Clarifying Microsoft’s RSS-related Patents

Before I prattle on about this, I’d like to make it clear that this is my personal blog.  I speak for myself here, not the company I work for, so please don’t mistake my personal ramblings for company policy.  If I had that kind of clout, every day would be “free pizza and beer day” at work.

Anyway, the uncovering of Microsoft’s RSS-related patent applications generated a lot of buzz yesterday, some of it worthwhile but much of it over-the-top.  I’ll say it again: they’re not trying to patent RSS.  Instead, they’re trying to patent two applications of RSS:

  1. Content syndication platform: describes the Windows RSS Platform, which is built into IE7/Vista and was announced at Gnomedex 2005 three days after the patent was filed.  This platform exposes an API which enables applications to access the user’s shared feed subscriptions, providing object-oriented methods for reading, adding, deleting and updating feeds regardless of their format.
  2. Finding and consuming web subscriptions in a web browser: describes an API and user interface for discovering and exposing RSS feeds to other applications (specifically web browsers).

So while they’re not trying to patent RSS, they are trying to patent obvious inventions for which there’s plenty of prior art.   Assuming that the inventors of that prior art file the necessary citations, I’d be surprised to see these patents granted (and if they are granted, expect to see plenty of civil disobedience amongst developers of RSS-enabled applications).

To me, the bottom line isn’t that these patents prove that Microsoft is evil: instead, they illustrate how screwed up our patent system is.  I still believe these are defensive patents (Googling for microsoft patent infringement shows why this is necessary) – but like Dave Winer, I’d like to see Microsoft pass the acid test before I’m willing to say that with any certainty.

Update: Niall Kennedy has an in-depth analysis of Microsoft’s syndication platform patent application.

Update #2: Microsoft’s Sean Lyndersay chimes in.

7 thoughts on “Clarifying Microsoft’s RSS-related Patents

  1. “Niall Kennedy has an in-depth analysis of Microsoft’s syndication platform patent application.”
    No, it is *not* an “in-depth analysis”… For pity’s sake what is the matter with you comp.sci. / programmer bods? If we computing amateurs, who learn how to program our computers because we like programming, or because it is useful or necessary for our work that we do so, can bone up on patent law sufficiently to know how to read and interpret a patent properly, (and grok enough patent system economics and history to know why it is outrageous that we have to do so in the first place), why on earth can’t you pros do the same?

  2. As an entreprenuer using RSS, I find the PR about RSS the most valuable part. Any patent and subsequent buzz is great for RSS. Bringing RSS to the masses has been a blog subject for awhile now….so it’s great to see the transition.

  3. “OK, plh, where is your insightful, in-depth analysis?”
    If you want to commission one, I suggest you ask a patent professional. In the meantime, if you want to know why I got a little upset ;-) with Niall Kennedy’s choice of title for his blog entry (and all the links to it), I suggest you read this walk-through of a patent analysis:
    A patent is known by its claims – especially the independent ones – and the core of any patent analysis is an interpretation of those claims. Not only does Kennedy’s “analysis” not even mention the claims, let alone interpret them, when he concludes, “I believe parts of Microsoft’s patent application are new and interesting (and possible inventions)”, those “worthy of a patent” parts he has identified are to be found only in the description sections he references!

  4. Dave, I didn’t remove that link, so thanks for letting me know it was gone. My best guess is that TypePad reverted to the older post for some reason. Anyway, I’ve added it back.

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