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Microsoft [to patent] Verb Conjugation 382

streepje writes "Here [to be] the latest egregious patent application. Microsoft [to be] [to apply] for a patent for [to conjugate] verbs. Future postings [to look] like this."
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Microsoft [to patent] Verb Conjugation

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  • by jorghis ( 1000092 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @01:49AM (#16050221)
    It seems that slashdot routinely posts headlines claiming "Microsoft patents X!" Where X is something obviously nonpatentable. However, in almost every instance what Microsoft has actually done is patented a specific method or system of performing X. This is no exception. Microsoft has not patented conjugating verbs. They are applying for a patent for a specific type of system which helps users identify verb forms from verbs and vice versa. Again: patenting a method or system for performing X != patenting X. Can we get an end to all these misleading "Microsoft patents smiley faces!" type of headlines?
  • by Number_1_Bigg$ ( 771467 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @01:51AM (#16050226)
    They're not patenting the idea of Verb Conjugation, they're patenting the method they want to use to accomplish this with software. It's a method patent. Whether or not method patents are a good idea or not is another matter. But what they are doing isn't really all that unusual in the patent world. (IANAL)
  • Re:Oh please (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Pogue Mahone ( 265053 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @01:53AM (#16050236) Homepage
    So it's a patent on looking up information in a file and presenting it on the screen. Now I'm sure I've seen that done somewhere before...
  • by Skippy_kangaroo ( 850507 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @02:03AM (#16050260)
    Yes - but they are effectively patenting all methods of doing this. And that is the big problem. Amazon didn't patent one particular method of providing one-click shopping, they pretty much patented them all. As such, Microsoft will have a lock on anyone doing verb conjugation on a computer.

    Nowhere in this patent do they describe the method in anything but the broadest generality - they are not patenting a specific implementation (which is what covers programs under copyright law).

    As you imply - it's not unusual but it's still a bad idea to allow method patents like this.
  • by Americano ( 920576 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @02:04AM (#16050263)
    Hey, you made a few mistakes in your post... what you meant to say, here on slashdot, was:




    I mean, seriously... how are we supposed to engage in shouting down the unpopular kids if you don't help out and raise your voice?
  • US (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mark_MF-WN ( 678030 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @02:09AM (#16050285)
    You're kidding right? Their policy is to automatically grant every patent application, and let the courts figure out validity later. Basically, in order to show that they've reduced their budget, they fired all their patent analysts and let them work as consultants to civil courts at one hundred times the overall cost, once you factor in all the legal costs associated with resolving patent disputes the hard way. In a reasonable enlightened nation, this would get the government officials responsible for this decision horsewhipped in a public square before being exiled. In America, the people responsible were instead paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for their efforts and will live some of the cushiest lives in the entire world, while the tax payer grapples the massive extra costs introduced by this monstrous decision (as well as paying for the officials' pensions, rather than for a few bullwhips and an exile-barge at a fraction the price). Nice, huh?
  • by 1u3hr ( 530656 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @02:12AM (#16050294)
    what Microsoft has actually done is patented a specific method

    The "specific method" is not very specific, it covers just about any way of doing it. So MS has a big club to beat any small company who makes a widget that achieves the same result, because they have to spend tens of thousands of dollars to get a patent lawyer to defend themselves, even if it's "obvious" their work was original. Ultimately, it just scares anyone away from even trying.

  • by Talennor ( 612270 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @02:18AM (#16050314) Journal
    However, in almost every instance what Microsoft has actually done is patented a specific method or system of performing X.

    That specific method here is "on a computer." This is exactly the type of patent that slashdot people get up in arms about. The patent application requests that they be the only ones allowed to conjugate verbs on a computer.

    Though, I for one [to welcome] our new language [to own] overlords. (btw, way to go article submitter. you've made something dull into something interesting.)
  • by jorghis ( 1000092 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @02:19AM (#16050315)
    Can you name any examples where Microsoft has bullied a small company for patent infringement on a trivial patent? I dont know of any. But you claim that MS routinely scares/bullies "anyone away from trying" using patents so I would assume that you must have some examples of this. Do you know of any? (not flaming, legitimately curious)
  • by jorghis ( 1000092 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @02:27AM (#16050337)
    No, it is far more specific than that. You cant just read the few sentences in the abstract and assume that they are trying to patent everything which even remotely fits that description. If that were the case there would be no point in writing more than a few sentences in a patent application. They are much more specific about the system they are trying to patent here.
  • by sporkme ( 983186 ) * on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @02:27AM (#16050338) Homepage
    I don't really care if it is Microsoft filing this kind of a patent. I still feel that it is baseless and that it already exists. The counter to my argument is that it IS fairly exciting software (in concept) and should be protected from theft. I feel that the software lies in a grey area between invention and copying. The code, not the concept, could be protected. IANAL.

    I agree that "patenting a method or system for performing X != patenting X", but does this really qualify? Both paper and computer dictionaries already contain references like "Inflected Form(s): saw /'so/; seen /'sEn/; seeing" [] and cross-references to related entries. Translation dictionaries include possible misinterpretation cross-references. Translation applications rely on databases of tense/verb/misinterpretation charts to accomplish the same thing. A user relies on these systems according to their own resources. The more I think about it, this feels like a search engine patenting all of the content it reveals.

    To illustrate, my mom may have a perfect method for scrambling eggs. She can say it is her method, but she cannot claim that she invented scrambled eggs, and she is not claiming that she invented the egg. The implementation of fork, bowl, egg, and milk are not new. She could not exclusively patent and sell Mom's Eggs as a new thing, just because she was the first to think of patenting it.

    With today's pantent office, however, I would not be surprised if she could. ::scrambles for phone::
  • Re:Oh please (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mjlner ( 609829 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @02:38AM (#16050367) Journal
    >"If you actually read the linked patent, it isn't a patent on conjugating words. It's a patent on automatically providing all of the different possible conjugation forms of any verb on the fly,"

    Yes, that is true, but that doesn't make it any less straightforward and simple.

    >"which is something I, for one, haven't seen before and think could be pretty useful..."

    ...which most definitely does not mean that such a thing does not exist.
    I, for one, have created a simple Perl-module which conjugates a given Latin verb in all tenses and forms. Let me tell you: conjugating a verb "on the fly" is trivial. Exceptions to every rule do, however, mess things up a little, but the exceptions themselves build up very simple and trivial rules.

    Prior art? Hell, yeah!
    Non-obvious? Hell, no!

  • Le Conjugueur (Score:2, Insightful)

    by stivi ( 534158 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @02:39AM (#16050370) Homepage
    What about this []?
  • Re:Verbix (Score:2, Insightful)

    by sporkme ( 983186 ) * on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @03:21AM (#16050459) Homepage
    Verbix supports a total of, and I quote, "Total: 389 languages."

    Windows XP supports 92 languages (had to count) []. Do we really want a company like Microsoft patenting this so-called method?
  • by martin-boundary ( 547041 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @03:42AM (#16050518)
    "hey, I can do itnegration by hand. I can even do integrals using some very incredible estimation method. that means all the patents on computer software of doing integrals are invalid"
    Well, they are and/or should be. A method of doing integrals via computer software is still a mathematical method, and mathematics is not/should not be patentable (YMMV on patentability depending on your country of residence).

    At best, a method of doing integrals by software qualifies as a trade secret.

  • Re:Oh please (Score:4, Insightful)

    by belmolis ( 702863 ) <billposer@a l u m . m> on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @04:22AM (#16050625) Homepage

    You very likely don't work in natural language processing. People have been generating whole paradigms for a long time. For a set of published examples, check out the Xerox Finite State Morphology [] software and textbook. The software provides ways of describing the morphology and lexicon of a language and compiling it into an efficient finite state transducer. Once you've got the transducer, you can run it in either direction, that is, you can parse, or you can generate. A common test, and exercise in courses on doing this, is to generate the entire paradigm of a particular word or set of words.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @04:31AM (#16050647)
    Verbix is a verb conjugator software exactly as described in the patent so its clear prior art, even if the patent office no longer pays attention to the 'non-obvious' requirement for patents, they can't ignore the 'new and novel'.
  • by Halo1 ( 136547 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @04:58AM (#16050717)

    No, it is far more specific than that.

    No, it isn't.

    You cant just read the few sentences in the abstract and assume that they are trying to patent everything which even remotely fits that description

    That's correct. In fact, you can just disregard the entire abstract, because what defines the scope of the patent are the claims. Each independent claim (a claim which does not refer to another claim) is an independent patent monopoly. Claim 1 is usually the broadest, so let's have a look at it:

    A method in a computer system for conjugating verbs in a target language, the method comprising: receiving a verb in a base language; identifying verb forms in the target language using a translation of the received verb from the base language to the target language; and displaying the identified verb forms in the target language.

    So the "method" they want to patent consists of asking a computer to translate the verb. That's it. The other claims simply add other words or different forms of the verb as input when translating, and allow for a user to select a different verb.

  • Re:First to File (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Flyboy Connor ( 741764 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @07:20AM (#16051002)

    Actually, there is a big change.

    I have made a couple of inventions, which I did NOT want patents for. I want the general public to benefit from them (besides, filing for a patent is too expensive for my meagre budget).

    Now Microsoft (or another evil big company) reads about my research, and files for a patent. The consequence is that they will get a patent for my work, which I did not allow them to get. And the main reason is that there is NO WAY to apply for NOT getting a patent. The only thing I can do is to publish my invention, and hope that it takes Microsoft more than one year to discover that publication. One year after first publication a patent cannot be applied for anymore, so that would make my invention safe.

    It happens quite often that I present research at conferences, and someone in the audience gets up and asks with a gleam in his eye, "Did you apply for a patent yet?" I know what that guy is thinking.

  • Irrelevant (Score:5, Insightful)

    by I'm Don Giovanni ( 598558 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @07:43AM (#16051053)
    It doesn't matter whether other systems have had on-the-fly verb conjugation. It only matters if they used the same implementation as described in this patent. If the MS implementation is new, then it's arguably patentable. Most here seem to intentionally misunderstand that.
  • by rtb61 ( 674572 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @07:54AM (#16051084) Homepage
    Take you pick of any relational data base. I mean no one seriously expects a patent for each and every different data type you can cross reference in a data base. You thought you had value in your relational data base patent, hah, I've patented actually using your data base to store information about every, noun, in any language, past, present, or future (no one ever thought to specifcally patenting the storage of nouns in a data base - I wonder why).
  • by Chowderbags ( 847952 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @10:14AM (#16051902)
    It has everything to do with this. This is an obvious patent to strike down unmercifully. The patent itself says that verb conjugation has been around online and that the only major difference is that this method *might* detect spelling errors (gee, like *that* hasn't been done) and would allow a person to imput their native verb to get conjugations in another language (not novel in the least). If the USPTO can't even pass basic common sense tests, why should they be allowed to issue anything that could lead to million dollar court battles?
  • Re:prior art? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @04:02PM (#16054832)
    Why can't anyone on slashdot understand what a patent is? Are you all F*&%$&^ morons? Just because person A patents a machine to harvest cotton doesn't mean that we havn't been harvesting cotton for a long f*&^%$ time. It means it's a new way of doing it. You wanna harvest cotton? Do it the old way or a new way. But If you want to do it person A's way.. pay a license.

    Everytime there's a patent everyone thinks they have prior art. And their even more of a super-genius if they can draw parallels between the new way and the old. Whoop-dee-doo. Read more than the title and the summary.

As of next Tuesday, C will be flushed in favor of COBOL. Please update your programs.