Future imperfect: Microsoft and the 'verb patent'

Microsoft already has a vise grip on the software at the core of personal computing--operating system, browser, word processor. Now some people are worried that it has designs on one of the essential parts of speech: the verb.

Microsoft patent

The software giant and proprietary bete noire last week filed an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for a patent on a "method and system for selecting and conjugating a verb." According to the application, the software system would let users input both infinitive and noninfinitive forms; as far as we've been able to tell, it does not address the grammatical bugbear of the split infinitive.

The catcalls from the blogosphere were swift and merciless, chastising Microsoft (and the business world in general) for predations on a weakened patent system and ridiculing the company for a delusional vision of control over, well, everything. (Several bloggers with long memories pointed to a satirical item on The Onion from 1998, according to which Microsoft had received a patent for ones and zeroes.)

Blog community response:

"Noooo way. Microsoft tries to Patent verb conjugationÂ… Wow. Would they have made so much progress in their grammar checker, they need a patent to protect it? I wonder how they would conjugate 'Googling'."
--Samanunga

"It's just an application, so it hasn't been granted -- but it says something about how easy it is to get a patent these days that Microsoft and its lawyers would even think this is worth applying for..."
--Techdirt

"I dislike Microsoft's business practices as much as the next guy, but give me a break. If you actually read the linked patent, it isn't a patent on conjugating words. It's a patent on automatically providing all of the different possible conjugation forms of any verb on the fly, which is something I, for one, haven't seen before and think could be pretty useful..."
--Grym on Slashdot

"Can I submit my seventh grade Spanish book as an example of prior art? It has an interface (a table in the back) that allows the user to select verbs based on tense and person."
--Xerxes1729 on Slashdot

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About the author

Jonathan Skillings is managing editor of CNET News, based in the Boston bureau. He's been with CNET since 2000, after a decade in tech journalism at the IDG News Service, PC Week, and an AS/400 magazine. He's also been a soldier and a schoolteacher, and will always be a die-hard fan of jazz, the brassier the better.

 

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