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Microsoft Backs Off BlueJ Patent Claim

A useful piece of functionality in Visual Studio had been incorporated into the product without attribution to its creator, Michael Kölling of the University of Kent. Microsoft then submitted a patent application for the tool, which they have reasonably withdrawn.

Give Microsoft credit for quickly acting to clamp down on what would have been another public relations nightmare had it been allowed to continue. Dan Fernandez of the Visual Studio Express team posted that they would withdraw a patent application for the Object Test Bench in the product:

On Friday, an alert reader emailed me about a new article by Michael Kölling, the creator of BlueJ, about a patent issued by Microsoft for features in Object Test Bench that are comparable to BlueJ's Object Bench. I'll post the full "anatomy of a firedrill" some time later, but for now 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. Our sincere apologies to Michael Kölling and the BlueJ community.

For those of you who aren't developers and are wondering what the heck happened here, Kölling explained how it all started last week:

In short: I didn't really mind that Microsoft (or anyone else for that matter) copied our ideas, but I was a bit peeved that they claimed it as a new innovation of theirs and proudly presented this "newly developed" feature without attribution.

At the time (May 2005), I wrote:

"Do I care? I don't care that they copied BlueJ - good on them, and good luck to them. But I care about attribution."

Microsoft not only failed to attribute Kölling's work, but then moved forward to patent the "innovation" they developed. Being a topic where big, bad Microsoft was ready to curb-stomp the little guy, the story caught on in the usual places online:

I thought a bit of public visibility can't hurt our case.

It certainly has generated some visibility. The story made the front pages of digg, slashdot, reddit and The article has had more than 20,000 hits in the last 24 hours.

That activity moved up to 40,000 hits very quickly, without a worry for Kölling as Kent has the kind of drool-worthy Internet connections that can handle Slashdottings and other hazards of linkbait-worthy content.

The story resolved itself over a weekend, with Fernandez and other Microsoft people offering apologies over the issue. "For me, it's back to writing exam questions," Kölling wrote. "Not one of my favourite parts of my work either, but not quite as bad as reading legal documents."

UPDATE!: Microsoft offered further clarification of the issue; this is from Jason Matusow, Senior Director, IP & Licensing.

"Microsoft mistakenly filed for a patent on a technology included in components of Visual Studio 2005 that was based upon an academic project to help individuals grasp introductory concepts of software programming through pictorial representation of code.

Professor Michael Kölling, Senior Lecturer at the Computing Laboratory, University of Kent originally created the technology known as "BlueJ" and was aware of Microsoft's use of the technology within the Visual Studio 2005 product.

Recently, Professor Kölling notified Microsoft that a patent application for Microsoft's implementation of BlueJ, known as "Object Test Bench," was substantially similar to his project.

Microsoft agrees with Professor Kölling, and in keeping with our internal standards for quality patent filings, we are expressly abandoning the patent application with the USPTO through their normal procedures."

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About the author:
David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.
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Microsoft Backs Off BlueJ Patent Claim