Microsoft Seeks Content Syndication Patents

    December 22, 2006

Microsoft has filed two separate patent applications, seeking to gain exclusive rights to technology used to obtain, organize, and read news feeds distributed via Real Simple Syndication (RSS).

The patent applications, actually filed in June 2005, recently became available for public consumption following the required 18-month privacy window.

While the applications themselves can read like an L. Ron Hubbard diatribe, the essence of the patent filings can be found in this abstract, which was graciously dug out by Nick Bradbury (thank goodness):

“A content syndication platform, such as a web content syndication platform, manages, organizes and makes available for consumption content that is acquired from the Internet. In at least some embodiments, the platform can acquire and organize web content, and make such content available for consumption by many different types of applications.”

“These applications may or may not necessarily understand the particular syndication format. An application program interface (API) exposes an object model which allows applications and users to easily accomplish many different tasks such as creating, reading, updating, deleting feeds and the like.”

Dave Winer, the self-proclaimed inventor of RSS, clams that trouble will lie ahead should Microsoft be granted these patents:

“Presumably they’re eventually going to charge us to use it. This should be denounced by everyone who has contributed anything to the success of RSS.”

Bradbury, however, isn’t ready to christen Microsoft as an enemy of syndication just yet:

“I’m not going to jump on the “Microsoft is evil” bandwagon about this (yet). However, Microsoft clearly did not invent all the ideas claimed in this patent, so some clarification would be appreciated from Microsoft’s RSS team (several of whom are listed in the patent as inventors). Specifically, what was Microsoft’s purpose in filing this patent? And what exactly did Microsoft really invent here?”

Pete Cashmore finds fault elsewhere:

To some extent, we can blame Microsoft, but the broken patent system is also at fault: Amazon famously received a patent for “one click shopping” – buying something in one click. Microsoft may be trying to prevent someone else from filing this utterly obvious patent and attempting to sue them, for instance.

As for me, I haven’t quite decided which side of the fence to come down on as of yet. It’s clear to me that Microsoft is going to have difficulty establishing that it single-handedly invented these systems of RSS organization and reading. I don’t see the company being awarded these patents as things currently stand.

Should people be upset with Microsoft for filing these patent applications? I don’t necessarily think so. Dave Winer’s view on the matter is a bit apocalyptic, and I’m not entirely inclined to believe that Microsoft has some elaborate pricing agenda in store with this type of move.

The more reasonable scenario, at least to me, is that the company is launching a pre-emptive strike at anyone else trying to patent this technology; consequently suing the pants off of Microsoft, Google, and anyone else current employing RSS feed reader services.

The truth is, it’s too early to make any kind of concrete analysis here. So I’m just going to sit back and watch how this situation continues to unfold before I take a definitive position one way or the other.

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Joe is a staff writer for WebProNews. Visit WebProNews for the latest ebusiness news.