Scripting News for 12/24/2006

It would be interesting to see which individuals and companies in the RSS space would be willing to issue a disclaimer saying that if they have patents in RSS-related technology, they will never use those patents offensively. We’d have to get a good IP attorney to draft a bullet-proof release form. Any volunteers? 

39 people signed up for a NYC meetup on the 28th, possibly at the Google office or a classroom at Cooper Union. Hope it comes together. To be clear, I’m not organizing this; I just created a page on the wiki and put my name on the list.  

Good luck Jimmy 

I’m glad that Jimmy Wales is launching a search engine to rival Google. Someone should try to make the next big leap in search, there’s little incentive for Google to try.

Google is repeating the pattern of the previous generation of search engines (Alta Vista, Infoseek) were doing when Google zigged to their zag, so successfully. Today, Google is fattening up and spreading out, going after Microsoft in productivity apps, chasing the TV networks with YouTube. Etc etc. Today search is only one of the things Google is doing, and it may not be the most important thing.

Today Google’s profits come from ads, and that business gives them a reason to keep search weak. They want you to do a lot of searching to find what you’re looking for — and the stuff they find for you for free is competing with the stuff they make money on. So Google actually has a disincentive to make search better.

Even if there are reasons to believe that Wales’s effort will fail, I’m glad he’s trying. We need more people who don’t accept the hype, and are willing to try to get to the next level. With enough tries will come success, and perhaps a new search business that is based on the ideas of the 21st century.

Response to Sean Lyndersay 

Sean Lyndersay of Microsoft posted some comments. He says a lot of nice things, and of course that’s appreciated.

But patents are a legal thing, and Sean being nice isn’t material. In the blogosphere, of course it is, and Microsoft’s defenders will likely say or imply that it’s all that matters.

Cutting to the core, the only substance I can see in Sean’s comments is that their patent application is limited to things they did that they believe hadn’t been done before.

Even if that’s true, it’s not reciprocal because Microsoft received a lot of patent-free IP from the community. They made a big deal (and still do) about contributing their specs to the Creative Commons, but that is a distraction. We could have recreated those specs, if we ever needed to (there isn’t yet much uptake in their extensions), but the patents are much more serious obstacles to growth in the market.

Google and Apple, two other companies Sean mentions, have filed similar patents. Of course what they did wasn’t right or fair, but also, neither of them claimed to be helping the community as Microsoft did, and neither has been convicted of antitrust as Microsoft has. Even so, I have been critical of both Apple and Google here, for their efforts to corral RSS behind a wall of corporate ownership. In contrast, I don’t think any of the big publishing companies, notably the New York Times Company, who have made a greater and much earlier contribution to the success of RSS than the tech industry has, have tried to own it or fork it as Google, Apple and Microsoft have. There’s a lesson here, and Sean is a good teacher. Yes Sean, the tech industry is bad. But even in the tech industry, Microsoft stands head and shoulders above the rest. And yes it has been common practice in the tech industry for companies to blackmail each other, to the detriment of users and the market, but that doesn’t make it good practice.

And Sean offers no response to the crucial question I asked, the one that cuts to the core of Microsoft’s intentions. And even if he had responded, he’s not an officer of the company, and his word isn’t binding. His predecessor, a former Microsoft employee, now works at Google. Next week Sean could be working at another company, and his successor could say, when we show him or her how much Sean liked us, “Okay, now what?” And he or she would be right. There’s little if anything in Sean’s letter that we can take to court.

To those that say the patent is only defensive, note that even though Sean’s word would not be binding, he doesn’t offer that assurance himself.

I think now would be a great time to hear from Ray Ozzie. He is an officer of the company. His word, if given in writing, would be binding on the company. Microsoft isn’t taking this seriously, by sending their response back through Sean, if that’s how we’re meant to understand this.

4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Nick on December 24, 2006 at 9:30 am

    even if you did create RSS please explain to me why it should be called an invention.

    “Before RSS, several similar formats already existed for syndication, but none achieved widespread popularity or are still in common use today, as most were envisioned to work only with a single service. These originated from push and pull technologies. Two of the earliest examples are Backweb and Pointcast.[citation needed”

    RSS was just a way for your own company to capitalize on someone else’s invention so why do you get mad when someone (MS) does the same thing to you?


  2. Posted by Jake on December 24, 2006 at 2:07 pm

    What would be Microsoft’s incentive for freely giving away patented IP?


  3. Posted by Chris on December 24, 2006 at 4:40 pm

    You still haven’t read the patent application, have you?

    Microsoft is not trying to patent RSS. Read the patent application. Microsoft is trying to patent an novel invention of theirs in applying syndication, which they have a right to do. If the invention isn’t novel and and is obvious, it will not be approved. If you have information that is material, you can pick up the telephone and speak directly to the attorney at the patent office who is reviewing the patent about it (yes, they are happy to speak directly with “civilians”). But you are going to have to first read and understand the claims they are making so that your objections are pertinent, or the attorney will think you’re a kook.

    So read and understand the patent application. If it’s not novel, track down a specific application of the invention that can be proven to predate the application. Then let the patent office know about it.

    If your problem is with the patent system in general, you are going to need to contact your congressman and senators, not Microsoft, not the patent office. But I wouldn’t get my hopes up: IP law is pretty deeply tied up in mutual international agreements and is not something that changes very quickly.


  4. Posted by tayker on December 27, 2006 at 4:43 am

    Is the problem Microsoft or patents in RSS-related technology? To acknowledge and then quickly put aside Google and Apple by saying “Microsoft stands head and shoulders above the rest” seems the focus is more on Microsoft and less on the problem.

    Also, what purpose did mentioning the anti-trust case against Microsoft serve? Is that relative like Jobs and the stocks, Apple’s Chinese slave laborers that caused two to reporters lose their jobs, the Creative and Apple patent case, or the unprofessional approach Apple took when their iPods had viruses on them?

    Not trying to be difficult, I just don’t understand the significance of 1 company when there are other sharks in the sea. I’m also interested if Apple or Google will pass your “acid test.”


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