This is what I wrote last 12th of august:
to stop selling Word... And basically most Office products
and Visio and and and.
First personal reaction is shock ; second reaction is "oh wait, I4I
????" ; third reaction is "oooooh shit".
Just for the record, and that's something the CNet article does not
mention, I4I acquired Grif's
when it collapsed... Oh, and my old boss Jean Paoli (XML 1.0
co-editor) moved from Grif to Microsoft a while before that.
I4I filed the patent in july 1994, i.e. at a time the idea of a
unified DOM and DOM api started percolating slowly into the SGML
community. As a matter of fact, the patent is not about the Web but
really about SGML. Please note USPTO took four years to validate the
patent !!! Four years, that's more than a generation in our web wold. In
1994, the Web was still almost confidential. In 1998, the Web had
already changed the world.
I am unfortunately not sure this patent fight is a patent troll.
Patents on software are incredibly harmful, they are a too weak shield
for innovators that use them and a burden on innovators that don't carry
the patent. Let's compare codes, not ideas.
I was right. Microsoft just lost and has to pay $290 million. For
those of you who don't really understand what's going on here and how it
could affect the XML world, let me explain a bit...
The original authors of XML had two kinds of document instances in
mind : the first ones, well-known, conform to a document model. Call it a
dtd or a schema or whatever, documents conform to some sort of
structural description and only what's allowed by the structure is found
in the documents ; validators are the tools that can confirm a given
document conforms to a given structure. On another hand, well-formed
documents are documents that are XML, with tags and everything, but
don't have a structure. You design them as you need them, you're the
sole user of the format so you don't really need a specified structure
"Custom XML" lives between these two species. If you're working with
documents conforming to a given document model, how do you insert
"custom" tags (no, don't think namespaces, think 1994...) in these
documents, retaining validity and still enabling load/edit/save and
everything? That's the purpose of i4i's patent.
Does it affect our daily work on XML or does it affect our future
work? I don't think so. First, inserting arbitrary XML tags without
associated dtd/schema and namespace in a given instance is nowadays
probably a very marginal use case. Second, you could always declare an
arbitrary namespace for your user-defined tags and let the user-agent
treat the document in a single document tree (in other terms, you don't
need to separate structure and content and recreate an internal
structure for your arbitrary tags, and that is the heart of i4i's
patent). Third, i4i's patent was filed at a time the DOM and namespaces
did not exist and we now handle compound XML instances in a different
way. Fourth, schemas can control where extra XML elements are allowed
(the case of DTDs is a bit more complex ).
Let's summarize: Microsoft fell in a nice trap, probably because
their Legal Department did not do its job well enough. $290m, that's
severe, and a few layers deserve a kick in the butt. I also think the
whole debate (and to be more precise the case) is totally rotten.
Microsoft was judged on the presence of a "custom XML editor" add-on in
Word; but I see no clear facts in the
ruling about a technical
infringement on i4i's patent. In other words, yes Microsoft implemented
and shipped a "custom XML editor" and a "custom XML editor" is described
in i4i's patent; but no it's not clear at all they implemented it using
the methods described in i4i's patent...
Again, I do believe software patents are a serious threat for
Software in general. In this case, codes and algorithms were not even
compared and I find it not only ridiculous but also dangerous.