More on the Microsoft / BlueJ patent case

Wow. That has caused a little more than a ripple.

Yesterday, I wrote the article titled “Microsoft patents BlueJ” about Microsoft’s patent application. I thought a bit of public visibility can’t hurt our case.

It certainly has generated some visibility. The story made the front pages of digg, slashdot, reddit and The article has had more than 20,000 hits in the last 24 hours.

Many people have asked me to keep them updated, so I’ll do this with a short summary.

The good news is: Our web server seems quite stable. We haven’t been “slashdotted” to a halt, as so many other sites that were unprepared for the traffic that slashdot can create. But then again, we serve downloads of BlueJ from this machine, and they run at about 2,500 a day with much larger file sizes than this web page, so the traffic wasn’t so unusual.

And the University of Kent, where our server sits, has large pipes. We run mirrors for various things (such as sourceforge) so we are well equipped for traffic.

But now for the stuff that matters.

Many people have commented and mailed me directly with a lot of advice – thanks to everyone, who has taken the time to chip in. (What an astonishing collection of hobby lawyers internet geeks are! I had no idea. And with quite varying degree of insight…)

Some advice was really useful, and I might make use of it. For now, the most interesting comment – to me – came from Chris Worland, Program Manager at Microsoft (comment #45 in the original article). He writes (in part):

Hi all – I’m sorry about this situation. My view is the same as yours.

I’ve mailed my friends in Microsoft’s legal group to call attention to this…I’m pretty sure they aren’t the type to read Digg on Saturday mornings.

BlueJ’s story will be read and re-evaluated. I’m sure that on Monday, there will be some discussions on Monday whether we were overzealous with our patent application, or whether it represents some different concept that we do have a case to patent (which looks rather doubtful to me).

Although we are often considered a mechanical monstrosity rolling over everyone, my view working there from my last seven years is the opposite. We’re someimes chaotic and uncoordinated.

However, we are not the type of people who tolerate hypocrisy. If our product was a port of someone else’s idea (which it looks like we’ve already said publicly), we’re not going to pursue this.

We all trying to be respected as honorable people that are viewed favorably by our peers outside the company.

There’s a saying that might apply here: “Don’t attribute to malice what can easily be explained by incompetence.” Well, if Chris really manages to get Microsoft to move back on this without legal intervention, that would be very nice.

Otherwise – rest assured everyone who urged us to fight this: We will file an objection to the patent, and I am hopeful that we will be successful in demonstrating prior art.

There are two universities involved here. Both have an enterprise/legal unit. And Sun Microsystems have supported us in the past. We are also talking to them to see whether they might be able to help us. (And they have probably almost as many lawyers as Microsoft…)

We are talking to all of them.

But let’s see. I thought Chris’s response was quite encouraging, and we’ll see whether something will move within the next week.

Don’t know – maybe I’m being naïve again, but I’m willing to take the chance.

It’s been an interesting day for me. — Thanks for your support.

11 thoughts on “More on the Microsoft / BlueJ patent case

  1. Chris is surely an honorable person (I don’t know him at all, but I always assume individuals are honorable until proven otherwise) but Microsoft is a business, and like any other such institution, it’s ethics are often defined by the lowest common denominator.

    Yes, let Chris try and get this patched up, but don’t stop pursuing the other avenues. Get the university lawyers involved, file the prior art, etc. Chris could get overruled by lawyers, superiors, or simple inertia. It is not worth the risk.


  2. Tell me where to send money. I live six blocks from microsoft so my house value has gone up over the years so some of it can be spent defending your work.

  3. I wish you dozens of luck fighting these outrageous patent claims.

    And then, I wish you might consider making BlueJ not just free, but also free software – why not release it under the GPL or something equivalent?

    There’s no way such a move could hurt you, but not making it probably could. If I were to create a new Java course, I’d prefer Free as in Freedom to free as in beer anytime.

  4. This is a sad state of affairs. As a former undergraduate who learned java using bluej, and a demonstrator at the university of kent who teaches multimedia undergrads the same, I’m appalled at this move by microsoft.

  5. As a first year at Kent, BlueJ has been the biggest help in learning Java. It’s ridiculous how large companies like Microsoft steal ideas…

  6. My son Jonathan has close to 20 automotive patents. He comments:

    From: Jonathan Adler
    Subject: Re: Query about patents and academia

    I think Microsoft will have some trouble getting this patented.

    When you file for a patent, you declare that you are the originator of the idea. If that declaration can be shown to be false, then the patent is invalid.

    Even if it was originally your idea, then once it has been disclosed in public (especially if it has been sold as part of a product) there is a 1 year window in which a patent application must be filed. After that it becomes “prior art”. You can’t patent anything that is prior art, and if you want to patent something based on the prior art, you have to show how your thing is better. Oh, and the one year window only applies to U.S. patents; international patent rights disappear immediately the thing becomes available to the public.

    At some point after the application has been filed but before it has been granted, the application is published, which means that you can find out exactly what is covered in the application. You can then send a comment to the patent examiner, to the effect that this has been in use for such amount of time, or point him/her to evidence that someone else came up with the idea, etc.

    Even after a patent has been granted, it is still subject to a legal challenge. Mounting a challenge is an expensive process, so best to address the issues before the patent has been granted.

  7. We use BlueJ extensively here at Portland Community College. Is it time to get the faculty to write a group letter to Microsoft? I’ll be happy to organize that whenever you think it should happen. Just let me know.

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