Lunchtime IP Musings: one down, 3,808 to go?

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Slashdot today informs me that Microsoft has “retracted their recent controversial patent application”.

[Hands up, everybody who read that sentence and thought “wait, which recent controversial patent application? I’ve lost track…is that the RSS thing or one of the other ones?” ]

So no, it wasn’t the RSS thing, and to be blunt, neither you nor I really care all that much about the specifics of the retracted application, so just follow the link if you’re really all that curious. I’ll still be here when you get back.

Putting aside the contents of the application, then, what strikes me as interesting about this is that the statement regarding the retraction (which came from a member of Microsoft’s research group) contained the phrase “[T]he patent application was a mistake and one that should not have happened.”

As with Microsoft’s game show patent, this makes me suspect that there’s a division of the company that does nothing but walk around the conference rooms, transcribing anything that wasn’t erased from each whiteboard directly on to a patent application.

You see, it’s a bit of a trick to accidentally file for a patent; this doesn’t seem like a “mistake” to me as much as a mis-alignment between Microsoft’s corporate view of research and IP and the view of (at least some of) those doing the research, and that’s pretty scary. Either those doing the work are divorced from the patent application process, or the process though which research/development and legal communicate undervalues or discourages messages like “these new features are direct responses to features available in software that we compete with.”

Microsoft published 3,808 other patent applications in 2005 and 2006 — was this an isolated case, or are there other “accidental” applications still queued up for approval? How much will it cost to fix it if “accidental” patents are granted?

As with the tootsie pop question, I suspect that the world may never know.