Microsoft’s RSS Patent Theft

200612231729This last week there’s been a great deal of talk about Microsoft’s theft of RSS technology which has been available to the public in various forms over the last few years.

I’m all in favor of technology patents that are actually innovative. There are situations where a company spends time and effort developing a technology that they want to protect. The framers of our Constitution were right to want to protect innovation.

This isn’t an example of a company with innovative patents. This is theft.

One could argue that these patents are defensive but if this was the intention then Microsoft should provide patent licenses for the Open Source community and all corporations not pursing patent litigation against Microsoft in the RSS arena.

Right now, MS has a gun pointed at the heads of every RSS company and developer and I’m not willing to work with them on public standards and specifications until this situation is resolved.

What else are they going to patent? Microformats? Atom?

Niall has done a good job of reviewing the patent. I’ve reviewed it as well and I’m going to include sections from the patent here as well as Niall’s commentary.

I want to document the prior art that I’ve developed here to hopefully invalidate this patent moving forward. Microsoft clearly didn’t perform a prior art search because these technologies were available from a simple Google search.

If you’d like to read the full patent applications they are available here and here.

Central Access to Shared Feed Subscriptions

I started developing Newsmonster in early 2003. We have a blog from the period and the last blog post was from July 2003.

NewsMonster is clear prior art to the majority of their patent claims. NewsMonster was the first RSS aggregator integrated directly into the browser and predates RSS support in Safari and Internet Explorer by nearly three years.

I’m sure there are other RSS aggregators that have prior art as well as I don’t find this technology particularly patent-worthy. In fact it’s patently obvious (pun intended) to anyone who’s ever developed a library or consumed an RSS feed.

All feeds in NewsMonster were kept in an RDF data store and available natively to all Mozilla extensions. The RDF API is extremely robust and can also be used by external applications running on the same machine via the Mozilla XPCOM infrastructure.

This provided a central repository for all user feeds within the system. Any application could have used this mechanism. In fact, the NewsMonster source from this time was public with a license encouraging users to extend the RSS technology we developed.

In late 2003 I co-founded Rojo and incorporated some of this technology during the acquisition. Unfortunately I never found time to continue developing NewsMonster.

One important note is that since NewsMonster was a browser-based RSS aggregator it should invalidate MS’s innovation claims in this area.

Process web feed data supplied in various syndication formats (Jakarta FeedParser)

Rojo contributed the work that I developed on NewsMonster to the Apache Software Foundation in late 2004. The project was called the Jakarta FeedParser (not to be confused with the excellent Universal Feedparser) and has since moved outside Apache.

You can see the announcement for version 0.5 on the Atom Syntax list from Jan 2005 (a full 6 months before Microsoft’s patent filing).

NewsMonster used a generic XSLT framework to support all RSS versions and we refactored the work into a generic event API when we released FeedParser.

FeedParser is a Java RSS/Atom parser designed to elegantly support all versions of RSS (0.9, 0.91, 0.92, 1.0, and 2.0), Atom 0.5 (and future versions) as well as easy ad hoc extension and RSS 1.0 modules capability.

Developers place all their logic in a FeedParserListener which then receives callbacks from the FeedParser which knows about specific XML formats. They then pass the FeedParser an InputStream and they are ready to get events:

The FeedParser then allows the developer parse an XML feed without having to worry about the details of RSS, Atom or even FOAF.

Microsoft patent application says:

[0003] In addition, web feeds come in several different file formats, with the popular ones being RSS 0.91, 0.92, 1.0, 2.0 and Atom. Each RSS-enabled application has to support most of these formats and possibly even more in the future. Implementing parsers for use in the RSS context for some applications is more difficult than for others. Given that not all application developers are RSS experts who possess experience and knowledge with regard to the intricacies of each format, it is unlikely that all application developers will implement the parsers correctly. Hence, it is likely given the rich number of file formats that some application developers will opt to not develop applications in this space or, if they do, the applications will not be configured to fully exploit all of the features that are available across the different file formats.

Sound familiar?

Again, clear prior art.

What in the world are they thinking? Were they so far outside of the loop that they weren’t even aware of technology already developed by the Open Source community?

RSS Autodiscovery in a Browser-based RSS Platform

Patent application 0060288011 attempts to patent RSS autodiscovery.

NewsMonster implemented RSS autodiscovery as well as liberal feed location and given that Microsoft’s patent applications includes browser references should provide clear prior art.

The Jakarta FeedParser also implements RSS discovery and liberal feed location. I implemented the initial version of autodiscovery and Brad Neuberg implemented the (awesome) liberal feed location support.

Both of these technologies were available before Microsoft’s patent application.

Backlash

By now Microsoft has had time to respond:

Applying for a patent on your innovation is common industry practice, and one which, by incenting and protecting the companies and people involved, encourages everyone to contribute to the community.

It’s not the common practice of small companies or Open Source developers. Most startups are small and underfunded and don’t have the time or money to file a patent on their innovative technology.

How are you encouraging the RSS community if we have to worry about Microsoft stealing our intellectual property?

The fact of the matter is that Microsoft invented nothing here yet is applying for patents which could potentially exclude the entire RSS industry.

You could argue that innovation should be rewarded with patents but this would assume a USPTO which can correctly judge patent novelty and innovation. Arguing whether these types of obvious software patents are valid is a bit like arguing over the shade of the emperor’s new clothes.

Update:

I went back and reviewed the MS talking points from the RSS announcement at Gnomedex:

The best part is that we’re showing a deep commitment to the RSS community by making the specification for these extensions available under the Creative Commons license, the same license under which the RSS 2.0 specification was released. You can read the Simple List Extension specification on the MSDN site linked below. In layman’s terms, we’re saying that anyone can implement these extensions on their site or in their application. Lawrence Lessig, founder of Creative Commons had some nice things to say about this announcement http://www.lessig.org/blog/archives/002978.shtml.

This was published on June 24, 2005 nearly three days after they applied for patents on RSS.

They’re clearly aware that contributing to the community is important but they have no problem stabbing us in the back at the same time.

Et tu Brute?


  1. Right on brother. We’re not gonna take this (I think Tomnmy said that!) Never did and never will.

  2. Microsoft has never invented anything in their history. Just go back and review their products and who they bought them from.






%d bloggers like this: