Is Microsoft Attempting to Patent RSS?

According to patent applications recently made public, it now appears that shortly before Microsoft publicly announced integrated RSS support within Internet Explorer and Windows Vista, it filed for two patents with the US Patent and Trademark Office surrounding Web-based feed readers.

The first patent application covers technologies that will find and consume feeds into a web browser. It will also provide ways to allow a user to organize and view web feeds through an API, as well as methods to discover new feeds.

Another patent application covers a "content syndication platform," which appears from the application to be the actual software backend for the methods described in the first patent application.

Microsoft first discussed the addition of RSS into Internet Explorer and Windows at Gnomedex in late June 2005. At the time, it appeared that the company was to deliver any modifications that it makes to the RSS standard to Creative Commons licensed under the Share Alike attribution agreement, however it now appears it has made moves to patent it.

The dates on the patent applications are June 21, 2005. A standard 18-month non-disclosure period exists for patent applications under current patent law.

One of the patent application authors, Jane Kim, blogged on the changes in August of last year on the Internet Explorer team blog. At that time, Microsoft chose to not disclose its intentions to patent the technologies discussed.

The disclosure of the patents has received near immediate criticism from those with strong interests in the RSS format. Dave Winer, who regards himself as one of the inventors of the format, is one of the most vocal.

"Presumably they're eventually going to charge us to use it," he said in a post to his Scripting News web log on Thursday. "This should be denounced by everyone who has contributed anything to the success of RSS."

Some within Microsoft are telling people like Winer to relax. Don Dodge, director of business development for Microsoft's Emerging Business Team, said in a Friday post to his personal web log that he believed Microsoft has no intention of enforcing the patent or collecting royalties.

"Microsoft is protecting itself against patent trolls," he wrote. "Microsoft is not pretending that they invented RSS...just protecting itself against potential patent infringement lawsuits from 'shell companies' and 'patent trolls' who do nothing but sue big companies."

"Patents become poker chips in a high stakes game of legal lunacy" to defend against infringement lawsuits, he added.

Microsoft is not officially commenting on the patent itself, although it invited others with issues with the application to file claims of prior art.

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