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Microsoft Guilty of Patent Thing (Rant)

And no more appealing this one, that came down from the Supreme Court. Microsoft fought this all the way to Washington. Ironically, in this case, it was the other guy in possession of the patent, with Microsoft complaining that the patent being enforced was too flimsy. So if you think about it, even though they’re $290m in the hole, maybe they took a dive.

That was over some Word XML thing, the DOCX format, not phones, but even if it somehow hurts their enterprise operations, that’s okay because Microsoft’s doing a bang-up job in the mobile market, really making a killing and getting the hang of it. For every dollar, if any, Microsoft earns from Windows Phone, they earn many more dollars off the OEMs who keep choosing Android and don’t want to play chicken with Microsoft’s douchebag-in-chief Horacio Gutiérrez (yes, relax, Mr. Gutiérrez’s headshot is available in both 72 and 300dpi, just be sure to copy/paste the é when writing nice things about him). Also, Microsoft is making less and less cash from their great Windows Phone work over time, whereas the opposite is true with their legal department’s escalating success with Android.

Makes it really easy to be proud to own your WP, doesn’t it, that the platform has been nowhere near as successful as bullying companies who are drawn to the competition, in spite of elevated legal vulnerability. Well okay, maybe it does if you tell yourself the patents are legit, that Microsoft contributed to the world with their R&D (and not their paperwork footwork at hotshot lawyers), so to protect innovation or whatever they certainly should go all out suing and shaking people down trying to steal their work, while infringing on a patent or two along the way. Something like that? If you ask me, much of their R&D has been put into learning just how flagrantly anticompetitive you can be without getting your wrists slapped too hard.

Doesn’t say much, does it, that in spite of these aggressive efforts, and they’ve been prolific, to make anyone flirting with Google feel very vulnerable to Microsoft, a legal and financial liability, or making them commit to paying Microsoft millions, that they continue to avoid Windows Phone.

So they want $15 a device from Samsung, up from their $5 from HTC. Getting greedy, Samsung sells one of these things every second, 500 thousand of them from all OEMs being activated each day. I know a lot of you are big fans of Microsoft suing everybody who wants to get involved with Android, and that’s great you’ll tell me, “the company has a right to protect their IP / blame the government / everybody’s doing it” (except Google, they’ve never done this, suing for patent infringement, too busy making new things). But are you even aware, when you flame people like me who despise this, of the patents Microsoft is using to shake down Barnes & Noble and others? No, right? Not really? Okay well let me break them down for you. Here’s this golden innovation from Microsoft that we should all congratulate them and their legal team for vigorously defending:

  • Patent 5,778,372, “Remote retrieval and display management of electronic document with incorporated images.” In other words the functions of Netscape Navigator and NCSA Mosaic. I’d say prior art but I forgot the timeline on which came first. They patented the web browser. Why not sue Google and Mozilla a long time ago? Guess they figured it was a weak patent and they’d better save it to fluff up their shakedown operations.
  • Patent 6,339,780, “A method of remotely browsing an electronic document residing at a remote site on a computer network and specifying a background image which is to be displayed with the electronic document superimposed thereon comprising in response to a user’s request to browse to the electronic document.”

So a web browser that manages to display text or whatever media it manages to download before it finishes downloading the background image without waiting for the background image to download before displaying the text first. What? Wouldn’t you have to go out of your way programming more to get a browser not to do that? Really? Only would occur to Microsoft to patent that. Did they also patent a computer screen displaying stuff upon turning on the computer even before the entire computer has finished booting? Might as well, could sue everybody (though they’d probably focus on Android and maybe Chrome OS – the OEMs that is, not Google).

Did you get that? They patented the “display of a webpage’s content before the background image is received” and they are using that to extort people into giving them money in order to conduct business with other people.

To be fair, a few more stupid patents are in play:

  • Patent 5,889,522, “System provided child window controls,” or popup dialogs. Press OK to keep dreaming that progress will be made in becoming a contender in the smartphone market on Windows Phone’s own merits rather than making bank by fronting the money for a consortium of enemies of Google to buy Nortel’s portfolio on the understanding that they have a cease fire between them but leaving Google to be fair game. That’s what Microsoft does you know, they pay enemies of Google, or people trying to capitalize on Google,  behind the scenes to hurt Google. Man to man, suing Google directly? Nothing. Why not?
  • Patent 6,891,551, “Selecting handles in editing electronic documents .. A computer system and method for highlighting .. select a larger or smaller portion of data or number of items,” or highlighting. Seriously, highlighting? That’s why you’re threatening everyone to sign a non disclosure so you can threaten them more into just paying up whatever you want? Highlighting! Microsoft was the first to figure out dragging and inverting colors? Could you even do that in DOS or was that just an Apple and X thing?
  • Patent 6,957,233, “A system and method for capturing annotations for a non-modifiable document,” or saving data to something writeable that is associated with something read-only. Prior art: fucking post it notes. Damnit.

Correct me if I missed any, though feel free to man up and admit that at least five of those are bullshit patents. Google calls these, politely, “questionable patents.” And regarding such things, Google says, “Questionable patents do not foster innovation. Instead, they block and impair others from innovating.” Yes, they may increase shareholder wealth of Microsoft, which is the name of the game, but not only does Microsoft not contribute *any* utility to the world, they stifle others from doing that.

This may be a part of a pervasive pattern of patent misuse of Microsoft’s MO. This activity, particularly what B&N has claimed they did, sounds a lot like extortion (and in B&N’s case, also fraud). Most importantly, it clearly goes against the spirit of Bill Gates. And even if I’m wrong about that legally, or there’s not enough evidence or not enough OEMs to stand together to fight back, it’s shameful, it’s shameful and you know it, you.

And now HTC, Amazon, Wistron, Onkyo, Velocity and General Dynamics Itronix have caved, Samsung appears to be trying to talk Microsoft down a few bucks and may cave, though Motorola, Barnes and Noble, Invetec and Foxconn, all in the Android game and approached by Microsoft’s snakes, still have their balls intact. They even went after TomTom for Linux friendliness and cornered them into a deal. Hopefully our nation’s highest court calling Microsoft out on patent shenanigans will give these guys some testosterone to keep fighting. If only Windows Phone weren’t a flop, then maybe Microsoft would reallocate these resources to contributing to the world. Another reason to root for Windows Phone, of which I am in fact a fan, in spite of how difficult the shakedowns are making it.

Oh and HTC? F you too for bending over, leading the way. Samsung, don’t you dare sign anything. Hopefully the feds will take note of this ruling and keep Microsoft’s hands off those Nortel patents. That would really make my day.

That’s it I’m done.

Doug Simmons

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