Movement – The Latest on The Microsoft Patent Application

Cathedral1-SmallWhen I wrote the article about the Microsoft patent application on Friday, I hoped that the visibility it might generate would help our case against this application.

It did. And much more quickly and efficiently than I expected.

It seems that Microsoft will withdraw the application. They have apologised. And all that on a weekend.

But let me take things in order.

In the blog comments, several people have asked whether we had contacted anyone within Microsoft about this. The answer is yes. I have mailed two people within Microsoft whose names I had (who work in academic relations) and made them aware of this story, asking them to forward to people who might be in a position to influence this case.

I have also responded to a Microsoft manager who commented on this blog. In addition, the story was on at least two computer science academics and educators lists, where some Microsoft people are subscribed list members.

Dan Fernandez’ blog also received several comments about this, so I am sure he became aware of this as well.

This morning, when I woke up, the story had moved forward quite a bit over night. I found two mails in my inbox from Jane Prey (Microsoft Research), one to me personally, and one via the SIGCSE (Computer Science Education) mailing list. In these, Jane informed me that Microsoft will withdraw the patent, and she apologised.

Also, several people pointed me to a new blog article by Dan Fernandez, in which he also apologises and makes the same promise.

All considered, I must say that I am impressed and surprised at the speed with which all this happened. It was a weekend, after all! And at the time of writing this, it’s not even Monday morning yet in the US.

Also, all the individual people from Microsoft I have heard from (either directly or via a public statement) have been professional, friendly, and reasonable.

My original article on Friday made the rounds quite a bit. It spread via slashdot, digg, reddit, and many other blogs that referred to it, and so far we logged more than 40,000 hits to the article itself. On slashdot, the discussion degenerated very quickly – and predictably – into the usual “patents are evil” rant (with a sideline of “Microsoft is the antichrist” streak for good measure).

While it may make someone feel better to get that off their chest, we all know that that’s not going to do much good. (I also think that the system of software patents is fundamentally broken, and doing a lot of damage, but that’s another story.)

The important thing is: Some helpful and reasonable individuals within Microsoft have set the machinery in motion to put things right, and that’s a good thing. I am very grateful if this gets resolved without involving the lawyers.

While I am sure we would have had a good case to file for prior art, and while it is likely that this would have stopped the application, I really have better things to do with my time.

I am happy that I can get back to my work, and do not have to spend the day today explaining all this in detail to the university legal people. (They always seem to speak some subtly different language from everyone else. It sounds like English at first, and one thinks one should be able to make sense of what they say or write, but then it all goes funny, and common sense can just not be superimposed over their grammar. It’s a language that I am not too keen on spending time learning.)

So, thanks to Microsoft, especially to Jane Prey, Chris Worland and Dan Fernandez, who reacted to this.

If this application gets withdrawn as quickly as the promise was made, we can all take a deep breath, and get back to writing great computer programs.

For me, it’s back to writing exam questions. Not one of my favourite parts of my work either, but not quite as bad as reading legal documents.

PS: The image at the top is Canterbury Cathedral (or at least its main tower, sticking out of the fog), as seen from the University of Kent campus in Canterbury one autumn morning last year, as I came into work. Here is a second picture from the same day.


15 thoughts on “Movement – The Latest on The Microsoft Patent Application

  1. Wonderful peaceful photographs, Michael – just the job to help us all chill out after an anxious weekend!


  2. Woot!

    I was starting to think ‘microsoft’s bad, mkay?’ myself. I hope they’re true to their word.

  3. Don’t know why some minority in MS still try to pull these stunts. I know many people in MS and have met hundreds of great people and unfortunately a few prats. The vast majority do fabulous work and are good and gracious. But then the prats ruin all that through not realising the massive responsibility that comes when you are a tiny cog in a massive organisation like MS.

    The US Patent system is unfit for purpose or should that be “not fit for purpose”. Pulling stunts like this in France or Australia can lead to criminal charges.

    I’m sure MS UK will now donate licenses or kit to the university by way of renumeration for using your invention in their commercial products ;-).

    Glad you got it sorted out.

  4. congratulations! i am a CS student at the university of kent at the moment and have made good use of bluej throughout my course. it is good to see that microsoft can admit there mistakes and put credit where it is due for a great piece of software.

    if there is an upside to all this its that hopefully more people will have now been made aware of bluej and willjoin me in supporting itin the future.

  5. Ick. I would *not let up on these guys because they claim it’s an honest mistake. They make this ‘honest mistake’ week in, week out.

    DanF’s post title “Update: Response to BlueJ Patent Issues” just kills me. More accurate: “Update: Response to BlueJ Patent Fraud”.

    Sorry, I’m in a foul mood because of this.

  6. As one of the many teachers around the world who use BlueJ to introduce Java, I am quite relieved. BlueJ is an excellent IDE for my beginning students. I’m glad that you don’t have to be burdened with an extensive period of defending your work.

    Best wishes from Oregon, Wisconsin USA.

  7. Michael, don’t give this up so easily. The screenshots comparing the two say it all.

    Remember that Microsoft is trying to force developers to license the new Office 2007 UI style, so treat them with copious amounts of contempt right back and ask them to license it (not that they ever would, but put it on record).

  8. Wow Alex, you’re a real stink head. Everyone said they’re sorry, they retracted the patent application, Michael is okay with it and then YOU have to come out with some idiotic response.

  9. go home Michael Kolling and, BlueJ isnt an invention.
    Stop making a mountain off a mole hill. I guess you wanted a few minutes of fame.

  10. xyz, if you think before you type you might notice that Microsoft is the one claiming it a patent worthy invention. I’d be confident in betting that Michael considers it original work built on top of decades of computer science research.

    By the way, xyz, what “invention” did you get your PhD for?

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  12. Dear Michael,

    I’m very happy about the good news! Your great work on Blue/BlueJ deserves to be credited and respected.

    You may not know but I was very interested in your work from the time of your original Blue system. At the time I was developing my Loro project,, but different circumstances have forced me to spend my efforts on other endeavors, so I’m not very up-to-date to the state of the art in tools for teaching programming (for now 😉 ).

    My best wishes,

  13. I graduated from a Computer Programming class at St. Charles College in Ontario Canada, Ive been in the computer sciences program for 3 years now and I find that BlueJ has made it that much easier to learn and develope programs than even some of the IDEs that u would have to pay for. I’m really happy for you that microsoft withdrew its claim and Keep up the good work!


  14. This case strengthen the clause of patent abuse.
    It brings innovation and respect for innovation to fore front. Innovative societies should get over all lagal hapers to growth of knowledge. and innovation comes from small player always..As person said right “necesity is mother of invention” And those brave people have right to do well in society.
    This is great to see such a feet attained by BlueJ team…congrats

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