Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Ridiculous Patents #3: Highlighting Numbers

Today we highlight a bad patent that is still being examined, so there's still a chance it won't be granted. But don't hold your breath. It is titled "Method and apparatus for visually emphasizing numerical data contained within an electronic document" and covers exactly what you think it does. If granted, anyone writing software that highlights numbers in a document at the user's request may be infringing the patent -- at least until February 11, 2024, when the patent would expire.

Now that's innovation.

What would Microsoft do with such a patent? Here are some of their options:

  1. Prevent all competitors from implementing this feature, including word processors, web browsers, spreadsheets, email, etc. Only Microsoft's products would have this feature. Taken by itself, that doesn't seem like much of an advantage to Microsoft, but combine it with other pending patents, and we start to see a nice chunk of this idea space being owned by Microsoft alone.

  2. Collect royalties from all competitors that want to implement this feature. Note that Microsoft's main office suite competitor currently appears to be OpenOffice, which, since it is free software, would not be able to afford even a small royalty. A royalty of $1 per copy would be enough to shut down virtually any open source software project.

  3. Do nothing. Hold the patent defensively.

Luckily, Microsoft has a pattern of holding patents defensively (like most large software companies). But if MSOffice is ever seriously threatened, it seems only natural that the shareholders and board of directors would demand that the company take offensive measures against competition...

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmm... Doesn't look so bad to me, just a way to click "highlight", and all numbers in the text gets highlighted... A nuisance, but bot exactly killing or anything.

Still a super rediculous patent, and it should be thrown out from obviousness, as it's just another application of already known methods (Think code syntax highlighting, just constrained to numbers)

9:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The venerable text editor Vim has had the ability to highlight numbers for quite a while now.

:match Number /\d\+/

The color is up to you, as you can change how Vim highlights the "Number" group.

Most IDEs have offered this as well, with the ability to highlight a number (or other parsed token) with your favorite color (both foreground and background). Back as far as Borland's Turbo Pascal 6.0 and C++ 3.0 editors, IDEs have been offering this. Even Microsoft's own Visual Studio has had this for a number of years. Talk about your prior art.


5:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Doesn't look so bad to me ... A nuisance, but bot exactly killing or anything.

The general problem is that the developers have no way of knowing about these patents unless told. So, one might innocently add a number highlighting feature, and then the project could be in danger of backroyalties, etc.

9:25 AM  
Blogger dahdahfkahfkahf said...

The problem is that the Patent Office is broken (it's also not following Constitutional guidelines).

When I say it's broken, I mean that it appears unable to differentiate between a new idea, an old idea, and an idea that won't work. Now I'm guessing as to the reason, but I suspect that it's because they hire people with a legal rather than technical back ground, and therefore the staff is not competent to evaluate the patents that are being placed before them.

It's not only the USA that suffers this problem, Canada, Australia, the UK, and the EU suffer from this (I can't tell about other jurisdictions as English is the only language I can read well).

What we need is a full scale Patent Office overhaul, and one that speaks to the needs of the public, not the corporations.

10:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The oldest form of highlighted
numbers is the use of digits
instead of prose in printed Bibles.

"666" instead of
Six Sixty Six...

Prior art is a century old or

Use of digits IS highlighting.

9:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To add to that I have an old
copy of Logos Bible Software
from 1992, 16 bit windows, which
happens to still run well on
SuSE Linux 10.0, and it highlights
numbers just fine.

9:49 AM  

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