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Microsoft patents CSS? 100

ewhac writes "In the current issue of The Bulletin (an email newsletter, pricey subscription required), it is reported that, in mid-January, Microsoft was awarded patent #5860073 on, "The use of style sheets in an electronic publishing system." The Seybold article casts doubt on the validity of the patent, citing prior art back to the 1960's, and on the competence of the US Patent and Trademark Office for awarding it. The article also calls Microsoft's motives into question for failing to mention this patent application to the World Wide Web Consortium, with whom it has been working for some time to develop a style sheet standard. Thomas Reardon, director of standards at Microsoft, claims that it will offer a "free and reciprocal" license to anyone wishing to use the technology, adding, "These are the most liberal licensing terms out there." (It would seem Reardon is not aware of the GPL.) "
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Microsoft patents CSS?

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    I read the specifics of the patent in theabstract, and it's not just for stylesheets but stylesheets that get applied to a content window BEFORE any text gets poured in. So it's a patent for specifically "web" style sheets.

    Quick! Somebody patent a pixel! Then we can charge Microsoft for using all those pixels on our screens.
  • Check this one out. It looks like they plan(ned?) on using WebTV for a little more than web surfing.

    http://www.patents.i []

    - A.P.

    "One World, One Web, One Program" - Microsoft Promotional Ad

  • MS wants to patent CSS? Okay. I'll sue them for trademark infringement. I've been driving cabs and limousines since Bill Gates was chasing whores in New Mexico, and "Where do you want to go today?" is a question I have often asked my passengers.

    But I can't claim authorship of this question. Hackers, drovers, and rickshaw pullers have been asking it since the dawn of civilization.

    In the interest of fairness, limo drivers (who work primarily by reservation) will probably need to reclaim the "Where do you want to go tommorow?" question from a certain Finnish gentleman.

    And then we'll go to work on the words "Hack" and "Hacker," which are also ours, and are regularly misused by nerdish Gates wannabes.

    Well, maybe we'll let the Linux and OS people skate this time. But you guys better tip *real good* next time you ride with one of us REAL hackers...
    --Robin Miller
  • Zem, if what you say is true (it sounds like it since I doubt there are internationally enforced rules of business about patents and copyrights), then the US is hindering its competetiveness rather than helping it.

    If the US govt makes it harder to to do business by enacting these silly rules, then companies will have to operate outside the US. This is not good for US business. I think when I write my letter of protest I'll have to point that out. (While they won't listen to arguments about fairness, they might listen to arguments about losing money.

  • The people who run the US Patent and Tradmark Office are comlete and utter DOLTS. This is just another example of it.

    Is the domain domain taken?
  • What's the difference between this and, say, Mail Merge in Microsoft Word for DOS, circa 1990. You specify that a field, let's call it 'name', is Times Roman, 12pt but do not put the text there. Then you hit activate the mail merge command and text appears in the desired format.

    All that this seems to add is multiple layers of style sheet. And even that could be down with Style Sheets refered to in the Mail Merge file!

    I've only read the extract, but I cannot imagine the rest of the patent request is more compelling in terms of uniqueness.
  • This is just dumb. There's really no other word for it.
  • Yeah, yeah. You're right, but that doesn't mean we have to sit back quietly and let them struggle through this alone. If things aren't working well, let's raise a voice and get some changes made.

    A previous post mentions the idea of having industry specific patent groups. That sounds workable. Maybe we need to start putting more people onto the research of patents and charge companies money if they try to patent something with obvious prior art. Maybe patents could be done away with completely. Maybe we could...

    This point is, the USPO is working hard and I'm trying to understand everything they have to keep track of but I'm also in favor of changing a system that obviously isn't working very well. I hope I don't sound like I'm whining. The fact is, I'm pretty frustrated.


    P.S. Hey, I just had a thought. The blame also rests with microsoft. Who can really say that MS didn't try to pull a sneaky one here? Is there any way the wwwc can pressure them to release the patent?

    Hmmmm. enough rambling....
  • Did you know that Microsoft has a trademark on the word "internet" as well? They didn't enforce it, so it's not valid anymore. Patents are different, of course, but prior art should take care of this one in short order.

    On another note, don't pay too much attention to Reardon. He's one of those kids who got high SAT scores and now believes himself to be smarter than everyone else based on the value of his stock options. Most of his coworkers think he's an asshole, and he's probably proud of it. Last time I was at his house, he and his 'friends' were trying to impress each other with their knowledge of wine, measured by the amount one could afford to spend on a bottle. Pathetic.
  • What's the difference between this Word thing from TeX manuscript files, circa 1960

    Um... While I agree that TeX predates the 1990 Word mentioned in the previous post, no way in hell is it anywhere near that old. Try mid 1980's.

  • Since they indeed seem to be patenting the basic concept of style sheets rather than a technical implementation, I would still support the view that this is a ridiculous claim... afterall, ALL style sheet implementations use, in essence, the concept of preformatting undefined content blocks.

    I would think that the actual logic-flow of the formatting code woould be relatively unimportant as it is akin to the "chicken before the egg" paradox: since all style sheets are meant to be applied to arbitrary content, you have two possible orders of operation... either preformat an empty region and then fill it with fetched content, or fetch the content and recursively apply style sheet rules to it. I cannot imagine that either of these is unique enough to patent.

  • Please clarify: which of my "beliefs in intellectual property pratically guarentee that things like this will come about"?

    As I read the responses I am fairly certain that most of us here do not consciously support such abuses of the law... and it certainly seems that plenty also have solutions in mind, or at least a clear idea of the problem.

    Please enlighten us as to the incentive I, or anyone here, has provided for Microsoft to own what should rightfully be in the public domain.

  • check out the references to the patents listed....
    there's no doubt about commercialising open standards here

    Lie, "Cascading HTML style sheets--a proposal",, 10 Oct., 1994.
    Gifford, "Polychannel systems for mass digital communication", Comm. of ACM, v.33, n. 2, p. 141(11), Feb. 1990.
    Jackson, "The Published Word", PC User, n. 137, p. 32(4), Jul. 18, 1990.
    Journalist User's Guide: Your Personalized Newspaper for Compuserve®, PED Software Corp., pp. 1-111, Jan. 1994.
    Huser et al., "The Individualized Electronic Newspaper: An Application Challenging Hypertext Technology", GMD Report No. GMD-664, Jul. 1992.
    Sterahn et al., "Positioning HTML Elements with Cascading Style Sheets",, Jan. 31, 1997.
    Lie et al., "Cascading Style Sheets, level 1",, Dec. 17, 1996.
    Hughes, "Thinking about style sheets",, May 2, 1995.
    Duncan, Rey, "Power Programming: An HTML Primer, " PC Magazine, Jun. 13, 1995, pp. 261-270.
    Microsoft ®Word, "About Styles" Chp. 9, pp. 178-183 and Document Templates Chp. 10, pp. 205-224, User's Guide, 1993-1994, Microsoft Corporation.
  • Anyone else out there do a double-take on the article title? For a second there, I thought the article was saying that Microsoft had patented the concept of Closed Source Software. That would be ironic.

    Wonder if I can do that?..... :)

  • Actually, I've just started a petition at E-the people, titled "bogus patent problem" []. See if it meets what you're thinking of.

    (Remove "x"'s from
  • *sigh*
  • I have this vision of the people at the Patent Office buried under mountains of IBM patents related paperwork

  • The Bulletin article also calls on Microsoft to turn the patent over to the W3C, and relinquish all claims to the "technology."

    Clearly, more than just us geeks are getting sick to the teeth of bogus patents.


  • A coordinated letter-writing campaign to Congress.

    In particular, push it to Senators who've been very "pro-internet", particularly "pro-internet-shopping", since many of the patents have been "I know own the complete rights to on-line shopping" or "I own the digital 'Shopping Cart'".

    My first suggestion would be Senator Leahy [] from Vermont. His bills (some passed into law) have already acknowledged his interest into protecting online rights (from a copyright standpoint). He should be the easiest to convince that the Patent system now is doing the exact opposite of promoting true development on the web.

    Obviously, this should wait until after the Clinton fiasco is finally out of "public thought" and Congress is ready to do something approaching "real work" again.

  • ummm... I... oh, never mind. I can't think of anything nice to say, so I'll just shutup.
  • "The article also calls Microsoft's motives into question for failing to mention this patent application to the World Wide Web Consortium, with whom it has been working for some time to develop a style sheet standard."

    Of course... I see now. Let's work with an open standards body, let them do the bulk of the work in hashing out the details, we'll let everyone else start using it, then we'll implement it and patent it and drink champaign to toast all that good will effort making us money now. Oh yeah, and we won't charge them that much to use the tech they've given us.

    Jeeeeesus! "The Seybold article casts doubt on the... competence of the US Patent and Trademark Office for awarding it."

    No kidding! Seeing more and more stories like this popping up everyday, such as the possibility to create an entire business model around patenting and litigating against commonly used open technology...

    Is there anyway someone can sue this bunch of gov't numbskulls to either give it up, or if we can't get rid of patents like that, at least get their acts together? Wouldn't it be smarter to have industry-specific patent awarding groups rather than a monolithic gov't body??
  • by bug ( 8519 )
    The basis of a democracy is that the citizens should *zero* patience for problems with the government. It doesn't whatever reason the PTO is incapable of properly dealing with it software patents (which frankly shouldn't be patents in the first place). If the PTO is incapable of accomplishing the task, then it should simply not involve itself in software patents until such time as it is prepared to do so.
  • Let us be generous and assume our august AC was employing a little-known artifact known as "sarcasm."

    ...Speaking of which, I have just applied for a patent on sarcasm. Now all you funny boys can start forking your cash over to Me. BWAhahahahahahahahaha...

    Dammit, every time I start to think, "Well, maybe they're not so evil, after all," the Rats in Redmond pull another move like this...

    ~~MICRO$OFT $UX~~

    Yeah, go ahead and say it. It feels good, and the company in question seems dead-set on proving that it's true.


    (somewhere in tenn.)

  • We get to slam Micro$oft AND the US Patent office at the same time? Sound the fire alarms!
  • US4827404: Method and system for computer programming 04
  • Is it me, or does this CSS patent smell like Microsoft's first shot fired in the war to "de-commoditize protocols" a la the Halloween Document" []?

    If we (MS) can't keep the protocol closed or the API proprietary, fine; we'll just patent the whole dang concept.


    Jay (=
  • I wonder how this compares to macro packages in troff and TeX (i.e man page formatting macros) which essentially let you markup a document using high level tags, which then use a predefined style file to format the document.

    I also don't see the differences between the prior art and Microsoft's claim. I'm glad I turned down that Patent Office job 10 years ago. Patent law is basically a fancy way of defining the difference between a glass being half full of water or half empty.
  • The latest figure I read was that IBM had over a
    billion in income off of their patent licensing.

    It's a big money maker for large companies. Other
    companies, such as Xerox, are starting to get sue
    happy over patent infringement.
  • I mean, we have all of these geek minds available, surely someone can come up with a workable plan on stopping this sort of nonsense. This is an issue that continually causes me to grumble. Software patents are bad news. Concept patents are worse. They serve no _useful_ purpose that copyright does not.

    I know, I know, I'm singing to the choir on this one. It's just that within such a large group of people with so many large "movements" (OSI, Linux, GNU, etc.) that we should be able to get organized and fight this somehow. These abuses are only going to get worse before they get better.

    I would take this project on myself except I am so poorly organized when it comes to these types of things. I can barely keep my own coding projects moving along at a decent pace... but I would definitely find some time to get involved if someone else were to organize it.

    There must be something we can do,
  • ...from texas who lives in a shack with his chevy and his 22 and is crazy enough to help us all...
  • These are the most liberal licensing terms out there." (It would seem Reardon is not aware of the GPL.)

    Or of the BSD-style license, which is the most liberal license.

  • The USPTO is just quacky now and they need a damn good slap to recognize that they're completly undermining any semblance of openness, free thought, and "free" software. The CSS was _supposed_ to be OPEN.

    Who's got site space? I'm willing to donate time and effort to do this. We all saw this happen to the lzw compressor (Published in Dr. Dobbs before patented). What about Mozilla? Will they get a price break too? And how about anybody designing any sort of XML design tools?

    I somtimes wonder whether RMS is right about GPL - but when I see crap like this it just eeks into my blood like fire. Those bloody greedy barf chunks are going to eventually patent everything. Software patents aren't wrong IFF they are REAL?! But this is just wrong.

    Too much prior work goes unchecked by the USPTO and they need a wake up call. 5000 slashdot readers might wake them up. These people make the money and then we get burdened(by higher costs in HW and SW) with licensing. They obviously only care about previous PATENT claims, and probably never look into actual prior work - if they had then they would have seen the 1000+ pages of info on w3c which M$ had absolutly nothing to do with.

    Let the war begin. Let the signatures start!
  • Tolerance of governmental error, no, but understanding the problem, and the fact that the people behind those error are just that, people, and do occasionally screw up, is also needed. There definetly needs to be a change in the patent office, especially regarding technology and the notion that abstract ideas can be patented as opposed to concrete implmentation or process. The idea that a process can be patented is what largely is responsibly for this fubar...which makes sense when it comes to something as a new way of systhesising chemicals on a large scale or something concrete like that...but their just getting too abstract to fullfill the original purpose of the patent. The biotech field is actually even more screwed up....guy named craig ventor running around patenting human genes....yup, the guy own patents on several of your genes.....hell, he doesnt even know what they do, just that their there.....real screwed up. But yeah, some yelling and screaming could be needed...I just think that it should be noted that they are performing an extremely difficult task...perhaps patents should be classified a mission critical enviroment where any error is intollerable, much like surgery, but somehow I think a more though post-patent review process to weed out this schlock would be a better use of resouces....oh well
  • I certainly agree with people that the patent office has made a huge number of really stupid decisions lately....but keep in mind everything that they have to keep track of that gets patented, and how fast the tech industry in general moves. Certainly changes need to be made to allow them to work effectivly in this intense enviroment, but just keep in mind the enormity of the task they have to undertake. Its easier to criticize than understand, unfortunely, the only way to truely fix something is to understand it first. Cheers.

  • figure they got computer in the offices in 1996/1997.. how up to date can the examiers really be on technology?

    They aslo have about .. 2hours to do there searches it seems, so how much can they search? That office needs a complete overhaul! I know I worked there. They are one of the few gov offices that generate there own revenue form there patents, so they feel that they have to have 'customer service'. Unfortuanately it comes at what price?

    They want patents to only spend 18 mo or less in the office so someone trying to met there DAM! quotas issues the patent and said let them fight it out in court, cause he could not find art on this.

    I think patent applications need to be made open and available to the public for people who know about the technology to have a look at too, as these are really the people that know the tech....
  • For those who do not subscribe to the bulletin: s/news/technology/story/17741.html []

    PS: This very well may be a stupid question, but what's to keep MSFT from getting a patent on HTML or some variation thereof? If they can patent an open standard like CSS ...

    And what about getting a patent on other open standards ... like internet protocols?

    Possible? Or am I way off base here?

    - - - - - -
    Member in Good Standing,

  • If you really want to be outraged, you should go to IBM's patent search [], set the search word to Microsoft, and the collection to U.S. Inventors & Companies. You'll get almost 800. You'll get 20 for just the last three months.

    (Sorry, I tried a URL-encoded request, but they make it much more difficult than it has to be, probably for this very reason.)

  • Have the PTO put up a Web site. The examiners abstract the application and post the summary and complete application. The public gets 6 months to submit ( via Web form or e-mail ) examples of prior art, objections and such. The examiners then review the comments and see if anyone has valid prior art or other reasons not to grant the patent. If they don't have time to research each application, let interested parties do the research for them.

    They'll still have to weed out flames and garbage, but that's got to be faster to do than researching the subject.

  • Intresting. I was using style sheets in 1992 with AmiPro, a word processor from Lotus. In fact, I still use that very same word processor -- it works great. I always use style sheets with it now. I made some six years ago.

    So this is new technology? This is worth patenting? MS probably wants me to think so, but I'm not brain dead. I just wish the patent office would quit awarding patents for concepts, since thats not what patents are for!
  • Then join the LPF.
  • I've just been told by an ex-MS employee that they've got an incentive plan in place - a $5000 bonus for each patent that's an MS employee submits and gets approved.
  • Somebody please goto patent the use of alphabets.
  • See...!? M$ did something that no human being can ever thought of ....
  • I thought that stuff like this was supposed to be over in the 40's. Companies continue to overwhealm government and society over all because they have too much money. Maybe I'm just jealous, I mean I wouldn't complain if I had that much cash, but I don't so I'll whine. Anyway, we should all just sit back and get used to it for now. I just can't wait for y2k. I have a good feeling that over 50% of Microsoft users are going to have a big wake up call when their computer won't boot on Jan 1.

  • I don't think Bill can walk with "balls this big." Hell, if I had his money, why would I bother to walk.
  • Is it possible that MS has thought ahead with hopes of biting their competition? (they'd never do that, right?)

    Put simply, they've been getting bit for the outcome of their 'embrace and extend' lifestyle.. and some of the biting has been in the form of license enforcement, etc. Perhaps CSS is an equal weapon that the boys in Redmond can fight with--an eye for an eye, a free license agreement for a free license agreement..

    (just a thought.. but does anybody care enought about CSS to let their hand show? I suppose we'll find out)
  • It is not a surprise if Microsoft has patented CSS as they intend to use this specification to build new file formats in Office 2000 to replace native formats from Word, Excel and others.

    This licence is undoubtedly done to block other editors who would use the CSS outside web browsers. CSS will replace HTML language and thus Microsoft will be able to dictate towards where language CSS will go owing to the fact that Office is really the standard. In the long run, Microsoft will control the basic language of the Web. See from here all propaganda: "We invented the language of the Web" and all the mercantism which will be followed from there.
  • So what happens when Billy Boy decides that if everbody doesn't play by his rules, he's gonna take his bat and ball and go home?

    "When you've got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow!"
  • I say we patent the business model of filing thousands of spurious patents in vague, generalized language, then suing the makers of any product that could possibly be interpreted as infringing... wait a minute, there may be considerable prior art on this one!
  • Remember that this is the same office that accepted a device called the "Super Cruise Bracket" as patentable, as shown on an investigative report done by 60 Minutes. The Bracket was a bogus patent claim, essentially for a device that allowed you to bracket the gas pedal of your car down if your car lacked a cruise control!!!

Exceptions prove the rule, and wreck the budget. -- Miller