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23/12/2006

All I want for Christmas is a patent on RSS

So Microsoft has got a patent on RSS. As they say in Blog-land: WTF?

As they say in PR-land: it's an own goal.

Ian Douglas of the Telegraph gives an admittedly inexpert reading of this incredible move:

I’m not a patent lawyer, but reading the application it seems that Microsoft is not just trying to claim RSS but any feed that uses an object model. That would not only include all versions of RSS (where the objects might be blog posts, mp3 files or news articles) but would also lay claim to any other system that used the same very useful form.

It may be a smart commercial move, but in terms of reputation this surely reinforces the perception in some quarters of Microsoft as an amoral corporation happy to trample over small guys anytime it seems advantageous to do so.

Corporations, especially in the US, play the patenting game like poker. They aren't necessarily interested in exploiting patents for commercial gain but they are covering themselves from potential law suits or attacks from rival companies. 

All the same, if Microsoft doing it with a product as clearly, publicly not their property as this why not take into account the risk to their reputation. Why not pay Creative Commons to own it? Set up a public trust? Both would protect them without claiming ownership of something that doesn't belong to them.

People, in the blogging community  - not least Dave Winer who was at the very least key to its creation - feel an emotional attachment to RSS - it is an incredible innovation that has given real impetus to an incredible revolution in the way that the web works.  Microsoft may be giving high fives round the boardroom table for this move, but how much will it cost them in goodwill and reputation lost?

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Comments

I saw that you have a page that discusses patent-related resources at http://open.typepad.com/open/2006/12/all_i_want_for_.html. I wanted to suggest adding www.freepatentsonline.com to the page. This web site has free PDF downloading (instead of having to page through TIFFs like at the US PTO). It is by far the best free patent searching site.

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