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Microsoft Awarded 10,000th Patent

By - Source: Tom's Hardware US | B 32 comments

Regardless if what reputation Microsoft may carry when it comes to the originality of its software, there’s no question that the company brings a lot of technology to both businesses and end users.

Yesterday, Microsoft was proud to announce that it had been awarded its 10,000th U.S. patent. The achievement unlocked is likely a result of the $8 billion a year Microsoft spends on R&D, more than any other company in the industry. Outside the industry, Microsoft ranks fourth among companies receiving the most U.S. patents, with just over 2,000 patents in 2008.

“Most technology companies, Microsoft included, have been increasing their emphasis on IP in recent years, trying to derive greater business value from their intellectual assets,” says Bart Eppenauer, chief patent counsel, who oversees Microsoft’s patent portfolio. “One way to value a patent portfolio is to look at the quantity of patents it contains. Another way is to look at the influence the portfolio has on others.”

There is an argument that, as much as patents protect and reward innovation, it also restricts new implementations and ideas. Microsoft did point out in its announcement that since late 2003, the company shifted “from a defensive posture to a proactive, collaborative one” when it comes to licensing its patented technologies.

“Patents are the currency of innovation,” says Eppenauer. “What we’re seeing more often in the past several years is that patents and IP are now serving as bridges to collaboration through licensing and other technology collaboration. … Let’s face it, the days of the self-contained, go-it-alone company are over. This is especially true during the current economic downturn. Open innovation is more critical than ever in today’s business world.”

The milestone patent is U.S. Patent No. 7,479,950 and Microsoft’s Surface technology. The patent is for a surface to recognize an object that is placed on top of it, which then triggers an associated program or files to open. For example, one could place an associated souvenir from a trip on the surface, which would then start a slideshow of photos collected during travel. Even the orientation or motion of the souvenir could change behavior, such as slideshow speed.

Microsoft also gave the following example as another potential use for the surface technology: “When the teenage son places his keys on a surface computer, the technology recognizes them and automatically brings up sports scores, his playlist and his homework assignment. Later, when mom puts her purse on the surface, the computer can automatically bring up several predetermined items, including her daughter’s soccer game schedule and maps with driving directions to the away games.”

Curtis Wong, one of four co-inventors of the patent from Microsoft Research, said, “Surface computing gives people instant access to digital information in a new way. The goal of this patent is to make the interaction between the physical and virtual worlds a little more seamless.”

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  • 5 Hide
    Square_Head , February 11, 2009 11:02 PM
    And then when you place a condom on the table it redirects you to a porn site.
  • 0 Hide
    joex444 , February 11, 2009 11:18 PM
    You've got a typo in the second word of your article. I blame QWERTY -- you should be on Dvorak.
  • 0 Hide
    falchard , February 11, 2009 11:51 PM
    I really hate patents.
  • Display all 32 comments.
  • -3 Hide
    Milleman , February 12, 2009 1:16 AM
    The whole idea about patents has gone out of its main purpose. The idea was to protect the inventor's invetion during a limited time so that he could get some money back from the spent research and development and give headroom during initial years of sale. Now it have become more or less a permanent ownership of ideas, which is sad for coming generations. Can you actually own an idea? Sounds like fascism. Luckily, the European Union have voted against software patents.
  • 0 Hide
    SAL-e , February 12, 2009 1:18 AM
    If anybody is really interested in promotion of innovation should read "Against Intellectual Monopoly" by Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine. The book is available online for free. It was #1 for short period on Amazon. By the way it is book about economics not about the legal crap.

    ps. I am not representing the authors and I am not doing self promotion ether, that is way I am not including the link to the web site were the book can be found.
  • 1 Hide
    chris312 , February 12, 2009 2:38 AM
    Milleman, how does ownership of ideas sound like fascism to you? I'd like to understand your reasoning.

    I believe that patents and copyright help to encourage innovation. Think about it. Would you spend as much money developing new ideas and technology if you knew that your competitors had the right to use your ideas for free? That would put you behind the competition by exactly as much money as you had spent. Nobody would spend money on R&D and, especially in the computer industry, technology would become stagnant.

    Or is the argument against how long someone has total control over their idea? My reasoning is that the world was doing alright before the invention was thought up. The most profitable thing for the inventor would be to either produce as many of those things as he could or license his idea to other manufacturers. The great thing about new ideas is that none of them are essential to life, so if the inventor decides to gouge the price, people can decide to do without the widget.

    What do you guys think?
  • 0 Hide
    SAL-e , February 12, 2009 2:56 AM
  • 0 Hide
    SAL-e , February 12, 2009 3:33 AM
    You are raising interesting question. "Can you really own an idea?" Let see. You can own a car. You can use your car as you wish. You can sell me that car and then I will own that car and can use it as I wish. You can not use it any more. If I steal your car you will not have it any more.
    If you have an idea and you tell that idea to me. You and I will have copy of the same idea. You can use your copy and I can use mine. So the idea really is not a property. The only away to steal your copy of any idea is to erase it from your brain. There is only one away to do this. I need to kill you, but that will make me murderer not a thief.
    Let a assume that idea is property. That raises even bigger problem. Why you can own your property only for limited time? You can own your car as long you want. Other issue is that when you own a property you pay taxes to the government to protect your property. Do you really want to pay taxes on your ideas? I don't.

    The rest of you argument require very technical discussion, If you interested give me a call and will setup better channel for sensible communication. I am very interested into the subject.
  • 1 Hide
    ossie , February 12, 2009 11:10 AM
    The number of owned patents is not a measure of value, but it is quite a good way to count the roadblocks put in others way to innovate.
    m$ is not actually known for innovation but really famous for hoarding of that of others and a champion at stifling competition.
  • 0 Hide
    tipoo , February 12, 2009 12:54 PM
    falchardI really hate patents.

    why? without them there would be less incentive for progress.
  • 0 Hide
    tenor77 , February 12, 2009 1:11 PM
    ossieThe number of owned patents is not a measure of value, but it is quite a good way to count the roadblocks put in others way to innovate.m$ is not actually known for innovation but really famous for hoarding of that of others and a champion at stifling competition.

    I beg to differ

    MS is a company so they will look out for #1 but I don't hear the ridiculous claims that other companies have done.

    Here's my general personal opinion on patents and IP. If you put the work and time into something you deserve compensation for that work. Otherwise scumsucking leeches (usually someone with more money and contacts/power) will take advantage of your innovation and there is no reward for said work.
    How long etc depends on the medium etc. Sometimes I think patents are too long.

    What I have a problem with is scumsucking leeches who get patents for ridiculous things. People who just start throwing out patents on processes, phrases or gestures....people without the skill or talent to do these things. Think Kramer from Seinfeld "1.9% financing on a Toyota 1 ton. That was my idea too!"

    These make the patent process a joke. There does need to be a serious overhaul of the patent process I agree, but there needs to be some protect for ACTUAL innovation.
  • 0 Hide
    chris312 , February 12, 2009 1:25 PM
    ossieThe number of owned patents is not a measure of value, but it is quite a good way to count the roadblocks put in others way to innovate.

    It's not innovation if you are copying someone else's idea. Innovation is coming up with new things, not plagiarism.

    SAL-e, if I come up with an idea that will make a million dollars, why would I tell it to you so you can use it? Then I'd only make about half a million because you would make the other half. You did not work to create my idea and thus you do not deserve the profits the idea brings. That's how I see this.
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    slabbo , February 12, 2009 2:30 PM
    tipoowhy? without them there would be less incentive for progress.

    That's way false. Look back to some of the greatest thinkers in American history. Ben Franklin and Joseph Priestley. Anytime they came up with an idea or invention they quickly shared their discoveries and ideas with others and encouraged them to use it. When Priestly invented soda water (carbonated water) he shared it with everyone. That's how it was back then. He didn't try to make a dime off it, and wanted to share everything he came across. That was typical of the information system back in those days. Knowledge was shared, cause Priestley believed that good ideas should be shared so it grow and can be improved on. Ben Franklin, and Jefferson both shared those values of sharing information.

    They innovated and improved society way more than anyone that I've known of. Imagine what we could have been accomplished if information was shared now like it was back then.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , February 12, 2009 3:09 PM
    to chirs312 How can you know that idea of yours will make you 1 million dollars in the first place? Numerous cases in history have proven that at somepoints a great idea is objected by almost everyone and not until like decades later it can be done correctly and I'm not sure you'll be there to collect your profits.
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    nottheking , February 12, 2009 3:12 PM
    Patents do provide incentive for innovation and invention. While Benjamin Franklin may not have patented his designs, the vast majority of inventors did. Eli Whitney, Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers... They all patented their works, and hence were able to make a living as innovators; Benjamin Franklin, on the other hand, was a statesman first and foremost, NOT an inventor, and hence his inventing was more of something he did in his free time. And it can readily be argued that his inventions were hardly as revolutionary as many others that came after him; so really, without the protection afforded to patents, we would've certainly not been in quite the same technological age today. So no, the argument that a lack of patents would've meant more progress is utter falsehood.

    Patents are perfectly fair, and operate on a reasonable principle: if someone manages to invent something, and spends all the resources to do so, then by all means they should have the ability to profit on it for a limited duration. Mind you, for those confused, patents do NOT last anywhere near as long as copyrights; the current term length is 20 years from the filing of an application. It used to alternatively be 17 years from the date the patent was issued, an alternative that was removed because it was exploitable. (so yeah, in other words, law shifted to make patent coverage SHORTER) Also, patents aren't exactly close to as free as copyrights are; they cost a sizable sum, generally into the thousands of dollars, depending on their length; so a small-size inventor can at least afford a few years of protection to really get the most important part of profiting from their invention, while larger corporations will, often enough, find that their patents filed for maximum length, will often cost them MORE to maintain than they are making because of the patents.

    For those that don't like patents, don't use them for your own creations. Sure, you can make all your stuff public domain/open source, but then you won't also be making any money off of it. But for those that want to be able to actually get a monetary reward for all their effort put into creating an invention, patents actually help ensure that the large corporations can't just scam them, and use their massive amounts of money, power, and influence to make it their own. And lastly, to get a patent, you must explain and detail your invention, making sure that once the patent expires and it goes into the public domain, there is no chance for the new technology to be lost.
  • 0 Hide
    katmandude , February 12, 2009 3:31 PM
    well, at least they are good at filing patents, we're happy for them!
    i wish they where this prolific at getting there Os to be "passable"...
    (yes i have been to vista hell of late, and yes I'm still furious with them).

    What they have brought to the industry is high tech to the masses.u can install windows on almost anything; PC, Toaster, washing machine, cars. And with a fair amount of luck, and some minor headaches it will run. this is what makes windows so good, it's not the quality of the products or how advanced they are, it's the way u can bash the crap out of it and it still runs ( when it runs at all).
    what u can say about MS is that they have an incredible nack for selling. They may have in a small way contributed to the insdustry technologically , well in some aspects they may have... what amazes me more is the way they keep selling these faulty unfinished products and how people keep coming back for more Service packs! On the marketing side these people are geniuses!

    kind regards
  • 0 Hide
    SAL-e , February 12, 2009 5:20 PM
    SAL-e, if I come up with an idea that will make a million dollars, why would I tell it to you so you can use it? Then I'd only make about half a million because you would make the other half. You did not work to create my idea and thus you do not deserve the profits the idea brings. That's how I see this.

    You are expressing the scarcity point of view. If you have one good idea, can you have one more? If you tell me your idea, I might have positive feed back that will improve your idea. Now You and I can make 2 million dollars more each. This is know as synergy. The best example in live is when man and woman get together and bring new life to the world.
  • 0 Hide
    chris312 , February 12, 2009 6:34 PM

    Well, if I have my 1 million dollar idea and patent it, it's not like it's a secret idea anymore. If you have something you can add to it to make it worth 5 million you can approach me and offer to be partners in business or buy my idea or something.

    I really don't see how producing babies has anything to do with patents, lol
  • 0 Hide
    gm0n3y , February 12, 2009 8:04 PM
    I have no problem with patents in concept, I just have a problem with the length of time these patents last. Look at the pharmaceutical industry; by allowing long patents, you're effectively KILLING people by not allowing competition to lower drug prices.
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    nottheking , February 12, 2009 9:04 PM
    As mentioned, the key is that if you patent something, it immediately becomes public knowledge. So those new ideas are instantly out there. That way patents are placed in public view so that anyone with ideas to improve an invention will be able to see the original, and also be able to find out who to talk to.

    As for pharmaceutical patents, the length is perhaps of some concern, though I would note that patents are done generally on a country-by-country basis. (unlike copyrights, where conventions mean that a copyright in one country is generally honored in nearly 200 others automatically) A major thing for a lot of developing countries is the fact that many important drugs, like anti-retroviral drugs for fighting HIV, are, in fact, not even patented throughout Africa, meaning it's quite possible for local companies there to spring up and produce generics affordably for the African market.
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