Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Favoritism patent awarded to Microsoft

A few weeks ago, the U. S. Patent Office awarded Microsoft what Greg Aharonian calls is a Bilski-like claim - a sign of favoritism: Bayesian scoring U.S. Patent 7,376,474 1. A method comprising: a) receiving a draw outcome of a game between at least a first team opposing a second team, the first team including at least one player and the second team including at least one other player; b) receiving a first score including a first mean and a first variance representing a distribution associated with the at least one player of the first team; c) receiving a second score including a second mean and a second variance representing a distribution associated with the at least one other player of the second team; d) updating the first mean and the first variance based on the draw outcome of the game; e) updating the first mean and the first variance of the first score due to changed abilities of the at least one player of the first team based on a dynamic score function of a period of time since the first team last played the game; and f) providing an indication of the updated first mean and the updated first variance to the at least one player of the first team. No technology in this claim, just like with Bilski. And some rather broad elements, like "distribution", just like with Bilski. Yet Bilski's claim gets rejected under article 101, but not Microsoft's. Corporate favoritism at the Patent Office? Seriously, big companies get lots of Bilski-like claims every month - where's the PTO outrage? While the patent talks about the use of electronics (just like the Bilski patent), by "receiving" one could mean reading the information in a newspaper and magazine, and by "updating" one could mean paper-and-pencil calculations for mean and variance (which are not that hard to do). I could implement this entire patent with a paper notebook and my mind. In fact, I know some sports-nuts mathematicians who could do all of this in their head, including remembering in their minds the updated scores from game to game. Usually that automatically disqualifies this patent under article 101. That is, this patent can be done equally manually, ( as well as mentally) or by computer. Does both possibilities make this unpatentable (that is, if you were not a big company like Microsoft) under 101? Is it not enough a process to be a 101-process? 35 USC 101, much like 17 USC 102, is a semantic disaster of vagueness and public notice incompleteness, thanks to the cavalier attitude Congress has with regards to the fundamentals of IP law. And based on the Bilski oral arguments, and other recent similar cases, the courts do not have any better fundamental understanding. They should punt 101 (and 103) back to Congress, and Congress should confer with a wide variety of people (as opposed to selling this to the highest bidder).

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