Microsoft’s "Content syndication platform" Patent

Dave Winer links to a US Patent Application filed by Microsoft in 2005 regarding the Windows RSS Platform.  Here’s the abstract:

“A content syndication platform, such as a web content syndication platform, manages, organizes and makes available for consumption content that is acquired from the Internet. In at least some embodiments, the platform can acquire and organize web content, and make such content available for consumption by many different types of applications. These applications may or may not necessarily understand the particular syndication format. An application program interface (API) exposes an object model which allows applications and users to easily accomplish many different tasks such as creating, reading, updating, deleting feeds and the like.”

Wow.  I had no idea Microsoft invented all that – I could swear some other folks have implemented similar ideas!

But before the geekosphere goes into “patent attack mode,” let’s take a breather and think about why this patent was filed.  For example, quite often companies file patents just to protect themselves from lawsuits.  There are plenty of sleazebags who file patent applications on obvious ideas, and then wait for someone like Microsoft to infringe those patents.  In other words, companies like Microsoft often file patents to prevent having to shell out millions of dollars to predatory lawyers who haven’t invented anything other than a legal pain in the ass.  And beyond the potential monetary loss, a patent lawsuit can mean delaying a technology that’s critical to a company’s success.  Yes, it sucks that the patent process has devolved to such a state, but this is the reality of the environment that today’s businesses have to operate in.

So I’m not going to jump on the “Microsoft is evil” bandwagon about this (yet).  However, Microsoft clearly did not invent all the ideas claimed in this patent, so some clarification would be appreciated from Microsoft’s RSS team (several of whom are listed in the patent as inventors).  Specifically, what was Microsoft’s purpose in filing this patent?  And what exactly did Microsoft really invent here?

Update: Some bloggers apparently think that Microsoft is attempting to patent RSS itself, but that’s not the case.  I don’t agree with Microsoft’s claims, but they’re much narrower than that.  Read the application before posting, folks!

17 thoughts on “Microsoft’s "Content syndication platform" Patent

  1. Dave Winer says, “Today I received a link to a patent granted to Microsoft, where they claim to have invented all this stuff.”
    Dave’s mistaken use of “granted” instead of “application” is sure to fan the flames.
    –rj

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  2. Quite possibly ;-)
    So if I’m writing a financial management program, can I access a Newsgator API that makes it simple to pick up feeds (or whatever) and will Newsgator enable me to generate feeds from the application on my desktop?
    Oh, and I don’t want or need an enterprise server.
    I’m not getting at FeedBurner or Newsgator — I’ve never used either — I’m just starting from a position of ignorance and trying to figure out whether Microsoft’s claim is actually new or whether there is obvious “prior art”.
    In passing, I did think of trying to figure this out from Newsgator white papers. Unfortunately I can’t access them without providing a load of personal information intended to turn me into a sales lead, which is potentially a waste of my time and theirs.
    Also in passing, I notice from Ars Technica that Apple has already started patenting a News feed viewer and News feed browser….
    http://arstechnica.com/journals/microsoft.ars/2006/12/22/6378

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  3. Nick, My guess is Microsoft is just protecting itself against patent trolls and lawsuits.
    I believe Microsoft has no intention of enforcing this patent against anyone, and no intention of collecting royalties on it.
    Microsoft is not pretending that they invented RSS…just protecting itself against potential patent infringement lawsuits from “shell companies” and “patent trolls” who do nothing but sue big companies. Sad to say this is the current state of the patent system.
    You might recall that Microsoft was sued by a shell company called Eolas for a patent on the embedding and invoking of interactive applications, such as plug-ins and applets, in Web browsers, something every Internet application has done for years.
    Google was sued for patent infringement on GoogleTalk. Blackberry was sued, for $612M by NTP. RedHat was sued over Hibernate. All of these patent infringement lawsuits cost millions of dollars to settle. And all of them were about commonly used technologies that were in the public domain for years…until some patent troll popped up and produced an obscure patent.
    Time will tell all, but my guess is this is just a defensive move by Microsoft, and RSS usage and innovation can continue on as before.

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  4. Don, no need to guess. I have no patents on RSS technology, and therefore have imposed no limits on what Microsoft can do with the technology. Will Microsoft reciprocate, and grant me a non-exclusive, perpetual license to use any of their RSS technology in my own products?

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  5. Dave,
    Good question. Did you ask them or did you just assume what the answer would be and judge them on their motivations in absentia?

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  6. A question for Bob:
    A convicted serial killer is found standing next to a dead body holding a bloody knife. What’s your automatic assumption?
    Frankly, who can blame Dave for an automatic assumption about MS’s motivations.

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  7. >But before the geekosphere goes into “patent attack mode,” let’s take a breather and think about why this patent was filed. For example, quite often companies file patents just to protect themselves from lawsuits.
    I’d say that this is a *perfect* explanation as to what’s wrong with the patent process. It’s far more useful for extorting funds than protecting profitability

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  8. > Frankly, who can blame Dave for an automatic
    > assumption about MS’s motivations.
    Well, I will, for starters. I’d expect him to try to find out the truth, based on his considerable knowledge and experience, and vast network of contacts. You expect him to behave like an idiot fanboy. Which of us is paying Dave a compliment?

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  9. “Some bloggers apparently think that Microsoft is attempting to patent RSS itself, but that’s not the case. I don’t agree with Microsoft’s claims, but they’re much narrower than that. Read the application before posting, folks!”
    If you really believe they are “much narrower than that”, you may be able to help Mr. Lyndersay with the little problem I’ve set him in his blog: http://xrl.us/tzuc ;-) As I tried to point out in Jack’s Guardian blog posts, it is at least as stupid to hallucinate inventions that simply aren’t there in the claims of some patent (application), or to pretend specificity, inventiveness and disclosure that is non-existent in them, as it is to /.-ishly misrepresent them and exaggerate their scope.

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  10. “Some bloggers apparently think that Microsoft is attempting to patent RSS itself, but that’s not the case. I don’t agree with Microsoft’s claims, but they’re much narrower than that. Read the application before posting, folks!”
    If you really believe they are “much narrower than that”, you may be able to help Mr. Lyndersay with the little problem I’ve set him in his blog: http://xrl.us/tzuc ;-) As I tried to point out in Jack’s Guardian blog posts, it is at least as stupid to hallucinate inventions that simply aren’t there in the claims of some patent (application), or to pretend specificity, inventiveness and disclosure that is non-existent in them, as it is to /.-ishly misrepresent them and exaggerate their scope.

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  11. > You expect him to behave like an idiot fanboy.
    > Which of us is paying Dave a compliment?
    Ah… thanks for putting words in my mouth, but they ain’t my words. Dave already said he’d tried to find out. I was just pointing out that based on prior ‘activities’ the first assumption one might make about Microsoft’s motivations, is a negative one (I was neither complimenting nor being critical).
    Merry Christmas anyway, Mister Anonymous.

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