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Microsoft's RSS Patent Application Raises Hackles

By Erika Morphy
Dec 28, 2006 2:38 PM PT

An application that Microsoft filed last year with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office could be interpreted to give the software giant broad rights to RSS, or really simple syndication, technology.

Microsoft's RSS Patent Application Raises Hackles

The possibility that Microsoft might wind up charging license fees for any RSS-type application has caused denizens of the blogosphere to take up arms against the Redmond, Wash.-based conglomerate.

Microsoft has denied that it is laying claim to the now widely used technology as a whole. Rather, in an effort to defuse the furor, Sean Lyndersay, RSS program manager lead, wrote in a recent company blog that Microsoft is seeking patent protection only for "specific ways to improve the RSS end user and developer experience."

Despite the company's protests to the contrary, at least one patent attorney said it could conceivably gain broad rights to RSS technology, based on the way the patent application is written -- depending on what was made public about it prior to Microsoft's filing date in June 2005.

Broad Claim

The first of a total of 20 claims in Microsoft's patent application reads as follows:

"A system comprising: one or more computer-readable media; computer-readable instructions on the one or more computer-readable media which, when executed, implement: an RSS platform that is configured to receive and process RSS data in one or more formats; and code means configured to enable different types of applications to access RSS data that has been received and processed by the RSS platform."

Commenting on that section, Dave Jenkins, a partner with Eckert Seamans, told TechNewsWorld: "My interpretation is that Microsoft is requesting to patent an RSS platform configured to receive and process RSS data."

Whenever someone would receive an image in RSS data in an e-mail system structured to convert images to the JPEG file format, Microsoft's patent would be infringed, according to Jenkins' interpretation. The conversion process from RSS to JPEG is specifically what would infringe Microsoft's patent, he explained.

The subsequent claims in the application discuss accessing RSS data in other ways, Jenkins noted, "but the broadest claim -- the first one -- doesn't bring up those elements."

Gray Area

The chances are slim that Microsoft will receive the exact patent it has requested, he said, although that outcome is possible. Much depends on what has been publicly disclosed about the RSS standard and technology prior to June 21, 2005, when Microsoft filed the claim at the PTO.

If anything touching upon Microsoft's pending patent has been previously published -- be it in a magazine article or a professor's paper -- the company's claims could be moot.

However, Jenkins pointed out that there is often a surprisingly large gray area when it comes to new technology.

"The industry could talk and write about an emerging technology for two years, for instance, tossing around ideas and solutions," he said.

That doesn't necessarily count in a patent claim, though, Jenkins commented, unless and until the technology has been finalized -- in the form of an accepted standard, for example.

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