Before I prattle on about this, I'd like to make it clear that this is my personal blog. I speak for myself here, not the company I work for, so please don't mistake my personal ramblings for company policy. If I had that kind of clout, every day would be "free pizza and beer day" at work.
Anyway, the uncovering of Microsoft's RSS-related patent applications generated a lot of buzz yesterday, some of it worthwhile but much of it over-the-top. I'll say it again: they're not trying to patent RSS. Instead, they're trying to patent two applications of RSS:
- Content syndication platform: describes the Windows RSS Platform, which is built into IE7/Vista and was announced at Gnomedex 2005 three days after the patent was filed. This platform exposes an API which enables applications to access the user's shared feed subscriptions, providing object-oriented methods for reading, adding, deleting and updating feeds regardless of their format.
- Finding and consuming web subscriptions in a web browser: describes an API and user interface for discovering and exposing RSS feeds to other applications (specifically web browsers).
So while they're not trying to patent RSS, they are trying to patent obvious inventions for which there's plenty of prior art. Assuming that the inventors of that prior art file the necessary citations, I'd be surprised to see these patents granted (and if they are granted, expect to see plenty of civil disobedience amongst developers of RSS-enabled applications).
To me, the bottom line isn't that these patents prove that Microsoft is evil: instead, they illustrate how screwed up our patent system is. I still believe these are defensive patents (Googling for microsoft patent infringement shows why this is necessary) - but like Dave Winer, I'd like to see Microsoft pass the acid test before I'm willing to say that with any certainty.
Update: Niall Kennedy has an in-depth analysis of Microsoft's syndication platform patent application.
Update #2: Microsoft's Sean Lyndersay chimes in.