Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

A Patent On…. The SCRIPT tag

I just stumbled across an interesting/scary patent (via JSONet). It looks like someone has tried to patent using the SCRIPT tag to invoke web services:

The present invention permits a JavaScript-based Remote Procedure Call (RPC) to be executed from a Web page displayed in a Web browser window, without utilizing browser plug-in, Java Applet, or ActiveX technology. Traditionally, clunky downloads and Web browser plug-ins has been required to enable Web page interactivity, which greatly compromises the performance and reach of the Web page. Based purely on HTML and JavaScript, the present invention utilizes the HTML SCRIPT
element to pass data to the server and execute a remote procedure, receiving the resulting output to the same displayed Web page. The present invention can be used to build a lightweight Web page that offers real-time data and interactivity.

Ah, software patents. Remind me again how these actually help the industry (using actual data and real world use cases, not theory)?

Reading through the patent, it also appears that they are trying to patent using the IMG or EMBED tags as well to invoke a service!

7. A method as defined in claim 1, wherein said first HTML element in the transmitting action is an HTML IMG element.

8. A method as defined in claim 1, wherein said first HTML element in the transmitting action is an HTML EMBED element.

The patent dates from September 2005. If you click through the patent you will see it link to other silly web patents, such as one from IBM around using DTDs. Right now as an industry we’ve been able to co-exist pretty well with software patents, a sort of uneasy peace. However, at some point we might have a serious meltdown which will then spur reform, but might take down lots of important things (such as many startup companies, large swaths of open source projects, and perhaps the American software industry) just like we are seeing right now with the markets. It would be nice to reform things now without having to wait for such a meltdown, just as there were hints many years ago around reforms for the markets that might have been able to forestall what we are doing now.

Posted by Brad Neuberg at 7:00 am

4.7 rating from 23 votes


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I’m pretty certain the W3C patent policy covers that

Comment by TNO — October 28, 2008

Assuming the interpretation of the patent is correct, they don’t really have a hope of enforcing it. There’s plenty of prior art.

I started work for Moreover in 2005 and they’d been using Javascript-based RPC for years.

Comment by itchyrich — October 28, 2008

The Zaplets patent on forms HTML email is another one. They seem to think that the people who developed the HTML email standard hadn’t thought of using it for forms, and then they discovered the use.

Comment by jonsmirl — October 28, 2008

It isn’t a patent on the SCRIPT tag, but it is almost as silly. This is one of those low value/no value patents that they’ll never be able to monetarize — i.e., license — but they’ll hang on to defensively. This type of patent just adds to everyone’s costs in terms of legal review, etc., and will not likely bring any material benefit to the “inventors.” I guess there are organizations in which the shear number of patents filed/held is treated as as a performance metric. Also, the legal department drives this stuff too because they fear if their company doesn’t patent an invention (no matter how thin) someone else will. I’m not sure what the answer is. USPTO and other patent authorities could increase the cost of filing to the point where it no longer made sense to file junk patents — but this would likely hurt those who you wouldn’t want to hurt — your small inventor of things of value.

Comment by hrinterop — October 28, 2008

hrinterop is quite right. BTW, if you raise costs (they’re already pretty high), they’ll just go with Patent Pending.

I wrote two patents at a previous company, one of which I was quite proud. The other, a company officer filed on my behalf on something he almost literally dug out of my garbage. I never thought of it as clever nor unique, much less patentable. And I factored it out of the product because it just wasn’t a good idea. But it was a patent that the company could wave around in investors faces.

I think this is how a vast majority of them work. Rare is the Eolas problem, or the GIF scare. And the GIF LZW patent actually brought about the superior PNG format.

Comment by AnM8tR — October 28, 2008

Patents are also defensive, so no one else can go after you later for the common sense stuff you do.

Comment by Nosredna — October 28, 2008

Nosredna, If we are at the point where one needs to patent common sense stuff just to be safe, then Ajaxian’s caution about a future “serious meltdown” is dead on. We’re simply adding a layer of cost and bureaucracy that can build up to be a real drag on innovation and hurt all parties in the market. I don’t know what the answer is — may be it comes down to changing the minds of people like AnM8tR’s former boss who seemingly patented something for the sake of it.

Comment by hrinterop — October 28, 2008

I agree, but obviously we are at that point. One of the reasons you get patents (I have a top Menlo Park patent attorney for my start-up, and I’ve recently been through this discussion) is to bargain. Someone comes after you, you go after them, and a settlement is reached.
If you blow off the patents in a startup, you put your company, employees, and your investors at risk. You may not even get investors without them.
I don’t think it gets fixed without comprehensive reform. I can personally dislike software patents, but it’s irresponsible of me to not go after them.

Comment by Nosredna — October 28, 2008

Just a small correction: this patent dates from 2001, not 2005. Current U.S. patent law provides for 20 years from the date of filing.

Comment by mhart — October 28, 2008

I don’t get it why you can (software) patent technology you simply combine. All parts exist on its own, you just use them together and whoops another patent is born. This is a normal Engineer job to do that – that’s what you get paid for.

Companies should try to invent faster and not to patent faster.

Comment by Aimos — October 28, 2008

Feat not everyone, we can always go back to the good ‘ol iframe request :)

Comment by someguynameddylan — October 28, 2008

This is seriously bad news. we already see some guy in Florida suing people for developing and putting wish lists on their site. He starts off with the little guys in the hope of getting a settlement. No doubt if he gets a judment in his favour, he’ll go after the likes of Amazon using the money from the prior settlements to fund himself.
Am I right in thinking that both plaintiff and defendant have to pay their own costs in America? If so, this has to be changed so that the loser pays. This would stop most of these nuisance claims before they could even start. Another way might be for the defendant to represent him/herself in the hope that if enough people do it, it would bring the court system to its knees and force change that way.
Ajaxian is right, if people have to spend time and resources away from their main job of innovating, it’s going to drive most of the American software industry to India, or some other country that doesn’t allow/respect software patents.

Comment by paulhan — October 28, 2008

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