Microsoft files to Patent Key BlueJ Interactions

Discussions

News: Microsoft files to Patent Key BlueJ Interactions

  1. Michael Kölling, a senior lecturer at Kent University, has blogged that Microsoft has applied for a patent that covers key interaction styles used in BlueJ. In his blog he alleges that after discussions with academics that preferred BlueJ to Visual Studio, Microsoft incorporated these key interactions into VS via Object Test Bench. BlueJ, originally developed in 1994 (named Blue) as part of a research project at Deakin University and the University of Kent, is a environment for introducing object orientation without having to deal with the nuances of syntax. The tool is now widely used by many hundreds of Educational institutions. As part of their efforts to gain greater access to educational programs, Microsoft announced the MSDN Academic Alliance in February of 2001. Educational institutions joining this program would be given access to key Microsoft development tools for a minimal charge. Unfortunately for Microsoft, in many cases Java had already taken hold and C# didn’t offer a compelling enough story to entice educators to revamp their programs. In 2005 Microsoft was talking to educators on how to make Visual Studio better for academia. Object Test Bench is a key result of these discussions. After learning of Object Test Bench in May of 2005, Michael posted a side by side comparison against with BlueJ. In the conclusion to that posting he states; "Do I care? I don't care that they copied BlueJ - good on them, and good luck to them. But I care about attribution." In response to this blog entry, Microsoft employee Dan Fernandez dug up some answers. His response states:
    We did tweak both of these features based on teacher feedback, which borrows from several teaching concepts these teachers already enjoy with BlueJ.
    Now that Microsoft has applied for patents on key features in BlueJ, Michael’s attitude has changed. In his most recent postings, he states; "So my earlier belief that I don’t think we need to [be] be worried about Microsoft possibly taking out a patent was clearly misguided." However misguided Michael may feel at the moment, his original feelings were based on the assumption that there was prior art that they themselves never claimed that this was their invention. Instead Michael reveals that the key concepts were derived from Smalltalk and Self. Michael is convinced that Microsoft is keenly aware of BlueJ. This conviction is shared by educator and Java ChampionCay Horstmann. In his blog he states:
    ... the team that markets Visual Studio to educators is keenly aware of the competitive landscape. I had many conversations at the annual ACM CS education conference with Microsoft representatives about the various products, and they were well informed and certainly knew BlueJ.
    To be fair, Cay also points out that Microsoft is a large company and as such, the group filing the patent application may not have been aware of the prior art. In a follow up to Michael’s original posting, he points to a response by Chris Worland, a project manager at Microsoft:
    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 sometimes 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.
    Still the question remains, if the responsible parties in Microsoft were aware of BlueJ, then why did they file for this patent? Michael suggests the following answers:
    • They hope that people just don’t notice and object
    • The people that may object don’t have the expertise, time or money.
    • An employee under pressure submitted the application to an unknowing supervisor
    Michael ends his blog entry with "I'm not too happy." Can you imagine?
  2. In his blog, Dan Fernandez, the lead project manager for Visual Studio Express, responded to the flurry of messages and blog postings that circulated since Michael Kolling first blogged about Microsoft’s patten application that threatened BlueJ, an educational tool used to teach OO. Dan has gone so far as to offer an apology to Michael Kölling and the BlueJ community.
    We can officially say that the patent application was a mistake and one that should not have happened. To fix this, Microsoft will be removing the patent application in question.
    Additionally, the Product Unit Manager is investigating how and why the application was made.
  3. Is anyone surprised?[ Go to top ]

    1. Does this episode surprise anyone? Probably not 2. Good on Dan for stating that they screwed up. -John Mark Hyperic Community Outreach http://www.hyperic.com/
  4. This story should be pulled now that M$ has stated their intention of withdrawing the patent app and issueed apologies.
  5. Why take any action based on Microsoft's stated intent or future actions? Why don't we wait until they actually do what they say they'll do and then either take down the story or post a followup comment to it (assuming they don't file some replacement patent that only amounts to a very slight backing-down)?
  6. Why take any action based on Microsoft's stated intent or future actions? Why don't we wait until they actually do what they say they'll do and then either take down the story or post a followup comment to it (assuming they don't file some replacement patent that only amounts to a very slight backing-down)?
    +1
  7. Why take any action based on Microsoft's stated intent or future actions? Why don't we wait until they actually do what they say they'll do and then either take down the story or post a followup comment to it (assuming they don't file some replacement patent that only amounts to a very slight backing-down)?
    Joe has posted my follow up on the story in this thread and Microsoft has filed the necessary paper work to have the patent appliction removed. MS has both appologized for the incident and accredited it to some miscommunication between the legal team and the developers. They were suppose to only patent IP surrounding OTB and not OTB it's self. Although MS has done the right thing and kudo's to them for acting on this, it is my expressed opinion that something is still not right with this story. They admitt that the developers were fully aware of BlueJ and so too should the lawyers have been (from discussion with the developers). So either there was a breakdown in the process or everyone or someone got a wee bit over-zealous and failed to point out what was going on we will never know. What we do know is tha the application has been withdrawn.