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Microsoft Files to Patent Emoticon Method
Sunday, July 24 2005 @ 02:08 PM EDT

Microsoft has filed for a patent on the smiley face. No. Really. Literally, they have applied for this: "A method, comprising: selecting pixels to be used as an emoticon; assigning a character sequence to the pixels; and transmitting the character sequence to a destination to allow for reconstruction of the pixels at the destination."

Stand back. Microsoft would like to be a monopoly forever and ever.

Here's the patent. I found this funny photograph on Flickr. I thought it would be creative to just have the headline with a url to the news story, "Microsoft Patents the Smiley Face" and then the photograph, huge, with no text at all beyond the one line about wanting to stay a monopoly forever. I thought you'd enjoy it, and it made me smile just thinking about it. It certainly says it all.

So I tried to reach the photographer to see if I could get permission since this one isn't under a Creative Commons license, but I can't seem to reach her, at least not in time for the article. So you'll have to settle for the fair use thumbnail. It's still funny, but of course, creatively it's not the same effect. I'll probably hear back from her eventually, and likely she'll say fine, but I can't hold the article for that, the very issue I wrote about on Friday on why an author might choose a Creative Commons license. Exhibit A.

So here you go. Lots of words instead.

You thought Amazon's one-click patent was silly -- obvious, noninnovative and silly. But Microsoft's patent on emoticons is not silly, obvious and noninnovative though it may be. The US Patent Office is allowing a form of human communication to be patented. Imagine if Europe had said yes to patents on software! See what happens when you open the gates to software patents? Where do you draw the line? The current line seems to be that if a computer is in any way involved, it's worthy of a patent. Hello, world.

Groklaw offered a suggestion already, and it would prevent patents like this one from being issued, while allowing hardware companies to protect their investments. Please take a look and note what would happen to this idiotic patent under such a system. That's right. It would not be allowed. That's because, as the superlative wordsmith Rupert Goodwins wrote, summarizing our suggested language, "You can only patent things that make physical changes in the world: these can contain software, but that software is not of itself patentable." I couldn't have said it better. And it would certainly have taken me more words. Because there is movement afoot to reform the US patent system -- and not a minute too soon, judging from this news about smiley face -- it seemed worthwhile reminding people that there is a suggestion on the table.

And because I love irony, I'll tell you to read FFII's discussion of this Microsoft-funded "study" of 50 "good" software patents.

: )

I guess I could have used a graphic smiley... but then would I have to pay somebody? A girl can't be too careful these days. Only joking. This isn't exactly what they patented. Even this study concluded that patents last too long, by the way.

And then, to clear your head, here is an interview in German with Donald Knuth, author of "The Art of Programming," on the subject of software patents. Here's one snip, as translated by FFII on their Donald Knuth and Software Patents page:

My personal opinion is that algorithms are like mathematics, i.e. inherently non-patentable. It worries me that most patents are about simple ideas that I would expect my students to develop them as part of their homework. Sometimes there are exceptions, e.g. something as refined as the inner point method of linear programming, where one can really talk about a significant discovery. Yet for me that is still mathematics.

I come from a mathematical culture where we don't charge money from people who use our theorems. There is the notion that mathematics is discovered rather than invented. If something was already there, how you patent it?

You'll enjoy reading an article by Ben Klemens in IEEE's Spectrum on the subject of patents, "Software Patents Don't Compute, which agrees with Knuth that no clear boundary between math and software exists. Patent law in the US struggles to find the line between patentable machines and unpatentable math, but it must fail, and here's why:
All software can be reduced to mathematical equations (using lambda calculus). . . .

The courts failed to review the mathematics literature and as a result made several vain attempts to reinvent the wheel. Software and lambda calculus are in the same equivalence class, which means any law that allows software to be patentable allows the patenting of the evaluation of certain mathematical expressions.

The only remedy, the article concludes, if we wish to encourage basic research and innovation, is to not allow software patents at all. He does propose a second-best suggestion:
But while demolishing the distinction between software and math, Turing and Church's work offers a natural division between patentable machinery and unpatentable mathematics -- exactly what we have been looking for. Let the devices that implement state machines -- physical objects such as computers -- be patentable, and the states to which they are set -- information such as programs and data -- remain unpatentable. The distinction meets the goal of ensuring that pure mathematics is not patentable while letting those who design faster and better computing devices patent their inventions.

The distinction is clear, and it offers no slippery slope down which the courts could slide.

As exhibits, the article lists some recently issued patents:
* Method and system for solving linear systems (U.S. Patent No. 6078938).
* Cosine algorithm for relatively small angles (No. 6434582).
* Method of efficient gradient computation (No. 5886908).
* Methods and systems for computing singular value decompositions of matrices and low rank approximations of matrices (No. 6807536).
These are all patents for purely mathematical algorithms, the article points out. How did that happen? Under US law, you can't patent scientific principles. You can't get a patent on gravity, for example, or on the theory of relativity, innovative and nonobvious though it surely was. The patent office did exist at the time of the latter discovery, but until recently, everyone held to the idea that "mathematical algorithms were in the category of scientific principles that could not be owned by an individual," as the article explains. So what changed, beginning in the 1990s?
What has changed is that mathematics has become increasingly reliant on machines. Abstract algorithms that involve inverting large matrices or calculating hundreds of coefficients in a sequence are routine today and of only limited use without physical computers to execute them.

Conversely, devices such as video drivers, network interface cards, and robot arms depend on algorithms for their operation. Because of the machine-intensiveness of modern mathematics and the math-intensiveness of modern machines, the line between mathematical algorithms and machinery is increasingly blurred. This blurring is a problem, because without a clear line delimiting what is patentable and what is not, creative entrepreneurs will eventually be able to claim sole ownership of abstract mathematical discoveries.

The article analyzes some US court rulings that struggled with the problem of where to draw the line, until we reached "the bottom of the slippery slope: there is no longer any meaningful barrier to the patenting of abstract algorithms. The use of any inventive mathematical algorithm that requires more calculation than can be reasonably done by hand is now patentable." Yes. Patenting the smiley face is the bottom of the slippery slope. Surely, it can only be up from here. So where is the line drawn between software and mathematical expression?
Based on Church's and Turing's work, there is none. Any legal attempt to force a wedge between pure math and software will fail because the two are one and the same. A patent on a program is a patent on a mathematical expression, regardless of whether it is expressed in C, Lisp, or lambda calculus.
As interesting as these snips are, you'll find the whole article even better, and I do recommend you take a look. This article is the first of a two-part series on this subject.

There is a second article, and you don't need a subscription to read it, The Nanotech Patent Trap (page 18) that discusses some patent problems with nanotech, an exciting technology that I'm told could change electronics in a similar way to when the transistor replaced the vacuum tube. This is a big deal, and a lot of companies are pouring research money into it. The problem is that lots of patents have been granted in overlapping areas, the article says. The companies involved filed various patents at multiple times. The only "safe" way to use nanotech right now is to get a license from every company involved. Even if you had enough money, this would be a daunting task. This is one example of how patents hinder technology development, rather than help it.

Guys, this is getting silly.

The pugilistic pig is a photograph by Alberta Fifty, who makes it public in her collection on Flickr. I love her work.


Microsoft Files to Patent Emoticon Method | 273 comments | Create New Account
Comments belong to whoever posts them. Please notify us of inappropriate comments.
Microsoft Patents Emoticon
Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, July 24 2005 @ 06:48 PM EDT

[ Reply to This | # ]

Microsoft Patents Emoticon
Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, July 24 2005 @ 06:56 PM EDT
{{ }
| }}
\ /
| |

|\/| $

[ Reply to This | # ]

Microsoft Patents Emoticon
Authored by: tritesnikov on Sunday, July 24 2005 @ 06:56 PM EDT
Maybe I'm not understanding the wording, but your article says that they have
gotten a patent on the whole emoticon thing. On the ZDNet article linked to, it
says only that they have filed for it, and my understanding is that filing for a
patent is not the same as receiving it. There could be some events that have
transpired that I am not aware of where they were awarded the patent, but as far
as the linked article asserts, they have only filed for it. Maybe just a

[ Reply to This | # ]

Software patents
Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, July 24 2005 @ 07:13 PM EDT
Not only is software mathematics (i.e. a bunch of algorithms thrown together),
but it is also text (which is also the case with any type of mathematical
expression). How did we end up with patents on mathematics and text, I have no

IP Australia, our local patent office, _encourages_ people to patent software.
What can I say - truly idiotic.

And just in spite, I'm still :-) regardless of all the patent nonsense.

[ Reply to This | # ]

"Hello World"
Authored by: seraph_jeffery on Sunday, July 24 2005 @ 07:22 PM EDT
If I remember, that's the first C program that shows up in the K&R book on
C. Perhaps they should "patent" that phrase as part of the C

[ Reply to This | # ]

Microsoft Patents Emoticon: And it took 36 claims to do it.
Authored by: Xymbaline on Sunday, July 24 2005 @ 07:24 PM EDT
The way I am understanding the patent process is that the value is in the claims
made. We have seen claims that judges believed covered miles and miles of
territory beyond their usual monopolistic land-grab.

Just think what could result if a non-tech savvy judge gave Microsoft similar
miles of territory because they had no idea what their ruling meant out here in
the real world of technology. Here, they have 36 chances to make such a

This gets pretty grim. Microsoft gambles that the Patent Office wil slip up and
allow this to go through, and then they gamble that some judge somewhere will
use the wrong word in interpreting one or more of these claims, and Voila',
Instant Monopoly all over again.

Elisp 3:51
"He who disregards the Only True Editor or His Documentation strays far
(setq load-path (cons (expand-file-name "~/XEmacs_Rules!/") load-p

[ Reply to This | # ]

Off topic here please
Authored by: fudisbad on Sunday, July 24 2005 @ 07:24 PM EDT
For current events, legal filings and Caldera(R) collapses. Please make links


See my bio for copyright details re: this post.
Darl McBride, show your evidence!

[ Reply to This | # ]

Totally MInd Boggling...
Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, July 24 2005 @ 07:52 PM EDT
I'm just at a lost for words when I think about the Software Engineers and the
Lawyers getting together and writing up that patent. I mean seriously did anyone
stop and think about how silly this all sounds? I understand that corporations
want to protect their interests but come on.... patenting smiles??? ??????????

[ Reply to This | # ]

"Natural Distinction" Not Good Enough
Authored by: muon on Sunday, July 24 2005 @ 08:00 PM EDT

Unfortunately, this is not good enough:

But while demolishing the distinction between software and math, Turing and Church's work offers a natural division between patentable machinery and unpatentable mathematics -- exactly what we have been looking for. Let the devices that implement state machines -- physical objects such as computers -- be patentable, and the states to which they are set -- information such as programs and data -- remain unpatentable. The distinction meets the goal of ensuring that pure mathematics is not patentable while letting those who design faster and better computing devices patent their inventions.
The distinction is clear, and it offers no slippery slope down which the courts could slide.

for the simple reason of virtual machines. Rather any patenting should be restricted as to its applicability: for specific hard-coded (i.e., etched!) implementations of specific physical machines. If that is explicitly in the patent wording, then things should be okay until new "chip" designs come along and the law will need updating. Thus, restriction should be worded to only allow specific physical implementations to help prevent slippery slopes.

While I haven't read the whole paper, the author likely wasn't thinking of virtual machines when he wrote it (or he may have clarified things elsewhere). I am aware of these things acutely because My M.Sc. (and now) Ph.D. work totally concerns virtual machines (as state machines). His wording is too loose to prevent a slippery slope into patenting a virtual machine. To patent a virtual machine is to patent software and therefore ideas.

Further, would a patent on a physical machine apply to virtual one? Any computer can simulate another computer by implementing a virtual machine of the patented one. If so, then the slippery slope still exists; --just make a chip, patent it, and then sue everyone for using the patent in any form.

In short, patents should never be allowed on or applied to ideas, mathematics, OR, mathematically reducible concepts since they amount to the same thing. In the case of a patent having been granted that covers such areas, it should always be disallowed by the courts. Unfortunately, judges in courtrooms don't have Ph.D.s in this area and, thus, they are easily swindled by those in front of him/her.

NON-TECHIE NOTE: Sun's Java is a virtual machine. That implements state machines. Thus, by his definition Sun could patent Java's state machines even without a real chip made. So, you see if you're going to allow any patenting of "math" then it applicability MUST be restricted or you'll allow indirectly or directly the patenting of ideas, etc.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Microsoft Patents Emoticon
Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, July 24 2005 @ 08:01 PM EDT
:-)~ So sue me!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


[ Reply to This | # ]

Microsoft Patents Emoticon
Authored by: Felix_the_Mac on Sunday, July 24 2005 @ 08:10 PM EDT

This argument that software is mathematics is the strongest that I have heard
against software patents.

As the quote says once you accept this fact the distinction of the physical
state-machine versus the state is obvious.

I think it provides a very useful additional definition of what is software.

Are there any systems available that can be programmed in something that looks
like pure-mathematics?

It would be usefull to demonstrate to legislators 2 systems side-by-side one
being programmed in Visual C and the other being programmed in lambda-calculus
or something else that is evidently pure maths. We could then make these people
understand that if you can patent an xml-schema or emoticon then you can also
patent E=mc^2 and f=ma.

However in thinking about this now I have concerns about the definition that you
have been working on:

"You can only patent things that make physical changes in the world: these
can contain software, but that software is not of itself patentable."

The 'one click' patent and the emoticon patent do make physical changes in the
world. The first causes certain data to be written to a hard disk, the second
causes the image displayed on my lcd (i.e. photons) to change when :-) is used.

i.e. by adding a line or two of software the physical world is affected.

What about firmware, flashed into an eprom so that it is part of the physical
world. This forms part of a physical device and is not a running state of the
turing machine. It exists even when the power source is removed. (Which I was
thinking could form part of a laymans explanation).

Also, what about genes, which I hope agree should not be patentable. A gene make
changes in the physical world and yet the are also software. In a similar manner
to firmware they are tangible software.

Might it be easier to say:

"Any mere sequence of instructions cannot be patented"

So if you developed an alternative genome based upon different base pairs (say
Au, PB, H, He) then you could patent a generic gene, but you could not patent
specific genes.

What about this:

"Any mere sequence of instructions cannot be patented.
In evaluating any patent-application any sequence of instructions must be
considered to be a black-box which accepts certain inputs and by magic produces
certain outputs. The method by which this is achieved is outside the scope of
patent law."

I think this would also cover business process patents since any business
process must be at its core a 'mere sequence of instructions'.

It would be necessary to ensure that Microsoft cannot apply for a patent on
"a device which when presented with the following inputs produces the
following outputs"
And any other tricks to patent a 'black-box'.

Or how about this refined version:

"Any mere sequence of instructions cannot be patented.
In evaluating any patent-application any sequence of instructions that forms
part of the 'invention' must be considered to be outside the scope of the

Am I making any sense?

[ Reply to This | # ]

Certain Patents Should be Called for What They Are:
Authored by: arf on Sunday, July 24 2005 @ 09:06 PM EDT
... checkpoints!

(to Hog Heaven? ;-)*

*Oops! Civil disobedience in action!

[ Reply to This | # ]

Isn't there usually a "Corrections" thread?
Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, July 24 2005 @ 09:16 PM EDT
This is a patent application, not a patent. Also, it doesn't patent the concept of emoticons (though I would agree that it is bogus).

This is sloppy work. Groklaw usually does a better job getting the story right.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Microsoft Patents Emoticon
Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, July 24 2005 @ 09:23 PM EDT
Dear PJ,
I love the legal stuff you write so well about, but before you launch into an
anti patent tirade, you should read the patent application you rail against.
The abstract starts with "creating and transferring custom emoticons allow
a user to adopt an arbitrary image as an emoticon", followed by much more
detail. This is NOT an application for a patent on the smiley face. Arguments
such as this based on false (or poorly researched) premises will weaken the
legitimate call for reforms of the patent system (and of Microsoft.)

[ Reply to This | # ]

Sensationalist and Misleading... Disappointing
Authored by: Tpenta on Sunday, July 24 2005 @ 09:27 PM EDT

PJ, I'm really disappointed in how you have misrepresented what that patent is for. Normally you give good insight on anything that you post. Comments like

"I guess I could have used a graphic smiley... but then would I have to pay somebody?"

are disinginuous. Reading further down your article I see that you did actually read the patent, but decided against writing about what it was really about. I am left confused as to why you chose this approach, including the remark about not using a smiley and absolutely no discussion about what actually was patented.

I certainly hope you didn't choose this spin simply for a sensational headline.

The actual content of the patent is just as interesting and might have made for some good informed discussion, but the way you spun the story has pretty much precluded discussion on the actual topic,as your initial spin has already got the readers thinking it's something that it isn't.

I honestly expected better as you generally set yourself a very high standard. People trust you for informed comment.

"Microsoft has filed for a patent on the smiley face. No. Really."

No. Really they didn't.


Alan Hargreaves -

[ Reply to This | # ]

prior art
Authored by: cricketjeff on Sunday, July 24 2005 @ 09:52 PM EDT
There is, I would contend no real world difference between a graphic and text.
Many fonts are bitmaps (ie graphics) so all we are looking at here is an
automatic conversion in real time between one character and another. So some
examples that have been around for a while (to say the least)
Professionsal DTP programmes convert fi and fl into ligatures. this is a direct
analogue as it is converting a text representation into a better looking but
broadly similar "graphic"
web browsers convert <img src="/logos/picture.gif"> into a
picture. This is not as direct, since the text does not actually look like the
picture, unless the picture happened to be a graphic of the text shown! It is
however extremely general.
The whole point of XML is that you can on the fly convert a text representation
into something else. It could even be converted into something physical, not
just a smiley but a smiling 3d model of a head!
A type writer such as an IBM Golfball converts the lousy looking letters on the
keys into beautifully struck graphical versions on the page, if you use the
right golfball.
The teletype converts morse into text automatically, which is a form of
"text" into a form of graphics.
The list is endless!

[ Reply to This | # ]

Curry-Howard isomorphism.
Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, July 24 2005 @ 10:12 PM EDT
Actually, there is something even stronger than the Church-Turing thesis,
something called the Curry-Howard isomorphism.

What the Church-Turing thesis (eventually, after some work) tells us is that
running a program is equivalent to evaluating a certain mathematical expression.
And so, in some sense, that the mathematical expression is equivalent to the

But the Curry-Howard isomorphism directly tells us that a proof is equivalent to
a computer program, and vice-versa. (Link:

It is of course sort of useless in one sense, and to me this is not the reason
why software patents are wrong. At least not directly. But any way to avoid them
is a good way.

[ Reply to This | # ]

IEEE Article on Software Patents
Authored by: OmniGeek on Sunday, July 24 2005 @ 10:48 PM EDT
As an IEEE member and a professional programmer, I was MOST interested to read
that article in the IEEE Spectrum last month. I was especially heartened to note
that this was, as far as I can see, the very first time the IEEE has taken any
position on this issue in its official journal. (Of course, the views expressed
there may well not be those of the IEEE board, but at least They Begin To Get It
at Spectrum; this is most promising. The debate is joined in earnest in the
IEEE, methinks, and this is all to the good.)

In contrast, my emoticon upon reading of the Microsoft Smiley patent may look
like a grin, but it's strictly Cheshire-Cat (you may recall, he only grins when
angry), and has much more in common with an upset Kzin. Scream and leap...

My strength is as the strength of ten men, for I am wired to the eyeballs on

[ Reply to This | # ]

US Patent reforms...
Authored by: brian on Sunday, July 24 2005 @ 10:58 PM EDT
PJ says the US is getting ready for patent "reforms".
Something about that freightens me. You really don't think
they will make all the patents they issued invalid do you?
If anything they will extend the life of a patent to be in
line with copyright....That is, almost to infinity....
Let's face it, the critters we have in Congress aren't
motivated by anything but money. Killing silly software
patents goes against the whole "IP" crowd that can fund
massive lobbying efforts. I just feel that the whole
patent reform effort is a smokescreen for term extensions
of existing patents.


#ifndef IANAL
#define IANAL

[ Reply to This | # ]

Link to the IEEE article
Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, July 24 2005 @ 11:23 PM EDT
Softwar e Patents Don't Compute

[ Reply to This | # ]

Microsoft Patents Emoticon
Authored by: jacks4u on Monday, July 25 2005 @ 12:31 AM EDT
I just did some simple searches on The Wayback machine for and found the screenshots there clearly show "emoticons". The first version of AIM that shows smileys in it's screenshot was version 4.7, apparently released from beta on November 9, 2001. Before that, AIM 4.7beta was available on May 14, 2001. AIM Linux 1.0 was also available. jacks4u IANAL, and regret the fact that ":)" is possibally infringing Microsoft's pattent, but will continue to smile online, in Email, and instant chat, until they take me to court. My comments are mine. Pattented, Copyrighted, and Trademarked materials belong to their respective owners.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Microsoft Patents Emoticon
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, July 25 2005 @ 12:46 AM EDT
I have been thinking about some of this software patent silliness and the
argument that programs should mainly seek copyright protection. As a computer
engineer and my recent work with reprogrammable logic, I have come to the
conclusion that the line between hardware and software is ephemeral.

In the lab I work in, we routinely take VHDL (a hardware definition language) to
create such things as embedded microprocessors. We then write C code for the
processor. A tool is then used to turn the c-code + hardware description into a
bitstreem which is then downloaded onto a reconfigurable chip. The chip then
becomes processor that then runs our software.

Of course we could have used another tool to compile the "hardware" to
another format which could be shipped off to a fabrication house which would
have built the hardware on a permanent chip complete with a lot of very small
and very REAL wires, transistors, and resistors.

Software is logic. ANY logic can be implemented in hardware using only logical
AND and logical NOT functions. You can even build memory out of AND gates if you
hook them up correctly, (and yes, I know that just using ANDs would not be the
best way to do it and that NAND are more space efficient than ANDs, but lets not
complicate this OK?)

Anyway, my point is that hardware IS logic, and a processor is just logic and
therefore is in one sense equivalent to a program. Trying to draw a line between
HW and SW is difficult and makes my head hurt if I think about it to much.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Microsoft Patents Emoticon
Authored by: iraskygazer on Monday, July 25 2005 @ 01:51 AM EDT
Just another tool for intimidating the competition. More of the same from the
Microsoft monopoly machine. When will the patent office learn that this is more
of the same? Only if so many people, like new law students, didn't see the
software patent process as a cash cow. This ideology is simply killing the
software industry and we all seem to be sitting around and watching the big
players continue the destructive practices.

[ Reply to This | # ]

DID you read the patent application PJ?
Authored by: troll on Monday, July 25 2005 @ 02:26 AM EDT
I do not think you did.

Microsoft DID NOT patent an emoticon.
Please, go to
and find patent no 20050156873.

1. Microsoft did not patent emoticons, they have applied for patent and it was not granted yet.
2. Microsoft did not try to patent emoticons as such. They have tried to patent A method, comprising: selecting pixels to be used as an emoticon; assigning a character sequence to the pixels; and transmitting the character sequence to a destination to allow for reconstruction of the pixels at the destination.

The patent is still very, very stupid and obvious, and very dangerous. If it is granted somebody might try to attack the way email si being sent. It could also be used to atack any web browser. Because this si how browsers work. You create a custom emoticon, save it to the file MySmiley.gif, you embed it into the text of your message using tag for MySmiley.gif. At the other side browser loads MySmiley.gif from originating server of from cache on computer.

Yet, this time you are acusing Microsoft from something they did not do. They did file a very stupid, obvious and dangerous patent, but they did not try to patent emoticons as you are trying to imply. So you can still use ;-) or :) or even ^_^ in yor mail and pages without any danger.

Please go and read an application for patent no 200 50156873

Yours truly ...

[ Reply to This | # ]

A couple of things
Authored by: cmc on Monday, July 25 2005 @ 02:27 AM EDT
First, it doesn't look like Microsoft has patented the emoticons, per se. What
they're attempted to patent are "[m]ethods and devices for creating and
transferring custom emoticons...which can then be represented by a character
sequence". So, effectively, it's the same thing. But I think the
lawyer-types and legal-types will view it as two separate things. Of course,
we've been doing this for well over a decade now. I remember seeing
":)", ":(", etc when I started BBS'ing back in 1991. The
only difference is that those were simply character representations of feelings,
and not character representations of images reflecting those feelings.

Second, in response to Donald Knuth's question "If something was already
there, how you patent it?", I will resopnd with a question of my own: how
is it that the USPTO has allowed human genomes (sections of DNA) to be patented?
They obviously existed before scientists discovered them (and probably have for
hundreds or thousands of years). We're not talking new hybrid plants, we're
talking pre-existing human DNA.

Third, why do so many people say that software is purely mathematical? I'm
reserving judgement on that issue, but I'm leaning towards the opposite. To say
that software is purely mathematical is (to me) the same as saying that
everything is purely mathematical. Algorithms are purely math, yes. But
software is the computer equivalent of anything; it is not comprised only of
algorithms. Things such as displaying forms, receiving input, looking up data,
displaying data, receiving input to modify data, saving data, etc. How are all
of those purely mathemetical? Just because they're done on a computer? Can
someone enlighten me?


[ Reply to This | # ]

Microsoft Patents Emoticon
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, July 25 2005 @ 02:47 AM EDT
I think it would've been more funny to put this at the start of the article:

"Microsoft has filed for a patent on the smiley face. No. Really.



And euh... lots of prior art for this? :D :D

[ Reply to This | # ]

The Emoticon is already patented!
Authored by: penguin_roar on Monday, July 25 2005 @ 03:25 AM EDT
Despair INC is the real owner of the Emoticon. I suggest Microsoft puts their
legal teams in status Red Alert.

Ever thought of this? Tilt your head to the left and watch!

Windows XP

A computer is much more.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Microsoft Files to Patent Emoticon Method
Authored by: Scott_Lazar on Monday, July 25 2005 @ 07:15 AM EDT
Hmm, patents on smiley's?

Jehosephat! They've FINALLY found a way to make selling the XBOX hardware

LINUX - VISIBLY superior!
All rights reserved. My comments are for use on Groklaw only.

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Prior art?
Authored by: gbl on Monday, July 25 2005 @ 07:23 AM EDT
My old Phillips cellphone had a facility based on emoticons.

If you wrote a SMS message and included a text emoticon such as :-), it would be
displayed by the receiving Phillips cellphone as a bitmapped image rather than
the text :-).

In addition, you could select from a menu of bitmapped images and the phone
would transmit the text version of that image as part of the SMS message.

This would seem to cover all aspects of the MS patent apart from any composition
of an original image and it's translation into an arbitrary text string, but
xface has done that for many years.

If you love some code, set it free.

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Microsoft Files to Patent Emoticon Method
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, July 25 2005 @ 07:29 AM EDT
So let's get this straight..

The idea is that in real-time, they map a sequence of characters to an arbitrary
image, and when the recipient receives an emoticon identifier, he either
displays the image (if he's seen it before) or loads it from the network.

I'd be much appreciative if someone could point out the difference between that
process and this one:
<a href="layout/Woodlands/images/groklaw.gif">

Specified by a sequence of characters... arbitrary image... cached if you've
already viewed it... loaded and displayed in real-time...

I mean, honestly. the patent application even talks about storing the images in
the web browser cache (claim #18).. how much more obvious can you get?

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The Plib and Peter Cook's Unfortunate Patent Office Experiences
Authored by: Wesley_Parish on Monday, July 25 2005 @ 07:48 AM EDT

I was pointed by a friend to a particular web site with some information on how once one Peter Cook tried to patent The Plib.

I regret to inform you that The Plib is still unpatented. I expect Microsoft will attempt to patent it soon. ;)

finagement: The Vampire's veins and Pacific torturers stretching back through his own season. Well, cutting like a child on one of these states of view, I duck

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New Patent Idea...
Authored by: the_flatlander on Monday, July 25 2005 @ 08:10 AM EDT
So? Has anybody suggested this yet?

All the Groklaw members should pitch in so we can seek a patent on the business process of seeking patents on trivial, obvious and previously invented ideas and techniques, then, once we've gotten the patent we can sue Micro$oft right out of existence.

The Flatlander

On the bright side, I will enjoy knowing that I'm violating a Microsoft patent every time I send a joke through e-mail. ;^)

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Microsoft Files to Patent Emoticon Method
Authored by: kberrien on Monday, July 25 2005 @ 08:19 AM EDT
>pixels to be used as an emoticon

Even the wording in the patent application isn't origional. I doubt MS invented
the term, 'emoticon', which was obviously created, in sniglet fashion to define
the very thing they think they "own".

Don't these companies know they are burning their own bridges by this blatent
kinda thing?

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Microsoft Files to Patent Emoticon Method
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, July 25 2005 @ 09:02 AM EDT
PJ wrote:
What really is the fundamental difference between saying it's a patent on smiley face and saying it's a patent on a method of making one show up? To you, as a programmer, it's a huge difference, maybe, but to the general audience, it's not.

Still, it's so much of an oversimplification that it's just plain wrong.

When it reads "smiley face patented", how can anybody take that serious - we probably all have the old O'Reilly Smiley book at home, because they were distributed in millions as freebies when the Web went fashionable. Patent smileys? Oh yeah...

But because they are trying to patent a certain method to transmit an encoded representation of graphical emoticons (if I understood that correctly), they may actually come through with it.

Ok, after reading a more detailed description, my first thought was, "They've never heard of the X-Face header used in emails for years", so it's still kind of silly to try patenting something like that... And I think the X-Face reference has come up in almost any discussion on the topic by now, but that wouldn't have been possible if everyone was just talking about smileys...

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Patent on Visual Metaphors? :op
Authored by: Saturn on Monday, July 25 2005 @ 09:04 AM EDT
Here's a visual metaphor for a facial expression, directed to the author of this patent application...


Since the days of cave painting man has used visual metaphor to communicate.

Which reminds me, I must get round to patenting the wheel. I've been putting it off for years, but I think it is a revolutionary idea that might just catch on.

My own opinion, and very humble one too.
Which is probably why I'm not a lawyer.

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Pun Intended?
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, July 25 2005 @ 09:21 AM EDT
"See what happens when you open the gates to software patents."

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Surely Microsoft can't do irony?
Authored by: muswell100 on Monday, July 25 2005 @ 11:43 AM EDT
Looking at this patent application has made me wonder... If I didn't know better
I'd almost have thought that Microsoft (or someone employed there) might have
almost purposely applied for the most ridiculous and obvious patent in an effort
to underline the absurdity of the current patent law situation in the States. On
the face of it, it certainly looks earnest enough, but the sheer silliness of it
makes me wonder if someone at Microsoft has suddenly found a sense of humour.

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"Nearly Prior Art"
Authored by: cybervegan on Monday, July 25 2005 @ 12:15 PM EDT
Several years back , I was learning how to do socket programming in Python.

I'd already written a little tinker-toy for my kids that allowed them to move
little characters around the screen in a make-believe room - a childish
"little girl" stick figure, with a thumbnail of a photo of each of
their faces. This is nearly an avatar, I guess.

I was planning, but never finished, adding networking functionality, via
sockets, which would allow a distributed group of users to 'play' in the same
room. Each player's avatar would be displayed on all other screens; part of the
protocol involved an introduction sequence, where each current participant would
be sent a url indicating the location of the new player's avatar. It was
planned that this would be cached for performance reasons. I even had dreams of
adding different expressions, sounds and even speech bubbles...

Time, the great thief of inventions!


Software source code is a bit like underwear - you only want to show it off in
public if it's clean and tidy. Refusal could be due to embarrassment or shame...

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Microsoft Files to Patent Emoticon Method
Authored by: prayforwind on Monday, July 25 2005 @ 12:53 PM EDT
"A method, comprising: selecting pixels to be used as an emoticon;
assigning a character sequence to the pixels; and transmitting the character
sequence to a destination to allow for reconstruction of the pixels at the

Substitute "image" for "emoticon" (an image)
and "octet" for "character" (represented by an octet),

Isn't this how images are stored/represented on a computer? There's got to be
prior art for that.

jabber me:

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Invalid Emoticon patent
Authored by: Chris Lingard on Monday, July 25 2005 @ 12:54 PM EDT

By a strange coincidence this news has just been posted.

Here a patent that is valid in the USA has been declared invalid in a UK high court.

But on Microsoft's patent, was this not invented by Kilroy. Way back at the final phase of the second world war, a US inspector would write "Kilroy was here" and add a smiley.

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Microsoft Patents
Authored by: rp$eeley on Monday, July 25 2005 @ 01:13 PM EDT
Don't be too hard on Microsoft folks. They're actually doing us a favor by
adding to the silly, superfluous, rediculous, asinine, outlandish, daft,
ludicrous, nonsensical, cockamamie, absurd, outrageous, preposterous, senseless,
and stupid patents that will cause the patent system to self-destruct at some
point. Obviously, that point is rapidly approaching.

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What *does* the USPTO do when a patent is filed?
Authored by: TerryC on Monday, July 25 2005 @ 01:33 PM EDT
According to the application, Microsoft filed this patent in January 2004. The
application was made public over 18 months later on 21st July. Just what have
the USPTO been doing with this for all that time?

What is certain is that they haven't been checking for obviousness or prior art,
or the application would never have seen the light of day. Within a day or two
of release, the online news services have been awash with articles saying how
trivial this is and how technologies such as X-Face precede it (by well over 10
years at least).

So. What *have* they been doing? Why did they hide this application for all
this time. In the meantime, graphical representation of emoticons has been
added to Kmail; if this application is granted, then presumably Microsoft can
sue the KDE project for infringement.

What can I say; this whole process stinks.


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CIO's take note: Microsoft Files to Patent Emoticon Method
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, July 25 2005 @ 02:15 PM EDT
While this may seem like a trivial thing for main line companies to worry about, the patent issue is one they should be concerned about.


"The bottom line is that if your company is planning an IT strategy around open source, then you have a stake in this issue. The current system of software patents is simply bad for business -- for smaller vendors and open source projects that are struggling to compete, and for the countless other companies who rely on their efforts and innovation. As members of the business community, it's time to make our voices heard."

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Real Pryor Art.
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, July 25 2005 @ 04:19 PM EDT
I wrote a chat application 8 years ago. It has a feature that allows the users
to select an image, and assign a series of characters to that image. When the
user types that sequence in the input box, it is replaced by the image. When
the message is transferred to the other client, it includes a special code that
instructs it to place the image into the text. If that client does not have the
image in it's cache it will request the image from the original sender's
machine. From that point on the other client caches the image so it does not
have to be retransmitted every time.

I don't know if this is exactly what Microsoft patented, but it seems rather
close to me.

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  • Real Pryor Art. - Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, July 25 2005 @ 05:54 PM EDT
  • Real Pryor Art. - Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, July 25 2005 @ 11:30 PM EDT
    • Real Pryor Art. - Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, July 26 2005 @ 06:26 AM EDT
      • Real Pryor Art. - Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, July 27 2005 @ 04:36 AM EDT
      • Real Pryor Art. - Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, July 27 2005 @ 11:49 PM EDT
Microsoft Patents X-Face for Smileys
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, July 25 2005 @ 05:29 PM EDT
So, they didn't patent smileys after all.

They patented the encoding of an emoticon into a sequence
of characters (i.e. : a string).

In other words they patented the use of X-face,
specifically for Smileys

For those who don't know what X-faces look like :

Ernest ter Kuile

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Oh, boy, circle the wagons
Authored by: BassSinger on Tuesday, July 26 2005 @ 03:41 PM EDT
I think I'll patent Pi! It is, after all, a mathematical formulae requiring
significant calculation.

Then I'll be able to charge everyone who has a piece! Or manages to come full
circle in life. [Hey, I think I just invented a "Death Tax". Maybe I
should patent that...] Certainly SCO would owe me a fortune for their circular

Ooohh. Does this mean I can have my Pi and eat it too?

Pi is, when represented properly (as a Greek letter), just another character
laid out in pixels, the concept M$ wants to patent.

In Harmony's Way and In A Chord,

Tom ;-})

Proud Member of the Kitsap Chordsmen
Registered Linux User # 154358

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This Just In
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, July 29 2005 @ 09:52 AM EDT
"Microsoft has recieved a patent for Communications. We are now no longer
allowed to communicate without a license."

There is a comotion outside.

"What's that sound?"

The door explodes inward and the room is immediately filled with smoke and
overrun with stormtroopers.

A large and omnious voice booms out.

"You are forbidden to communicate."

I am stunned! I don't know what to think!

Then just as suddenly the first wave of stormtroopers are felled, one by one in
an inimagiably short flash of time.

"Don't know what to think a voice says?"

I look up and see Jeff Brazos towering above the carnage.

"That's fine by me. I just patented Thought!"

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