

    "Patent free" is a big mistake

    Although publishing might put an idea into the public domain as prior art it doesn't reckon with the ingenuity of humans to devise ways around it. The only safe route is to patent the idea and then put the patent in the public domain.

    1. Charles 9

      Re: "Patent free" is a big mistake

      No, that's not safe, either, because people with better lawyers will just try to find ways around the patents themselves...

  17. Unbelievable!

    When the patent concept was envisioned, they had no idea of today's technology

    For me, software patent related laws (only) should be completely abolished and rewritten with RFC every step of the way.

    As I see it now, it's akin to protecting 'the air inside' of an especially designed balloon, instead of protecting the balloon design.

    anyway, it's far too complicated.

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