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USPTO Takes Second Look at Y2K Windowing Patent 96

Remember this patent? Seems the USPTO is having second thoughts about it, too. Anonymous Coward says, "According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office re-evaluates the Y2K windowing patent."
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USPTO Takes Second Look at Y2K Windowing Patent

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  • by Mr. X ( 17716 ) on Wednesday December 22, 1999 @08:09PM (#1450663)
    This patent really needs to be overturned. I know of many products that pre-date this patent and use the 'Windowing' concept. How the US Patent Office could overlook the prior inventions and issue a patent shows how screwed up the US Patent process is. This patent, combined with other patents like the one, calls for an overhall of US patent law.
  • Nice to see Slashdot actually following up on some of their older articles. It seems like Slashdot devolved into a site just trying to generate hits by creating a ruckus.

    Anyway, " ' Patent reviews are rare if not non existent,' Giga Information Group Kazim Isfahani said." Does anyone else find a problem with this? For all the patents that Slashdot has screamed about, has anyone requested patent reviews?
  • The Dickens windowing patent was issued in 1998. Analysts have discovered information on the fix from IBM, which referred to the technique in pamphlets as far back as 1991. Isfahani said there is overwhelming evidence in the industry that windowing was used on a widespread basis as far back as 1990. "The fact that the Patent Office is re-examining the patent is indicative" that the office could change its earlier decision, he added. it would be really good if we could get the information on exactly what process people took to get the pto's attention, the channels, details about the type of information, so on. anybody know this stuff?
  • by rlkoppenhaver ( 101366 ) on Wednesday December 22, 1999 @08:11PM (#1450666) Homepage
    At the risk of being redundant, I think it's important for everyone here to realize that the USPTO is reviewing this patent, not because a bunch of open source geeks (no offense intended, I consider myself a geek) made a fuss about patent reform, but because a bunch of big companies that make generous campain contributions to key lawmakers would stand to suffer because of the existence of this patent. I doubt those same companies will support any patent reform that challenges their own bottom lines.

    Sure, we've won this battle, but for the wrong reasons. And, I'm sorry to say, this doesn't bring us all that much closer to winning the war.
  • That patent deserves to be thrown out the door. First, its a dirty hack, stopgap solution to short-sighted programmers and managment.

    If he can patent that, I should patent using an unsigned long to count seconds from 1970! It amazes me yet I sort of expect this sort of behavior from the human race. At most times, I feel ashamed to be part of this race. Others, I feel very proud. I hope the patent office's actions make me feel the latter.

  • Hopefully, the USPTO will start looking at patents closely enough so there won't be a need to review them in the future.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Allright, who attacked the USPTO with a clue stick?!
  • Doesn't it seem like patents are being treated much like domain names have been by speculators? Patent it first and sue later.
  • by Carnage4Life ( 106069 ) on Wednesday December 22, 1999 @08:22PM (#1450671) Homepage Journal
    I remember trying to submit the original story [] to slashdot last month but it was rejected for some strange reason.

    Anyway what I was going to say was this...if IBM can get this stupid patent overturned by showing prior art from documents dating as far back as 1991, maybe we can do something about the Amazon patent. I know someone has implemented or described the process of storing user info in a cookie and keeping track of the user's behavior (don't say purchases I'm pretty sure Amazon got a jump on patenting it in a retail environment)... whoever has this info or knows someone who has this info should send that to B&N so they can build a portfolio of prior art. Hopefully we, as a community, can get this stupid patent overturned. It seems like it is about time for that open source patent database.

    Bad Command Or File Name
  • by Bronster ( 13157 ) <> on Wednesday December 22, 1999 @08:26PM (#1450672) Homepage
    A number of patent related comments on slashdot recently[0] have accused the US Patent Office[1] of approving anything technology related without doing proper research for prior art.

    Given the number of stupid patents that get through, this certainly seems to be the case. Sure they can argue lack of funding, and it is an issue, but that isn't the line they're taking.

    From the link in the article []: Patent officials made the decision after some information came to light that was not considered when the patent was originally granted

    They're not admitting that they didn't do anywhere near enough checking the first time, or explaining how such a stupid patent could have happend, just covering their backsides about this second look.

    Further down: Experts say decisions by the PTO to review patents that are already approved are rare.

    It certainly seems to me that someone along the way has forgotten that patents exist to protect original work that contains unique elements. The Patent Office exists not only to grant patents, but to block them when they clearly don't fit the charter.

    [0] Admittedly mainly restating the obvious in moderator friendly format.
    [1] Disclaimer: I'm in Australia. I rest my case on pointy haired .govs.

  • Some corporate deep pockets did
  • after some information came to light? like some facts?
  • After granting so many absurdly generic and/or obvious patents, maybe these guys have finally woken up. Or, maybe not. The referenced article states that the basis for the review is prior art published by IBM in '91.

    *sigh* I have a long-standing suspicion that the root cause for the issuance of many of these silly patents is the inability of patent examiners to grasp what is "obvious" to a programmer. Say it's 1989 and you have to write some code that will import and export accounting data to a 3090 mainframe that uses two-digit dates. With a century rollover coming in 11 years, how do you tell what century the data were generated in? The "obvious" solution to a programmer would be to choose some reasonable cut-off two digit date, say 50, and treat all years before that as belonging to the next century. If you were dealing with personnel records with birthdates, 10 might be more appropriate. In any event, that's windowing and it's an obvious patch on the Y2K problem.

    Now, if the PTO could only see how obvious "one click" was, the world would be a better place! 8)

    Howard Owen Everything's Gonna Be OK Consulting

  • The fact that this kind of information is just now having this effect on the patent status, indicates an incompetence on the part of the initial review for first issuance. The incompetence is the fact that they don't have any capable software engineers on the review panel.

    But then, many past patents issued show this condition as well.
  • Wrong reasons indeed. As absurd as the patent system is, there is an upside. Getting a patent is only 1 has to hold up in court as well. There is no way this would ever hold up, and I don't think the amazon patent will either. The other variable of course is money, which presents its own problems. When it's big corporations duking it out, usually the truth wins, if they have pocketbooks equally deep. Unfortunatly, as the CEO of my last company put it, "the only people who make money off of patents are lawyers.".

    The fact that whoever has the most money usually wins can't really be fixed by patent reform either...thats a deeper issue that goes to the core of our political and economic system. I don't see much hope in this area for a long time.
  • I guess after the FSF, it's time for the Free Patent Foundation (or patent-free foundation?). Maybe some organization to keep track of "prior art" would be helpful. Although IANAL, one thing to be careful about is that companies don't take that "prior art list" and claim patents on it (because of the one year "protection").

    Or there could simply be a non-profit organization that accumulates patents (as silly as possible) and then force companies to cross-license for all open source software. ...or sue Micro$oft for a couple billions...
  • > but because a bunch of big companies that make generous campain contributions to key lawmakers would stand to suffer because of the existence of this patent. I doubt those same companies will support any patent reform that challenges their own bottom lines.

    I guess that is why I have this wish that the USPTO upheld the patent. I just would like to see the circus show to which it would lead to...

    And if the USPTO overturns this then I just will feel even more frustrated when it will become clear that they have no intention to change the way they operate in general (I almost said "do business") and the same time no offical investigation will follow to find out why this patent was accepted in the first place.

    It were too good if the only course of action possible for the companies would be to force the patent laws to be changed to resolve this. That will not happen otherwise.

  • I find it endlessly fascinating that the USPTO is so bloody careless about handing out patents when each and every single patent they give out has the potential for massive abuses. Its not as if patents need to be processed as fast as possible, since someone who applies for a patent doesn't have to worry about another person stealing their idea and patenting it while the originator is awaiting their patent. The USPTO really needs some major reform in the way that they conduct business, because they are causing some serious legal issues to come forward due to their negligence. It shouldn't take a multimillion dollar issue to point out fuck ups of this scale; yes, I understand that an occasional mistake will be made, but this is just a simple case of not doing their job. It is apparent that their review process is cursory at best, not to mention highly subjective and uninformed. I have to wonder who they consult in matters such as this one before they issue the patent, assuming that they bother to consult anyone at all. According to the article, this was a common sense item and not subject to patenting, so they should have been able to discover that simply by consulting a few Y2K troubleshooters.

    If I ever invent anything, I'm just going to hide it in my closet and let noone see it, rather than trust that office full of chimps to help me protect my property; at least my closet has a lock.

  • by jds2001 ( 31493 ) on Wednesday December 22, 1999 @09:14PM (#1450683)
    Patent reviews are rare if not non existent

    This is absurd. First we patent a user interface to a website (, then we patent a business model (, and now we're trying to patent (and have apparently succeeded) a method of handling dates??

    Somewhere, someone needs to come up wih a way to overturn these absurd patents, AND the patent laws need to be seriously changed to define what is and is not a patentable concept.

    For instance, a new drug is very well deserving of a patent. A company spent millions of dollars researching this drug to test its effectiveness on the disease it is supposed to treat, and this company gets in return a patent which prevents others from stealing their invention for a limited period of time, and that period of time is reasonable for that industry.

    That's great for the pharmaceutical industry, but the same thing does not hold up in the software and website design industry. What is a reasonable period of time in the pharmaceutical world is an order of magnitude different the a reasonable period of time in the software world. Drugs take many, many years to bring to market, and require a significant investment of time and resources to bring them to market.

    Now let's take a look in a little more detail at the patent. What they have patented (from what I have read on /. and other places, I have not read that patent myself. If anyone wants to send me the patent# so i dont have to search for it I will read it, but IANAL. While writing this, I decided to do some research of my own, and I did find the patent. Look for some interesting details from it later on.) to be a mechanism for ordering products with one click of the mouse, and having your shipping and credit card information previously stored. A great idea for e-commerce. However, not patentable IM[ns]HO. Perhaps a copyright on the design of the website (the overall design, not that particular element) would be in line, but not a patent. What they have patented is:

    1. A method of placing an order for an item comprising:

    under control of a client system,
    displaying information identifying the item; and

    in response to only a single action being performed, sending a request to order the item along with an identifier of a purchaser of the item to a server system;

    under control of a single-action ordering component of the server system,
    receiving the request;
    retrieving additional information previously stored for the purchaser identified by the identifier in the received request; and

    generating an order to purchase the requested item for the purchaser identified by the identifier in the received request using the retrieved additional information; and
    fulfilling the generated order to complete purchase of the item

    whereby the item is ordered without using a shopping cart ordering model.

    I take several issues with this. First is that it also seems to patent a business model, because what it patents is the complete system of one-click ordering. What I have pasted is only a subset of the patent, but its enough to get the jist of it. Later in the same patent, it would appear that they patent the idea of one-click ordering combined with shopping cart ordering. Again, IANAL.

    While researching that previous patent, I came across another patent that is even more absurd. It patents entering only a subset of a credit card number online via an insecure connection, and then placing a telephone call to an automated system and entering the complete credit card number, and having the system correlate the two.

    Is there anything that the retarded patent office wont patent???

  • Well I am not sure if this counts but, I saw that hipe-riding movie "Y2K". And it used the windowing technique to save the only one of two nuclear reactors that supposidly will explode on January 1st...

    Does that count as prior art?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Let's not have the usual posts saying something stupid like "I've just patented X and you have to pay me royalties!!!" where X is something lame.
  • First of all IANAP (I am not a programmer) but if I read that right, would that not create a y2k+30 problem in 30 yrs if all 2 digit dates 30 and beyond were considered to be 1930- ?
  • Getting a patent is only 1 has to hold up in court as well. There is no way this would ever hold up, and I don't think the amazon patent will either.

    Unfortunately, a court has already found enough merit in Amazon's case to slap Barnes & Noble with a restraining order. This means that at least that court felt that there was a good chance that Amazon would prevail.

    The big danger in these cases--and especially the Date Window case--is that if they ultimately hold up (and there is a significant chance that one or both might), it will become even easier to obtain and enforce trivial software patents. And here we thought it couldn't get any worse...

  • by Trickster Coyote ( 34740 ) on Wednesday December 22, 1999 @09:38PM (#1450688) Homepage
    When someone like Amazon(TM) patents something One-Click Shopping(TM) and uses it to beat up on a competitor, most other observers are relatively neutral (ie. they have nothing to directly gain or lose from any judgement on the case) and therefore the thing is just a big gladitatorial battle between competing lawyers.

    When someone like Big Corporation(TM) patents an Obvious Idea(TM) and sues a bunch of Smaller Companies(TM) for infringement, then they are just bullies who are extorting money from those who don't have the resources to fight back.

    In this case, Bruce Dickens, the owner of the Y2K Windowing Technique(TM) [no relation to Microsoft(R) Windows(TM)] is attempting to extort money from almost every other corporation in the US, big and small. Many of these companies depend on this technique for their very survival, and it now being so close to the magic date, Ceasing and Desisting(TM) is not an option. And nobody wants to pay money to some guy they never heard of for using a technique that is so obvious even student programmers know about it.

    So picture this: Every big company calls their lobbyists in DC and every small company calls their industry association who calls their lobbyists in DC. All of these lobbyists visit the offices of every politician in DC and remind them that Y2K is an election year and if they have to give money to Bruce Dickens, well then there will be that much less money that they will have available for political contributions. The politicians check their records and see that Bruce Dickens has not really contributed anything to their campaigns in the past. The next thing you know, the head bureaucrats at the USPTO are receiving several hundred memos from their political masters suggesting that it would be in their own best interests to review this particular patent.

    In a nutshell, Bruce Dickens pissed off a lot of people, and most importantly, a lot of powerful people.

    The fool never really stood a chance.

  • Not really. What windowing is about is that in many cases you don't need to support timespans beyond 100 years. Which means you can slide the window.

    And besides, 30 years is plenty of time to fix the software properly. Windowing is most of all a stopgap measure to fix software quickly now, and be able to do proper fixes later.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    And nobody wants to pay money to some guy they never heard of for using a technique that is so obvious even student programmers know about it.

    From the CNET article

    Analysts say that roughly 90 percent of Fortune 500 firms have used some form of windowing to fix their computer systems.

    For the USPTO to accept a new patent it must not be considered a logical step forward from current knowledge. Considering the number of companies which have used this method, then windowing must be considered a logical step simply because of the number of people who have 'discovered' it in parallel.

  • Well, only if new data are still input with 2 digit years which are supposed to be after 2030.

    The windowing solution doesn't allow you to keep using 2 digit years forever. It allows a program to interpret old 2 digit years correctly.

  • I wonder if the USPTO "discovered" the prior art shortly after receiving a huge bill from a "Mr. Bruce Dickens, patentholder, Chief Extortioning Officer of Dickens2000."
  • by Tony Hammitt ( 73675 ) on Wednesday December 22, 1999 @10:52PM (#1450694)
    Say the patent is overturned and someone goes out of their way to prove that the patent was filed maliciously, can the former owner of the patent be jailed for extortion? Everyone with a brain knows that this windowing technique is prior art (_way_ prior, some versions have been used for centuries).

    Let's assume that the holder of the patent knew that the technique was prior art, and a criminal court can prove it. They would be very close to an conviction for extortion. How are Mafia 'protection' schemes any different? You threaten someone that if they don't pay, you'll take some action against them, with the threat being based on criminal activity.

    Is it a crime to obtain a patent on prior art? IANAL, but it seems like it should be, at least if it can be proven that you knew about it beforehand. If the reason he obtained the patent was specifically because he wanted to shake down other people?

    It'd be great if this gonif got sent to jail... =-]
  • When I read slashdot, I automatically log in as a user. When I write a comment, it is automatically credited to me.

    I can't see the difference between this and the amazon patent. I really can't. Can anyone convince me otherwise?

  • Most of the broken Y2K software has been constantly maintained for the last 30 years. If some company's software is still not fixed, they have no one to blame but themselves.

    Old firmware is another case, for the most part, the engineers seriously didn't think that their gadgets would be used for so long. It's been hardcoded and no one can change it.

    Personally, I use 64-bit double precision to store times and dates in my software. It'll be quite a while before I have problems. =-) Wait, maybe I should patent that idea! Pretend you never read this...

    (I hereby assign all rights to RMS for the 64-bit dates idea under the LGPLv2 license)
  • I think a new website should be opened (lets call it where all computing patent applications get posted SlashDot style so that people in the computing world can clue up the guys in the Patent office..

    We could add comments like:
    "I was doing that 5 years ago at company x"
    "This method is in the Linux kernel dated 1994"

  • by Ice Tiger ( 10883 ) on Wednesday December 22, 1999 @11:44PM (#1450698)
    Why not have a new section under slashdot for maybe the top ten or top one hundred patent abuses? You could list a patent and then it gets voted upon.

    Only by highlighting abuses like this will the USPO maybe change. Once there is a list of abuses then the problem can be highlighted in a stronger manner.
  • by Mark Shewmaker ( 29292 ) on Thursday December 23, 1999 @12:01AM (#1450699) Homepage
    Maybe some organization to keep track of "prior art" would be helpful.

    The Software Patent Institute [] keeps up a searchable prior art database, and they accept submissions.

    Or there could simply be a non-profit organization that accumulates patents (as silly as possible) and then force companies to cross-license for all open source software.

    I'm not out to force companies to do anything they don't want to do, but as far as the cross-licensing part goes, and all silliness aside, (parden the pun), I'm trying to promote the notion of a cross-license agreement at [] as a method of solving (some of) the problem of software patents.

    If people who use their patents defensively could cross-license their patents with each other, that larger total portfolio could help protect them against patent lawsuits. (And of course they wouldn't have to worry about lawsuits among themselves. Well, at least patent infringement lawsuits about covered uses.)

    ...or sue Micro$oft for a couple billions...

    Microsoft is one of the good guys on this issue. They have never used their software patents offensively. You can perhaps complain about them for other reasons and in other contexts, but IMHO it's not appropriate to complain about them as far as software patents are concerned.

  • Sorry, I've patented that idea
  • How and the hell was that offtopic?
  • I read about a year or so ago that the USPO was being flooded with new Internet patents. Everyone was filing a patent on everything under the sun from busness modles to software tecniques to whatever.
    It was suggested at the time that the USPO may just rubber stamp all the patents and let a lawsute frenzy sort it all out.
    Latter I read again that the USPO was overloaded and planned to just let lawsutes deside what patents were valid.
    It seems the USPO had the idea that only larg corperations could be effected and they can battle it out.. They didn't take small busnesses or the open source community into account.
    This explains why we have all thies lunatic patents being issued... The USPO has desided to just screw us all over (big busness included) and just let everyone have there patents rather than giving them a proper review.

    I'm shure a lot of companys (big and small) screammed fuzzy blue mud when they found out about the Windowing patent...
    Bug busness dosn't like to spend a lot of money on ANYTHING even lawsutes and if enough big busness IP lawsutes come out over lunitic patents then maybe we could see some IP reform...
  • I like the idea of the website and I like the name but some patent lawyer beat you to it. Seems he thought it was a good name. And I don't think he's going to give it up to help a project to put him out of business.
  • Who would want to patent a 32-bit second count? The "prior art" is far too messy. It would be much more lucrative to patent the idea of using 64, 128, etc - bit integers or some binary "windowing" technique as a "fix" for the Y2038 and Y2106 bugs. Do it now before it starts being common practice! Your grandkids/clones could then afford to thaw you out and enjoy several lifetimes of luxury.

    As your billions acrue you will be cured of these irrational thoughts concerning the human race.

  • "One Click Posting"? Sounds promising.

    (On a side note: Every single specification for software development at my work always starts with "I want to press a button and...". While this is getting annoying, it does highlight that one of the main objectives of computing is automation, and as such reducing every task to a single initiating action (click) has been part of the culture since year .)

  • Is there anything that the retarded patent office wont patent???

    How about a patent for patenting patents? :)

  • I guess that is why I have this wish that the USPTO upheld the patent. I just would like to see the circus show to which it would lead to...

    I thought about that. Is this patent real any more or less valid than many other software patents, on the grounds of either obviousness or prior art? If the USPTO does invalidate it, it will at least tell us how high they consider the bar to be on those criteria. Maybe should patent online flamefests via the web. There's got to be some way to write that up so it will pass the test.
  • I remember that story from about two years ago that a kid in Australia had found a 'revolutionizing' technique for Y2K problems. What happened? Anybody know?

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Chapter 30 of United States Code Title 35-patents covers the issue of patent reexamination based on prior art citation. Under this section of the patent laws, "any person at any time may cite to the Office in writing prior art consisting of patents or printed publications which that persion believes to have a bearing on the patentability of any claim of a particular patent." This can be done without paying a fee. Further, "any person at any time may file a request for reexamination by the Office of any claim of a patent on the basis of any prior art [as described above]". It does require a payment of a fee to the patent office to request a reexamination of a patent. The important point here is that there is a specific mechanism for reevaluation of the legitimacy of patents. One way to counter the proliferation of patents of questionable validity is to send documented prior art citations to the patent office for every questionable patent.
  • Well, before the patent is overturned, let's all calculate how much it has cost us to address our Y2K concerns and send this patent holder a bill. After all, isn't the Y2K bug just an application of the windowing technique with the pivot year being 00? Sure feels that way to me: everything from 00 to 99 is in the 1900s. If you're going to take credit for something, you ought to be ready to take the heat for it too, I say.
  • A couple of general information type comments

    1. The statement "Experts say decisions by the PTO to review patents that are already approved are rare." This statement is likely refering to the PTO deciding to reexamine (the legal term for reviewing an already issued patent) a patent at its own discretion. This is very rare. However, third parties (and the patent holder, too) can also initiate a reexam by submitting prior art (and paying a fee) to the PTO that calls the validity of the patent into question. Third parties rarely initiate reexams either, though, because reexams are ex parte proceedings. This means that after the third party submits the prior art, the rest of the reexam proceedings are between the PTO and the patent holder, the third party does not get a seat at the table and essentially has to trust that the PTO will do the right thing. Most third parties would rather use whatever "good" prior art they have to challenge the patent in court because although much more expensive at least in court they have a chance to make arguments themselves instead of relying on the PTO. The revisions to the Patent Act that passed this fall did make some changes to the reexam proceeding to allow inter partes proceedings that give the third party more input but there are still problems with it and going to court still has a significant benefit.

    2. The revisions to the Patent Act also added a new defense against infringement, the "First inventor defense", intended for use against patents for methods of doing business (not really applicable against the windowing patent but likely to come into play against the one click patent and the Priceline reverse auction patent). This new defense is essentially designed to stop someone from patenting something that other people are doing and then being able to sue them for it. (Well, its a bit more complicated than that but I don't want to write pages and pages on it).

    Disclaimer: This is not legal advice and represents only my personal opinion not that of my firm.
  • If it was shown that the patent was obtained fraudulently (i.e. by lying to the PTO or concealing relevant prior art that the inventor/applicant knew about) then the patent would be found unenforceable and the alleged infringer could recover attorney's fees for the litigation. The patent holder who sued on a patent that they knew or should have known to be invalid could then be subject to antitrust violations, security law violations, and voiding of any licenses (though royalties already paid are not recoverable). The attorney who assisted in the patenting process may also be subject to discipline. In fact, however, usually only the attorney's fees and loss of future royalties occur. It would be absolutely amazing if an extortion type argument resulted in someone going to jail.

    Disclaimer: This is not legal advice. These are my personal opinions and not those of my firm or clients.
  • At the risk of being redundant, I think it's important for everyone here to realize that the USPTO is reviewing this patent, not because a bunch of open source geeks (no offense intended, I consider myself a geek) made a fuss about patent reform, but because a bunch of big companies that make generous campain contributions to key lawmakers would stand to suffer because of the existence of this patent. I doubt those same companies will support any patent reform that challenges their own bottom lines.

    Sure, we've won this battle, but for the wrong reasons. And, I'm sorry to say, this doesn't bring us all that much closer to winning the war.

    I agree that the USPTO couldn't care less about Open Source geeks, and no doubt this "review" is taking place because many powerful companies started leaning heavily on lawmakers, enough that the USPTO is more afraid of not reviewing the patent. With that much pressure on them, there's good reason to hope the patent will be overturned; nothing else would satisfy those who are pressuring the lawmakers to pressure the USPTO.

    However, despite the fact that this review is obviously political in nature, it may have a future benefit. If the patent is overturned (and I hope it is), it makes a much stronger example of how out-of-control the USPTO is, that it fails to identify extremely obvious techniques and refuse patents on them -- i.e. the USPTO is incompetent to perform their duties, at least in the area of software.

    I'd be interested to see what the General Accounting Office would say about such blatent incompetence -- if Open Source geeks could pressure their lawmakers enough to get them to have the GAO take a closer look, that could potentially lead to some actual reform...
  • How many capable software engineers do you know of who would sit on a panel on a government salary? Therein lies the problem. The feds don't pay a competitive enough salary (which would have to be more to start with; who wants stock options on the government?) to get capapable engineers on the panels (this may be by design).

    As for IBM pamphlets using it, I coluld (at one time, long ago) present MS-DOS 3.1 floppies, which used a windowing system for dates as far back as 1986 or so. Presumably, Unixen have been using this technique since the '70s.
  • Unfortunately, a court has already found enough merit in Amazon's case to slap Barnes & Noble with a restraining order. This means that at least that court felt that there was a good chance that Amazon would prevail.

    I think that it just means that the burden of proof is on B&N to show that the patent is invalid.
  • There is one way to make "prior art": get your ideas/algorithms/whatever published in a (scientific?) magazine. Once done, keep your author's complimentary copy and wait till day x.

    Is there a central repository (apart from the library of congress, maybe) that files and stores such pubs?

    Being 'public' is a strong advantage of open source software: as everything (okay, most of it) is heavily documented there's practically no way for some idea hijacker to make big $$$ in no time.

    So, document your source code! Publish your ideas and findings! Be a "prior artist"!

  • Thanks for pointing this out. The proper form for filing a reexamination request is available online at the USPTO [] (Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader). The main problem here is that, as with all patent fees, personal requests are not in mind. The fee to file such a request is US$2385 - Which must accompany the form. I would *Love* to see an organization similar to the EFF which dealt entirely with situations like this. Not only patent issues - GPL violations, etc.
    signature smigmature
  • by werdna ( 39029 ) on Thursday December 23, 1999 @03:47AM (#1450721) Journal
    Reexamination (the process of subjecting an issued patent to further review) is probably one of the best and worst ideas the Congress created in recent years. It has substantial upside to make the patent system self-healing, but at present, it isn't enough.

    For some intuition, this is precisely the process by which the Compton's patent was neutered.

    Here's the deal. Reexam can happen three ways: (1) the applicant asks for reexam; (2) a third party asks for reexam; or (3) the commissioner asks for reexam.

    What happens is this: if the Office decides to reexamine the patent, it is treated for these purposes as thought the patent had never issued. No presumption of validity. The examiner makes another search (help them! help them! this may be the last chance!) and issues another official action, probably rejecting all the claims. This is the upside.

    The downside is this: the applicant may then Amend his claims to narrow the scope of his patent to avoid the prior art. Unlike a trial on the patent, where a binary valid/invalid decision can be made -- and in which the patent can disappear forever, reexam permits a good lawyer (and he's nuts if he doesn't get the best) to tailor the patent to just barely distinguish the prior art, but still "read on" a meaningful royalty base.

    There are limits to what he can do, because he is stuck with his present patent specification. (He can't make up new limitations out of whole cloth -- each element of the new claim must be drawn from the spec). But as I said, a great lawyer could make a deadly asset out of what is presently a harmless patent.

    Harmless? How can it be harmless? Well, its like this: McDonnell Douglas had a patent which, if valid, in the next twelve months or so is like having the right to a royalty on sex. If it were what it purports to be, it would be worth untold zillions. Instead of putting every legal body behind a licensing program, they assigned it to an employee. What do you think that highly sophisticated company thought about its validity/enforceability?

    At last report, no one has bought a license from this guy. This is because no one has taken his claims seriously, not even the small potatoes folks. No small entity is going to be terrorized by him, because the first defendant will be helped by every major economic force on the planet to assure no powerful judgment of validity is made. In short, this patent is harmless (unlike run-of-the-mill patents -- with respect to which small guys would be on their own and forced to capitulate rather than go broke fighting the good fight) for the ironic reason that, if it were valid and enforceable, it would be too great a commercial threat.

    Testimony to this is that the patent issued years ago and has yet to be a meaningful commercial threat.

    Bottom line, for a narrow class of patents, reexamination make self-healing the limitations of USPTO novelty-standard examination.

    But for many reasons, the process is practically useless for the rest of them. It is absolutely true that reexamination often serves to make a patent much, much stronger. The applicant can disclose all prior art that defendants have raised, distinguish it on commercially irrelevant grounds, and then rewrite the claims to read directly on the prospective defendant's righs. Once surviving the examination, the new patent, as amended, is VERY difficult to avoid, both on infringement and on validity grounds.

    Third party reexamination is not effective, because the applicant, not the requestor, controls the process. While the requestor gets to play a bit (and under a recent revision, can play a bit more), the applicant effectively controls the show, and gets to use amendments to "shuck and dive" around any argument it can't win straight up.

    Recent attempts to empower the Office to make the process more practically useful have been vehemently opposed by the so-called "independent inventor" lobby. I believe their conduct to be misguided -- certainly for the software patent market. Strengthening the reexam process to be more generally useful would go a LONG WAY toward mitigating the harms of software patents issued as the result of limited examination.

    More important, there is a substantial interest in the Congress to do this -- and a large lobby that would support it. Reform has been proposed and seriously debated, and limited versions have been passed. If a strong technical lobby were also to get behind it (particularly the open source community), it would go a long way toward neutralizing the "little guy" appeal of the independent inventor lobby. More important, if the position were stated articulately, it would be an EXCELLENT foothold to begin making the case against sotware patents generally.

    So, there it is. Reexam is good for a limited class of off-the-scale-dangerous patents, like Comptons, the bunny and the Y2K patent. Indeed, for such patents the process is virtually self-healing. It has dangers, and reexam (or reissue) is a strategy this patent owner should have considered in the first instance.

    More important, getting behind the PTO on reexamination, and pushing for more effective Reexamination reform in the Congress would also be an EXCELLENT political vehicle to begin the process of making real patent reform changes.

    Another observation. If the slashdot community wanted to target particular patents, and found slam-dunk prior art, a reasonably inexpensive means can be found to force those patents into remission. Perhaps we ought to get our leaders and foundations to invest reources investigating this little-used process to shut down egregious patents that are not only "bad for the community," but also genuinely "bad for the patent system because they are clearly invalid." This might be useful, particularly for patents that genuinely threaten the open source community.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    It the patent is invalidated, what will happen to any royalty money that was paid?
  • If you know of prior art you don't tell the patent office about, that's "inequitable conduct". Inequitable conduct renders the patent unenforcable. Inequitable conduct can also, at the discretion of the judge, render the case "exceptional" entitling the defendant to reimburisment of all his reasonable costs, including attorney's fees. Inequitable conduct is evaluated by looking at the materiality of the misrepresentation or omission, and the intent to deceive the examiner. Both need to be present, and the judge weighs them, so more of one requires less of the other.

    If you know that the patent is invalid (more than just a likelihood it is invalid, you know the thing is no good) then you can get hit with antitrust violations. This requires high materiality and very high bad intent. Damn rare thing.

  • In this case, Bruce Dickens, the owner of the Y2K Windowing Technique(TM)...

    ...if they have to give money to Bruce Dickens...

    ...see that Bruce Dickens has not really contributed anything...

    ...Bruce Dickens pissed off a lot of people...

    I generally refrain from correcting minor spelling and grammatical errors in other folks posts, but this one was rife with a repeated mispelling of the mans name.

    It is, more correctly, Bruce Dickhead.

    Lets try to get it right.

    "Rex unto my cleeb, and thou shalt have everlasting blort." - Zorp 3:16

  • Better grab that patent on 64-bit second counters quick. That give us time stamps for (approx.) 585 billion years. By the time 128-bit counters would be useful I suspect that the universe will have died out, let alone any humans who give a second thought to petty ownership of ideas.

    Maybe it's a good idea, though, to issue the call to arms on getting the Y2038 ``bug'' fixed. (Yah, I know it's not a bug but that's what the press will call it.) We'll all be running on 64-bit processors in a couple of years anyway. Hopefully, 38 years will be enough time to migrate all those older UNIX systems to 64-bit versions of the libraries. It might seem a bit early to be working on it now, but think how much fun it'll be when you can say you got the problem solved with 35 years (or whatever) to spare.

  • No. Retaliation is seldom a good idea (except those damn ICQ pron spammers), and DoS attacks are NEVER a good idea. A creative crash of their browser is about as far as I'd go. Non-destructive, mildly annoying, but it gets the point across..

    Anyone got some bad JScript that'll take down IE 5? I'm guessing stuff like this rarely come from Netscape or Mozilla.
  • While I agree that Dickens never really stood a chance, I'm not sure it would have needed big business to come to review. Any two-bit software firm that published a date entry VBX before 1998 could take Brucey to court, claim prior art, and tear Brucey's dream house to the ground. It's a slam dunk that this will get overturned.

    Keith Russell
    OS != Religion
  • by Anonymous Coward
    patent #5443036 []

    Damn, I guess I've been in violation of the law since '95
  • In my eyes, all these incredibly obvious software patents have the same pattern:

    Take a simple, obvious, widely deployed idea (such as ordering with one query)

    Mix some combination of "computer", "network", "automatic"

    Pat self on back for contribution to the so-called state of the art.

    Release the hounds ..errr.. licensing and infringement laywers.

    The truly frightening part is that mixing in computers and/or networks seems to make the obvious somehow insightful. As for One Click Ordering, am I doing something different when I call a supplier with whom I have an established relationship ship?

    me "Hi, this is Bob at Widgets Are Us, I need two gross by Thursday. That's all."
    widget wholesale "Two gross widgets are on their way."

    I've never thought twice about ordering from suppliers by leaving a voice mail message with nothing more than my ID (usually my name and company) and a product ID (often a code from a catalog). Take this simple, common practice and add in a computer and suddenly it is somehow non-obvious to an examiner. Or at least the PTO thinks so.

    The scary part is realizing the shift to the information age along with this patent recipe is like granting patents during the industrial revolution for "a machine that [insert useful task here]" and not requiring anything novel about either the machine or the task.

    I think the test for nonobviousness should place the idea in front of a group of reasonbly intelligent programmers and have them invent a apparatus/method/process. If the programmers find no difficulty in "inventing" means to implement the idea, then it should be rejected sumarrily. If the applicant wanted to limit the scope by detailing a particular implementation that was non-obvious, perhaps that might be patentable. At least then the rest of us could "invent" one of innumerable equivalent mechanisms.

    Our only hope is that the PTO does such a thoroughly bad job with poor patents that high dollared companies begin to consider the PTO a liability rather than an affordable weapon of commerce.

  • Any time you are messing with windows there is a potential problem because you are making an assumption about what 100 years span you are working in. Windowing buys you time; and given that the expected job tenure in the programming profession is 16 months the amount of time it buys you may be more than enough. A lot depends on how far back your databases go. Mine start in 1987, so I have until 2087 before a problem occurs. Since I'll be retired long before that I'm not too worried.

    The only real solution is 4 digit years (until Y10K anyway).

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Perhaps what's needed is a straw designed to break the camel's back:

    How about designing and submitting a patent request specifically to highlight the weakness(es) in the system? Something like Goedel's theorem in legalese?

    For example, try to patent a "one-click patent" web page?
  • Geez, that certainly takes the prize for absurdity.

    I know folks who've been 'infringing' on this patent since years before it was issued (and before handheld lasers were readily available - this couple was into home holography). Mind, they had a dog, not a cat.

    You've got to wonder why anyone would even bother paying the patent application fees for something (a) so obvious and (b) that they don't stand a hope in hell of ever collecting a royalty for.
  • Check ISP software, such as the older BBS implementations and things of that nature. ISP's used online purchasing long before actuall retail outlets.
    This is a good place to start for previous examples.
  • hehehe, how true ;)
  • by kevin805 ( 84623 ) on Thursday December 23, 1999 @06:35AM (#1450739) Homepage
    I'm amazed no one has mentioned a critical step -- fire the examiner who approved the patent with as much fanfare as possible. Sure, in the best of all worlds, we could get a patent office with sane policies, but that doesn't appear to be an option right now. A good substitute is just to "encourage" examiners to actually check the patents before they approve them. Saying "you approve an idiotic patent, we fire you" would go a long way toward reforming the patent system.

  • Some numb nut waved the legal stick at my old boss, saying that we had stepped on his patented toes by using a lame control feedback algorithm this other guy had "developed." The crude technique basically adjusted parameters by a constant value each time the output was outside an allowed margin of error. The technique was cheesy to begin with, and certainly zillions of people used it.

    Did we pay their bullsh*t nuisance fees? Hell no! We made a real control algorithm (which worked much better, incidentally) and patented that as a defensive measure against the same numbskulls. We needn't have worried, though. Tying their shoes was taxing for these guys; figuring out a mathematical rule would be beyond their capacity.


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  • Apple described the use of windowing in an old Apple II technical note back in September 1990.
    See a copy of ProDOS 8 technical note #28 here [].

    It contains the following:

    • A seven-bit ProDOS year value is in the range 0 to 99 (100 through 127 are invalid)
    • Year values from 40 to 99 represent 1940 through 1999
    • Year values from 0 to 39 represent 2000 through 2039

    The best part of this technote is Apple's advice for 2039...

    What Do You Do After 2039?

    Apple is still working on it. Contact your neighborhood Apple Developer Technical Support office in 2030.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    the code I'm currently maintaining uses windowing, and apparently has done so since 1994. Yes, this is an obvious work-around, and there is loads of prior art.

    A related question: what kind of self-respecting programmer would even attempt to patent a KLUDGE that is guaranteed to break AGAIN sometime in the next hundred years? I'd be embarrassed to put my name on it, myself.

  • Interesting that McDonnell Douglas let him go his merry way with the patent. They apparently weren't interested in fighting the other 499 of the Fortune 500.
  • I first encountered windowing in 1980. On a Prime computer running the Information database there is a function called ICONV that, among other conversions, changes an external representation of a date into the database's canonical "internal" date (the number of days since 1969?). 2 digit years (before 30?) in the external format were assumed to be in the 21st century when converted to the internal representation . Earlier systems running very similar software were running on Microdata (?) computers. They all are derived from an OS built by Dick Pick for the Air Force. I think he did his first systems in the early 70's.
  • It depends. It may be easier to determine where the window is if it is defined explicitly, (testing for year >30) rather than implicitly. Essentially the Y2K problem is an implicit window from 1900 to 1999. Of course keeping the date in something that can span longer than a 100 years is preferable, if there are no other considerations, and there rarely are.
  • It is an idiotic patent. I have personally used this technique in a BASIC program that I wrote in the mid 1980's. It stored dates internally as 4 digits, but when entering data, would accept either two or four digits, using the described "windowing" technique to convert two digit dates. I used a 1950 to 2049 window. The only difference was the motivation for doing it. It was just to save keystrokes when entering data, rather than fixing broken software to handle the Y2K roll over.

    It never even occurred to me that this trick could be patentable. It's so freakin' obvious, I'd be completely astonished if it hasn't been used by a multitude of other people too.

  • take a look at all the other useless and obvious patents which for so long have destoryed innovation instead of encouraging it which has ruined many people and kept things closed and bland.
  • Who does (did) Barnes and Noble have for lawyers?? From my understanding of the documentation for cookies, this is the kind of use that was intended. Should it really be patentable to make an intended use of a feature??
    If anything it should be the cookie feature that has a patent -- but, thankfully (hopefully), it's far to late to patent cookies
    On that line, has anybody considered the idea of patenting GPLed ideas, and then GPLing the patent?? It would, I think be an interesting way to push the GPL issue.

Murphy's Law, that brash proletarian restatement of Godel's Theorem. -- Thomas Pynchon, "Gravity's Rainbow"