Patent Number Zero

This pleasant surprise awaited my return to work yesterday from signing the closing papers on my first and erstwhile home. Presumably, my co-conspirator Sandy received one as well, although I haven't seen him to congratulate him, yet. Microsoft awards a "patent cube" to all employees whose patent applications are submitted to the US Patent Office and a wooden plaque with a copy of the patent front page when it is granted, a process which usually takes 3-6 years.

My grandfather, who was an engineer, made many of his own tools. I am fond of the thought that I too, am a tool maker, in a more modern sense.

Larry Osterman, as usual, is about 20 years ahead of me!

Like Larry and 64,998 other 'softies, I am a Microsoft employee, amygdala to toenails. My work-related ideas "belong" to Microsoft per my employment agreement, which I willingly and happily signed (don't believe the rumors;-). Likewise, I was not forced to submit my idea for patent consideration. In fact, I wasn't even encouraged to do so, explicitly. I did so of my own volition.

Frankly, I was initially reluctant to apply for a patent for fear that, if and when issued, it might someday be used in a manner that is inconsistent with my beliefs. I don't like bullies. I don't want my IP or my company's IP to be used in a bullying way. I am acutely sensitive to any suggestion that Microsoft and by extension, I might be a bully. My sensitivity to bullies is, ironically and primarily, a reaction to bullies, especially hypocritical bullies...

Deep Thought of the Month: When one person (or company) goes to great lengths and incurs great expense to brand another person or company as a bully, fairly or unfairly, doesn't that make them an even bigger bully, themselves? Is this a recursive loop?

After a long talk with a non-Microsoft patent attorney, I determined that it would be very unlikely that my patent would ever be used offensively, given Microsoft's track record, IP philosophy, and commitment to engage in almost, if not entirely defensive patent enforcement actions. For the record, I am not extremely knowledgeable of Microsoft's track record in this area but I trust what my attorney told me and I left that meeting feeling very good about my decision to apply for a patent, with Microsoft as my sponsor.

Microsoft makes money (lots and lots of hard earned money) by making and selling great software and services, not by suing people. Unfortunately, there are many people and companies in the US and beyond that have not, do not, and will never hesitate to steal your ideas, my ideas, and our dignity by perfectly legal means, to make their fortunes. Although the patent system in the United States is a little broken when it comes to software, hardworking folks like you and I have a responsibility to use the system to the best of our ability and in a way that is congruent with our best intentions and strongly held beliefs to protect ourselves, our families, our co-workers, and our investors from evildoers. Where the system is broken, we have a responsibility to elect and educate representatives who are committed to changing the system for the better.

I am very proud of my pending patent but I am even more proud to call myself a Microsoft employee.

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