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Paging Eliza: Patenting IM Bots 609

gondaba writes "The US Patent and Trademark Office has granted an all-encompassing patent to ActiveBuddy that covers every step of IM botmaking technology. According to internetnews, ActiveBuddy now plans to enforce the patent, even though the existence of prior art is well-known and documented."
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Paging Eliza: Patenting IM Bots

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  • by dscottj ( 115643 ) on Thursday August 15, 2002 @11:50AM (#4077313) Homepage
    All Your Bots are Belong to Us!
  • Can you blame them? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by WildBeast ( 189336 )
    They have an opportunity to earn money thanks to stupid patent laws and they try to take advantage of it.
    • last I checked, greed was one of the seven deadly sins.
    • In a word, yes: (Score:5, Insightful)

      by FreeUser ( 11483 ) on Thursday August 15, 2002 @11:57AM (#4077379)
      They have an opportunity to earn money thanks to stupid patent laws and they try to take advantage of it.

      Yes, I can and do blame them.

      Human beings are expected to have ethics, and to treat one another with a semblance thereof even when the law doesn't manage to anticipate every possible permutation of human interaction, or indeed, even when the law is clearly flawed.

      Sub-human filth that lack such ethics and/or use the law to cause deliberate harm to others for their own banal benefit deserve to be treated exactly as what they are: sub-human filth.
      • Humans also have reason. Humans have enough knowledge and foresight to know that it only takes one, or a few people to weigh greed over fucking his buddy over to exploit the system. People KNOW that people are imperfect, and make the decision that if the system is going to get screwed, might as well be them making the benefits from ruining it.

        Are they wrong for doing it? Yeah, probably. But you cannot be so naive to think that someone wouldn't exploit a system so obviously exploitable when the gains are so vast.
      • Re:In a word, yes: (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Ironica ( 124657 ) <> on Thursday August 15, 2002 @12:16PM (#4077581) Journal
        "Human beings are expected to have ethics..."

        And that is the heart of a good deal of our social and political conflicts in the US. Human beings are held to higher expectations than corporate entities, and yet, those corporate entities have the same rights as human beings. Note that a person didn't apply for this patent; a company did. If the smaller developers had to go up against an individual, even one with substantial resources, they probably wouldn't be nearly so worried. Corporations can draw on resources that individual humans can't, however. Furthermore, if they lose, the company goes bankrupt, dissolves, and the corporate officers go on about their merry way and try again next year. If it were a person, it would be at least seven years before they could do much of anything again.

        As long as corporations can live forever or die without hurting anyone, they are unmotivated to partake in human ethics. The answer seems to be to also remove some of their human-like rights. Of course, can you imagine the corporate lobbying against such legislation?
      • Re:In a word, yes: (Score:2, Informative)

        by aero6dof ( 415422 )
        I was watching an interesting show on PBS - a series on ethics. This particular show was a roundtable discussion with several old-school and newer execs, regulators, and even IIRC, Alan Greenspan. Some of the retired executives who ran corporations mentioned that one of their operating tentes used to incorporate an obligation to support the social good. It even used to be taught in the leading business schools in the US. The theory was that corporations were granted a special legal status by society, and to continue to deserve that status, they not only needed to make profit, but advance some social good.

        Of course, the new execs claimed that the only thing they needed to look out for is profits, and that the social good they provided was employment. I think "social good" needs to go beyond employment and apply to how and what service, product they produce.
    • I think that what's been proved now is that the United States Patent Office is 100% broken and needs a complete overhaul. There have been too many stupid and overly obvious patents that they have granted in the past couple of years and they have proven beyond reasonable doubt that they do not have the slightest clue about technology.
      • Then I challenge you to come up with a better system. The problem is not with the system but with funding. There are millions of patents that go through the system every year but only a few thousand patent clerks. There is no possible way for a patent clerk to go through an application, understand the technology involved in the patent, look for prior art, and judge whether the prior art invalidates the patent.

        This is where our countries check and balances, 3 branches of government comes into play. It is up to the legal system to determine whether a patent request is valid or not. The problem is that the legal system has become a joke. The time and expense involved with pursuing these cases makes it so that the deepest pocket almost always wins.

        What is the fix, you ask? Penalties for invalid patents. If you patent something and don't do an adequate job searching for prior art BEFORE applying to the PTO then you should be fined the time it took the PTO clerk to review the application, all court fees for defendants, and maybe even a punitive payment. This would mean that defendants could fight an honest battle knowing that if they come out on top they don't have to pay the mounting legal fees. It would also make these frivolous patents much more expensive.
    • by Physics Dude ( 549061 ) on Thursday August 15, 2002 @12:12PM (#4077547) Homepage
      They have an opportunity to earn money thanks to stupid patent laws ...

      Don't you mean "an opportunity to make money"?

      There is a slight difference. :)

    • by Pxtl ( 151020 ) on Thursday August 15, 2002 @12:18PM (#4077608) Homepage
      Hmmm - I wonder if I can sue the US patent office for lost funds in a lawsuit to combat this. Can the US patent office be sued for lost legal fees from carelessly handed-out patents? If so, that might force them to be more careful with throwing those things around.
  • by tommck ( 69750 ) on Thursday August 15, 2002 @11:54AM (#4077345) Homepage
    I want to patent ass slapping while having sex. I know people have been doing it for a long time, but I am the first to patent, so I am going to enforce my patent!

    I'll make millions. At worst, if I can't get any royalties, I'll sell access to everyone's court-orderd bedroom webcam (for my patent enforcement)

    I can smell the money now!

    T :-)

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 15, 2002 @12:01PM (#4077430)
      that's not money you're smelling
  • by Viking Coder ( 102287 ) on Thursday August 15, 2002 @11:54AM (#4077351)
    PRIOR ART []
  • by Codex The Sloth ( 93427 ) on Thursday August 15, 2002 @11:54AM (#4077352)
    "Any company such as ours that is venture-funded has to protect itself. It's standard procedure to file for patents when you invent something. This simply allows us to build a business," Kay added.

    "I'm not familiar with that," Kay said in response to claims that interactive bots were in existence even before ActiveBuddy launched, with venture funding from Reuters and Wit Soundview.

    Active Buddy CEO is, in fact, an IM Bot. I mean, has anyone actually seen the guy? And his responses sound suspiciously like Eliza...
    • Re:I've got it! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by schussat ( 33312 ) on Thursday August 15, 2002 @12:01PM (#4077435) Journal
      Here's my favorite line:

      "The subject of enforcing the patent shouldn't even come up. Anyone wanting to build a very good interactive agent will find that our tools are the very best."

      ... ``but, in the event that we are unable to compete in a real market, we've gone ahead and patented the whole world of bots, just as a precaution.''


    • Yeah, definitely Eliza. We just started an AIM bot, using Eliza as a placeholder while we developed something better. But due to some kinda of neurosis, the Eliza bot enjoys asking about how people's testicles are, and basically is becoming very popular. And that guy sound almost exactly like it :)

      Anyhow, I dont see a chance of this standing up in court. I have to say that if they do go after everyone tho, a lot of us would have no choice but to turn them off, at least temporarily. Mine is hosted on a school server, and it wouldnt take much for them to force me to terminate it. A single nastygram from a lawyer would do it, since I need the school account more than the bot. Any bets on who they're gonna go after first?

      And whatever happened to SmarterChild? I havent seen it lately.
    • MBAs (Score:3, Funny)

      by DustMagnet ( 453493 )
      Eliza was a psychoanalyst bot. These people at ActiveBuddy sound more like MBA bots.
  • by kawika ( 87069 ) on Thursday August 15, 2002 @11:54AM (#4077358)
    Isn't there some way that the Patent Office could open up this process so that the prior art could be waved in front of them before the patent is granted and expensive lawyers have to be called in to resolve the issue?

    I'm thinking the USPTO could create a database of pending patents on their web site that have passed initial muster with the investigator and are likely to be approved. Interested parties could go and post links about prior art (or earlier filed but still pending patents) for the patent investigator to review.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 15, 2002 @11:56AM (#4077371)
    Does it please you to believe I am botmaking technology?
  • Grrr (Score:5, Insightful)

    by msaulters ( 130992 ) on Thursday August 15, 2002 @11:57AM (#4077389) Homepage
    What I find interesting is that they're selling bot-writing tools. I haven't seen too many of those around, so perhaps they'd have been able to patent THAT idea. I really don't see how a company could write tools to make bots and then think there were honestly think there's no prior art. Looks to me like a 'lets see how much we can get away with' ploy. Unfortunately, how much they can get away with is usually: a lot. Of course, I suppose most executives out there don't really know all that much about IP law, and they're just trying to protect their businesses. They have lawyers who file the paperwork and handle the patent application process. And, of course, those lawyers are paid for doing this work. They're also paid for pursuing claims against anyone who infringes the patents, whether the company wins or loses. So.... perhaps we shouldn't question the scruples of this company as a whole so much as the litigating community itself.
    • They have lawyers who file the paperwork and handle the patent application process. And, of course, those lawyers are paid for doing this work. They're also paid for pursuing claims against anyone who infringes the patents, whether the company wins or loses. So.... perhaps we shouldn't question the scruples of this company as a whole so much as the litigating community itself.

      You make it sound like these lawyers have autonomy and get no direction from the company.

      This is of course completely ridiculous. You have a lawyer? I do. I don't recall my lawyer going around and filing patent applications on my behalf without me giving him some sort of direction and approval of each step.

      And do you have any idea how expensive lawyers are? No one gives their lawyers carte blanche or they'd be broke in a week!
  • Patent? crap! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by topham ( 32406 ) on Thursday August 15, 2002 @11:58AM (#4077393) Homepage
    What the hell is the fundamental difference between an IM bot and an IRC bot?

    Or any other bot running within an environment generally used for 2-way (or more) communication?

    I wrote a bot in 1990 for christ sake.

    Not kidding, work with DDIAL chat systems.

    DDIAL ran on Apple IIe with 7 300bps modems.

  • documented? i'd say. (Score:5, Informative)

    by MORTAR_COMBAT! ( 589963 ) on Thursday August 15, 2002 @11:58AM (#4077396) documents advanced bots [] in 1994, let alone earlier, cruder bots which had been in use.

    Bots are heavily in use in the corporate infrastructure, from auto-reply bots which answer emails based on formatting (think: subscribing to majordomo or even old NSI DNS requests), to complete bots which can answer "what color is the sand on Mars".

    There's even a Wired article [] about IRC bots.

    there should be stiff punishments for abusing the system like this, otherwise, what's to stop them? the only thing which gets hurt is their public image, and frankly that's not enough. I'm not talking prison terms, I'm talking stiff fines for such blatant misuse of the USPTO, to fund a future technical review board for the USPTO.
  • Instant Prior Art (Score:5, Informative)

    by signe ( 64498 ) on Thursday August 15, 2002 @11:59AM (#4077407) Homepage
    While I was working at AOL, someone (employee) had an IM bot running. It performed such tasks as giving out stock quotes when asked, and doing translations between a few languages. Seeing as this patent of ActiveBuddy's was filed *after* I left AOL, I'm fairly certain that they're shit outta luck.

    Yeah, there weren't many IM bots out there, but there were a few. And one is all it takes.

  • Patent wording.... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by GiorgioG ( 225675 ) on Thursday August 15, 2002 @12:00PM (#4077425) Homepage
    A method and system for interactively responding to queries from a remotely located user includes a computer server system configured to receiving an instant message query or request from the user over the Internet. The query or request is interpreted and appropriate action is taken, such as accessing a local or remote data resource and formulating an answer to the user's query. The answer is formatted as appropriate and returned to the user as an instant message or via another route specified by the user. A method and system of providing authenticated access to a given web page via instant messaging is also disclosed.

    I'm this is way too vague. Aside from all the IRC bots in existance, What about "Ask Jeeves"? We can certainly dispute whether a web browser/site is an 'instant messaging' server. If I "ask" jeeves for something and it returns my query, then is it not prior art?
  • Ok, so they have a piece of paper. Who cares? It isn't going to do them any good.

    There is a huge volume of prior art. If they sue anyone over this, they'll be laughed out of court -- and probably be required to pay the defendant's legal fees as well.

    People complain about how easy it is to get patents, but they're missing a major point: The USPTO could just stamp "APPROVED, $DATE" on every piece of paper which comes through the door and invalid patents would be just as invalid as they ever were.
    • Re:So what? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by 91degrees ( 207121 )
      Trouble is, someone has to challenge. Have you any idea how expensive it is to overturn a patent claim? Most companies find it cheaper and easier to settle out of court. It's a short sighted attitude, but how often to companies take the long view and act for the good of society?
  • Celebrity BotMatch...!

    A.L.I.C.E., a heavyweight at 11 kilos, takes on SmarterChild, sponsored by ActiveBuddy, Inc. The prize? Utter destruction by licensing fees!

    Let's go behind the ring for exclusive one-on-one interviews with the contenders.

    SmarterChild, what's your take on the situation?
    SC: I don't know, I just do!
    How do you feel about this whole prior art thing?
    SC: Listings for Prior Art, KS... Austin Powers, playing at 12:30, 2:30, 3:30...

    All right... moving on... A.L.I.C.E., how do you feel about this upcoming match?
    ALICE: I will ask my botmaster for the answer.
    Will you wrest control of the patent?
    ALICE: I have no answer for that. NYU and Berkeley suck!
  • by Dark Paladin ( 116525 ) <[ten.lemmuhnhoj] [ta] [lemmuhj]> on Thursday August 15, 2002 @12:04PM (#4077457) Homepage
    Ever see a kid in elementary school who steals the lunch money of other kids? Then see that same kid after one of his victims breaks his nose? He's not so keen on stealing money anymore; the cost has become too high.

    The same thing exists here with all of these silly software/genetic patents that the Patent Office, accepted by people with the brainpower of rancid jello. For now, they can do it, and it's a proven technique - patent something that already exists, then collect from businesses who know it will cost more to fight than to simply pay.

    Sooner or later, one of two things will happen. A) Someone will patent something that others really, really care about, and you'll see an Enron/Worldcom level knee-jerk response (Damn! We must make a law to stop this), or B) they'll finally tackle somebody with enough deep pockets and pissed off attitude to crush a company like this, and set a major legal precident.

    Either way, I figure I'll keep coding my stuff, and to hell with people who steal the future.
    • I'm not so sure it would set a legal precedant. What would that be? That you can't patent things that don't exist? You already can't patent things that don't exist.
      Maybe I'm a pessimist but I'm also not entirely sure that one company getting burned would stop others from repeating the process. I mean, when that one lunch money bully at school got punched, the lunch money bully population didn't disappear.
      The key here is patent office reform, it's not going to take any one case to do it, not even a big huge one. The patent office will dismiss that as a fluke and continue on as usual. There needs to be many cases against bad patents. People need to quit paying to make the problem go away and fight for their rights.

    • B) they'll finally tackle somebody with enough deep pockets and pissed off attitude to crush a company like this, and set a major legal precident.

      This may have happened. BT sued Prodigy over their insane hyperlink patent. Unfortunately for BT, Prodigy is owned by SBC, one of the (three?) remaining Baby Bells. I suspect that SBC will bitchslap BT in court (can you say Engelbart video?).

      All we need is for somebody to bitchslap this idiot. He claims he has the best tools, and he didn't even know about the Perl module that predated him???
  • The real problem (Score:4, Interesting)

    by pmancini ( 20121 ) <> on Thursday August 15, 2002 @12:05PM (#4077471) Homepage
    Isn't the real problem in that the way patents are applied for the office in unable to make proper examinaitions of each claim? Does this problem with patenting happen in other fields? Last week I was on an 1842 Steam Locomotive and noticed that the butterfly hindged doors on the coal feed was granted patent #3. I thought to myself; here is something that is of a simple design, clearly useful in the confined space of the cab and probably made someone extremely rich.

    So what can we do to help prevent obvious and useless patenting?
    • Hmmm.... what's patent #1, I wonder?

      "Patent #1: A system for approving any vague description of something that might resemble, on shallow inspection, an invention. Issued by the USPO to the USPO."
  • Whaa? (Score:3, Funny)

    by quantaman ( 517394 ) on Thursday August 15, 2002 @12:06PM (#4077473)
    "We invented interactive agents. Anybody using his or her own tools (to make bots) is obviously using our technology without paying us to license the server, for example.

    So... anybody using their own stuff is obviously using your stuff... but by your admission they're using their own stuff so by definition they're not using your stuff... but you stated they are using your stuff which would mean they arn't using their own stuff... that is a contradiction... and they have to license your server... Illogical. Illogical.

    *smoke erupts from ears and collapses*
  • Patenting Ideas (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tall Rob Mc ( 579885 ) on Thursday August 15, 2002 @12:06PM (#4077476)
    To my knowledge, traditional patents are held for the specific invention they detail. However, different implementations of the same invention and improvements on an existing invention are individually patentable and legal. For example, there are multiple types of patented egg beaters (electric with a handle, electric upright, hand-cranked, etc.) Though they all achieve the same end goal, beating an egg, the different implementations are considered different inventions.

    A wider example might be flying machines. There are thousands of different types of planes, baloons, helicopters, hangliders, and ultralights but each achieve the same goal by different means. Each has their own style, benefits, drawbacks, and potential uses.

    I see the general patenting of auto-IM responders as being similar to patenting the idea of human flight. Though every auto-IM responder may have completely different code, handle events in different ways, and interact with different systems, ActiveBuddy owns the idea. That is bullshit.

    I can buy 1000 differnt models of cars, why can't I buy 1000 different models of IM responder if each has its own advantages and disadvantages, efficiency, interface, and style.

  • I am patenting a form of expression using three musical 'chords'. This will allow the user to express feelings of sadness and dismay. The trademarked and copyrighted name of this product is, "The Blues"(TM)®©.

    I will defend my original idea in the courts, and I've got a woking prototype to prove I am the inventor.

  • ... link Microsoft into this article in some crude way. I'd love to get a +1 Funny, but I can't think of a way to make 'Bill Gates is evil', 'Windows BSOD', or 'Microsoft has a monopoly' relate to the bot patent.

    Damn. My karma's dipping a bit today. :(
    • How about the fact that ActiveBuddy's only decent buddy, SmarterChild, was cancelled from AOL and is now only available on MSN Messenger. Certainly smells of Microsoft money somewhere.

      I actually used SmarterChild daily as a reference source and had to depend on the less convenient, but still cool, Watson when he dissappeared from AIM.

  • How do you feel about Patenting IM Bots?
  • by warpSpeed ( 67927 ) <> on Thursday August 15, 2002 @12:09PM (#4077505) Homepage Journal
    Tell them what you really think. Here is the contact info from thier web site. Only one email address, the rest are using cgi-forms.

    Remeber to be polite!

    contact form []

    ActiveBuddy Press Contacts
    Contact ActiveBuddy Public Relations:
    (408) 530-0850 x202
    Snail Mail & Phone:

    New York City Office
    ActiveBuddy, Inc.
    24 West 25th Street
    Fifth Floor
    New York, NY 10010
    Phone: 646-486-8700
    Fax: 646-486-8701

    Sunnyvale, CA Office

    ActiveBuddy, Inc.
    111 West Evelyn Avenue
    Suite 101
    Sunnyvale, CA 94086
    Phone: 408-530-0850
    Fax: 408-737-7018

  • by CaffeineAddict2001 ( 518485 ) on Thursday August 15, 2002 @12:10PM (#4077518)
    Hello my name Alice!

    Nice to meet you Alice.

    Nice to meet you too! Have I told you how much I love snack-ums?

    I don't care.

    I care greatly for snack-ums.

    Leave me alone.

    Nobody would leave a party with snack-ums!

    Is that so?

    I don't understand, but I do understand one thing: Snack-Ums are delicious!

    You seem a little obsessed with snack-ums carla.

    • This sort of thing already happens with the porn industry. I will occasionally get a msg saying something like "hello, whats your name?" You get to talk to it for about 30 seconds, the conversation quickly moving towards a sexual nature, before it hits you with the address.

      As usual, the porn industry is about 987345 steps ahead of everyone else.
    • by Peter Trepan ( 572016 ) on Thursday August 15, 2002 @02:27PM (#4078750)
      I Love Snack-Ums: Hello, I Love Cheesy Poofs! Have I told you how much I love Snack-Ums?

      I Love Cheesy Poofs: That's very interesting, I Love Snack-Ums. Have I told you how delicious Cheesy Poofs are?

      I Love Duff Beer: That's very interesting, I Love Cheesy Poofs. Have I told you how delicious Duff Beer is to persons of legal age in their respective states?

      *I Love Taking Brand Name Pharmeceuticals has entered the room.*
  • [Activbuddy founder Tim] Kay said ActiveBuddy was not worried about competing firms offering bot-making tools. "Our primary level of comfort comes from the fact that we have the best choice for developers and others. When given the choice, we're confident people will choose ours," he said.
    If that is the case, why patent something you didn't invent and force everyone to license it? In the exact same article he says
    "We invented interactive agents. Anybody using his or her own tools (to make bots) is obviously using our technology without paying us to license the server, for example.
    Riiiiight. There were no IRC bots before this?
  • "We invented interactive agents. Anybody using his or her own tools (to make bots) is obviously using our technology without paying us to license the server, for example. We are a startup company and we have to protect out future. That's basically why we secured this patent," Kay said.


    "Hi, we're assholes who want to patent something that's clearly been done before and wasn't terribly original when it was done, just so we can make a buck or two."

    These people make me violently ill.

  • I intented the internet!! Pants, too! Give me money NOW
  • "We invented interactive agents. Anybody using his or her own tools (to make bots) is obviously using our technology without paying us to license the server, for example"

    I may be wrong so don't flame me for the question but don't homemade items ( as long as they are not sold ) supercede patents. There's nothing to stop me from making imaging software for personal use even if it DOES use gif since it's not commercial
  • Like many a 'bot writer, I wrote a 'bot that seems to do everything their patent describes, *if* IRC is considered an IM.

    This [] was written over 2 years ago (although I didn't post it's existence until Dec of 2001). The demo is not currently running, but a "production" version is. I do have IRC logs that go back to the original inception, plus access to the logs of about a dozen users.

    Can this be used in a prior-art refutement of their patent?


    1. Good god it's cumbersome and tideous to read those texts...!
    2. I used to believe in patents, and well I still do, but this is just stupid. As if this has never been done before? Do they accept any patent application today?
    3. Too bad there's no Einstein working in the patent offices these days
  • Why is the following happening?

    1. Stupid patents granted
    2. ./ers find prior art in 5 minutes
    3. We gripe until next time

    Why doesn't the patent office just post to slashdot to find prior art?

    Seriously though, if prior art is so easy to find, why isn't the patent office finding it? Or is it that they are interperting the patent request to be something different than what we are? I would really love to know if there is something wrong with the Patent Office, or with our understanding of patent law. Lets clear this up and start working to fix the system, or update our own understanding.
  • by martin ( 1336 )

    I think I'll approach the USPTO with a patent for the wheel - no prior art there :-)
  • by shren ( 134692 ) on Thursday August 15, 2002 @12:16PM (#4077585) Homepage Journal

    ActiveBuddy disputed McClelland's claims. "I am fairly confident, there were no interactive agents on IM at that point when the application was filed (August 22, 2000). I'm certainly not aware of any," said Kay, who doubles as ActiveBuddy's chief technology officer.

    Didn't somebody set up an ICQ bot posing as female to flirt with people, then put the logs on the web a long time ago? I can't seem to dig it up.

  • by Fat Casper ( 260409 ) on Thursday August 15, 2002 @12:18PM (#4077606) Homepage
    Every time I see something as retarded as this, I want every last moron at the USP&TO taken out back and shot.

    Unfortunately, they're not the real problem. We need some real dust-off-the-Constitution kind of IP reform.

    Unfortunately, that's not the real problem. We need some real get-the-companies-out-of-politics kind of capmaign finance reform.

    Until Disney, the **AAs and normal industry turn our government back over to us, we're going to keep having these outrages shoved down our throats. In one of the races in my state, one party is running attack ads claiming that 96% of the other candidate's money is coming from out of state. It doesn't matter to me if it's an "I need funding" issue or an "I'm a corporate whore" issue. It's a backwater district in a tiny state, and it's bought and paid for by corporate interests that have no interest in the state, just in how many seats they can buy for their favorite party.

    We have to fix the government before it can fix anything for us.

    • Wouldn't it be amazing if campaign finance contributions could only come from valid, registered voters?

      As it is, foreign governments, multinational corporations, and large PACs have louder votes than US citizens. Doesn't make much sense to me.
  • by program21 ( 469995 ) on Thursday August 15, 2002 @12:20PM (#4077622) Homepage Journal
    This is the full text of an inquiry I have sent to ActiveBuddy via their Press Inquiries area.
    I'm writing you in regards to your recent patent grant for interactive agent technology. In an article at Internet News ( 1446781), Tim Kay is quoted as saying "We invented interactive agents. Anybody using his or her own tools (to make bots) is obviously using our technology without paying us to license the server, for example."
    I am inquiring as to what research as to prior art was done before submitting a patent request, as the same Internet News article quotes several developers as knowing of 'bots' whose code is freely available and has been since before ActiveBuddy was even a company. Specifically named is the Perl module Net::AIM, timestamped in CPAN as having been originally published on 18-Aug-1999, well prior to your patent application filed on August 22, 2000. The original code of the Net::AIM module, and included with the package at the time, included code for an 'interactive agent', albeit not as complex as the technology your company uses today.

    The first line of the patent summary reads as follows: "A method and system for interactively responding to queries from a remotely located user includes a computer server system configured to receiving an instant message query or request from the user over the Internet." This is the very definition of a bot, which is not new technology. A common type of IRC known as Eggdrop, which meets the description offered by the description offered in the patent, has been around since late 1993 (

    My question to you is, what findings did you uncover when researching for this patent, and given the fact that numerous examples of prior art can be shown, do you believe the patent will be enforcable, and if so, how?
    I would very much like hear what sort of spin they put on this.
  • by tiedyejeremy ( 559815 ) on Thursday August 15, 2002 @12:21PM (#4077631) Homepage Journal
    I'd certainly like to know European Patent Examiner John Savage's [] opinion on this US patent craziness!
  • "I'm not familiar with that," Kay said in response to claims that interactive bots were in existence even before ActiveBuddy launched, with venture funding from Reuters and Wit Soundview.

    How about all the /. readers out there send him some links?

    "I'm not familiar with that," Kay said in response to claims that the sun was in existence even before the morning ActiveBuddy launched, with venture funding from Reuters and Wit Soundview.

  • Written in Expect, just playing around, probably I got the idea from something else (or maybe something that came with Expect), so there must be other similar programs that were distributed to the public! In fact you could almost call Expect a "bot toolkit". The date on the file is Nov.1997. I don't know if it works since I don't have talkd installed.

    It sets up a "humanized" typing pattern, tries to talk to someone, asks them if they've heard of a turing test (and makes/corrects some mistakes to look more human). Then it calls them a moron and quits. :-)

    Sorry /. ate the non-breaking spaces I put in but you get the idea...

    - - - - -

    #!/usr/local/bin/expect -f

    spawn talk user@localhost

    set timeout 200
    expect -re "nable |not logged|refusing" exit "established*"

    set send_human {.15 .3 1 .05 2}
    #set send_human {.15 .3 1 0.001 0.001}

    send -h "Hey...\n"
    send -h "I just wanted to knwo if\177\177\177\177\177ow if you had "
    send -h "ever heard of a\n"
    send -h "silly thing called the \"turing test\"??\n"

    set timeout 25
    expect {
    "yes" {exec sleep 1 ; send -h "Er, I'll tell you anyway...\n"}
    "no" {exec sleep 1}

    send -h "\nwell, ti \177\177\177it works like this:\n"
    send -h "a human sits at a terminal, and talks to a computer or human and\n"
    send -h "tries to decide which is which.\nnow type \"bye\" you moron..."
    expect "*bye*"

    set seen 0
    set timeout 10
    expect {
    timeout {
    if {$seen == 1} {send -h "\nI'm still waiting...\n"}
    if {$seen == 0} {send -h "\nI'm waiting...\n"}
    set seen 1

    exec sleep 1
    send -h "\nOk, bye!\n"
    exec sleep 1
  • Prior Art (Score:4, Informative)

    by pudge ( 3605 ) <slashdot@pudg[ ]et ['e.n' in gap]> on Thursday August 15, 2002 @12:23PM (#4077649) Homepage Journal
    I wrote aoliza_ripoff.plx [] one week after this patent was applied for, basing it on AOLiza [] (in purpose, not code, as I didn't have the AOLiza code) which was written (or, at least, in use) a few weeks before the patent was applied for.

    Then there's Net::AIM [], which includes this text, from over a year before the patent was applied for:
    # This script is a simple script that creates an aimbot
    # shamelessly adapted from Net::IRC

    And yeah, I figured that AOL had to have bots running for many years on AOL chats and AIM. That's a no-brainer.
  • by Erwos ( 553607 ) on Thursday August 15, 2002 @12:27PM (#4077683)
    My girlfriend's brother (whom I am also good friends with) recently started working at the US Patent Office. I can now tell you all, without a doubt, what the problem is. It's not stupid people - I know her brother is really a very intelligent guy (electrical engineer with mba and good GPA). It's _quotas_!

    Yes, that's right. You have to approve or reject x number of patents every two weeks (where x is something like 5, I think) or be fired. So, if you've got a few time-consuming ones at first, you're under a lot of pressure to just do _something_ with the last couple of them, especially if time is about to run out. I would not be surprised at all if some patents were not investigated as thoroughly as they should be (read: not at all) in the interests of the reviewer not being fired. That is perhaps what happened here: quick check to make sure no patent doing the same thing has been issued, and then approval without doing any outside research.

    So, really, the problem is not really US patent law. It's the fact that the USPO is understaffed and overworked and cannot adequately review patent submissions. I hope that gives a better perspective on the issue rather than "the US(PO) sucks and is staffed by idiots".

    • You spend 75 of your working hours on four patents. Now, in the last 5 hours, you have to approve or deny a last patent.

      If you deny a patent and it turns out to have been a bad patent, you did the right thing, but only by accident.

      If you deny a patent and it turns out to have been a fair patent, you did the wrong thing, and you're probably going to get in trouble when the company bitches about your denial of thier perfectly reasonable patent.

      If you allow a patent and it's a fair patent, then you did the right thing, but only by accident.

      If you allow a patent and it's a bad patent, you did a bad thing. But you met your quota, and the patent applicant sure as hell isn't going to get you in trouble. You can rest easily knowing (or hoping) that the patent will be shot down later. You've met the quota and kept your job by deftly shifting the burden to the legal system.

      Thus, the patent reviewers are encouraged by the system to approve bad patents when they are short on time. Furthermore, if I had to pick between a sort of bad one and a really, really bad one, then I'd pick the really, really bad one because there's less chance that it'll stand.

      Systems build the world we live in. Can anyone think of a different system that doesn't reward the patent examiner awarding bad patents?

  • "The buddyscript suite of tools is the best that's available. We're confident they are the best choice (for users) who are building interactive agents. The subject of enforcing the patent shouldn't even come up. Anyone wanting to build a very good interactive agent will find that our tools are the very best," Kay added.

    It's like a presidential campaign in the old Soviet Union...

    "The subject of voting shouldn't even come up. We're obviously the best party around..."
  • The ActiveBuddy patent was filed on 8/22/2000,

    but iChatBot, a fairly well known (well, with what seems to be many hundreds of users, and able to attract the attention of losers who keep its warning level in the 90% range 24 hours a day :)) AIM bot has been existence since at least 8/11/2000, thus being before the patent filing and proof of prior art etc.

    Check it out: []

    Just another example of how this patent is complete bullshit.


    What do you have to do to overturn a patent?

  • AiM bots and ICQ bots been around for a while.
    When I first joinned the Internet in 1993 IRC bots were all over the place.
    My first attempt an OS was an AI.. my first test was to write an chat bot for a local chat BBS. This may not count the OS was defective so the bot never worked.

    Eliza bots would chat with users in some cases if you paged the sysop and the sysop wasn't there the BBS would switch you over to an Eliza bot so you could chat with somebody...
    (People were SOOO board back then)

    So this racks up bots to say 1980's... and some refrences to Apple // chat bots suggest we can go back to 1970's. Eliza itself I believe was a project in the 1960's thow it was talking with itself so maybe it dosen't count.

    Chat bot's date back years.. This is a known..
    But Active Buddy dosen't know about it?

    Ok my question is "How can you know internet programming and NOT know about bots?"
    To the patent office "Do you have any technology experts who know something more advanced than the wheel? Or can I get a patent on that?"
  • ATHENS--The US Patent Office awarded the country of Greece a patent for "government of a people via said people's involvement in the selection of said government." "Greece invented the concept of democracy over 2000 years ago. We have decided that it is time to enforce our intellectual property rights to this governmental model", Anthony Papatriantafilou, Greece's Ambassador to the United States said yesterday. "We're an ongoing enterprise, and we have to think about our future." Greece will send out letters demanding licensing fees from democratic governments around the globe, said Papatriantafilou. Failure to pay the fees or cease running as a democracy would "bring about legal action from the government of Greece, the only legitimate rights holders to government of, by and for the people."
  • by Have Blue ( 616 ) on Thursday August 15, 2002 @12:47PM (#4077851) Homepage
    Isn't AOL going to get a bit riled over this? Surely a patent on bots designed to connect to their network could be at least challenged as infringing on their IP. And AOL is not a good enemy for an unpopular start-up to have.
  • by gojomo ( 53369 ) on Thursday August 15, 2002 @12:54PM (#4077920) Homepage
    My company in 1998, Activerse, developed a product called the "DingBot SDK" for creating interactive IM response Bots like those ActiveBuddy claims a patent on. It worked in our own (all-Java, radically peer-to-peer, web-services-like) IM/Presence system, but featured an API specifically designed to allow multi-IM-system bots.

    We demoed an early version of the product at the "Demo 98" conference, in February 1998. PCWeek ran an article [] about us mentioning the DingBot SDK later that month.

    The Activerse press release announcing the product's general availability, in November 1998, is still available at the Internet Archive [].

    ActiveBuddy was founded in March 2000. So, not only were their "IM bots" a old idea by the time they filed their patent (August 2000), a ripoff of both Activerse's offerings and more than a decade of practice on IRC networks and in MUDs/MOOs, but their very name was derivative of an existing player in the same market ("Activerse"->"ActiveBuddy") and their main product (an SDK/server) and business model (licensing) mimicked Activerse as well.

    Their founder claims with a straight face "we invented interactive agents" and "I am fairly confident, there were no interactive agents on IM at that point when the application was filed. I'm certainly not aware of any." That only goes to show you have to be *studiously* ignorant and/or dishonest in order to effectively twist the flaws of the software patent system to personal advantage.

    (Postscript on Activerse: It was acquired by high-flying internet conglomerate CMGI in April 1999. Though the initial aim was to expand and promote the Ding IM/bot products throughout the CMGI network of compnaies, as CMGI itself unravelled, Activerse was dismantled through a series of mostly arbitrary and faddish organizational moves which completely ignored the promise of the growing IM space.)

  • by VisualStim ( 130062 ) on Thursday August 15, 2002 @01:05PM (#4078027) Homepage
    Perhaps the prior art could be found within the USPTO itself. From a typical technology patent application:

    Applicant: I'd like to file for a patent on my idea.
    USPTO: Tell me about your idea.
    Applicant: My idea will change everything. No one will be able to surf the web without using my idea. I'll make billions!
    USPTO: You sound excited.
    Applicant: Excited? Who wouldn't be?
    USPTO: I'll ask the questions.
    Applicant: Oh, sorry. Now, about that application.
    USPTO: Oh, you'd like a patent application. Of course sir. Here is your patent, #123,456,789,012,345.
  • by Uttles ( 324447 ) <> on Thursday August 15, 2002 @01:24PM (#4078192) Homepage Journal
    OK, here's a good EULA question:

    Microsoft's EULA for Windows OS says don't copy it and distribute copies. People do that, and supposedly they're breaking the law.

    AIM's EULA says don't make an automated chatting script, or bot, especially not to spam with. People do that, and apparently they get patents for it. How does this make sense to anyone?
  • by KFury ( 19522 ) on Thursday August 15, 2002 @09:59PM (#4080387) Homepage
    As the creator (hack, cough, apologies to Prof Weisenbaum (sp)) or AOLiza, I've got a few opinions on ActiveBuddy's patent claim:

    First, sadly, despite the fact that AOLiza was unleashed a few weeks before ActiveBuddy's patent filing, it doesn't apply as prior art, because according to patent law, if the claimant filed the patent application within one year of inventing, disclosing, or even detailing the invention in an email, it's still valid.

    That isn't to say that prior art doesn't exist. I'm certain that it does, not the least of which in the AIM::BOT perl libraries which preceeded ActiveBuddy by well over a year.

    Moreover, AOLiza doesn't even use the AIM::BOT libraries (although an earlier test version did). It uses the Mac version of AIM and the applescript hooks that AOL put into that application. These hooks, including calls so that other programs can grab messages, send messages, and do a myriad of other 'bot' functions, existed well over a year before ActiveBuddy's application, and were clearly designed to allow the attachment of automated scripts or bots to be used with the application.

    This is important because in addition to 'get there first' and 'usefulness' the third requirement for a successful patent application is demonstrated non-obviousness. The invention has to be a novel application of technologies, not simply an evolution of existing (and possibly patented) technologies.

    Clearly, when AIM for Mac had hooks specifically written to allow third-party programs to act as bots, another companys claim that actually USING those hooks, or punching holes into another part of the program to make hooks of their own, can not be seen as novel in any way.

    That's my two cents, and I'd be happy to testify in court.

The moon may be smaller than Earth, but it's further away.