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Microsoft seeks patent covering Web feed readers

Just before announcing support for Web syndication format RSS, Redmond filed a pair of U.S. patent applications.

Microsoft has filed for two patents covering technology used to organize and read syndicated Web feeds, such as those delivered via the widely used Really Simple Syndication, or RSS, family of formats.

The pair of applications were made public by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for what appears to be the first time on Thursday, following the expiration of a requisite 18-month window in which applications are generally kept secret.

Redmond actually filed for the patents on June 21, 2005. That date, incidentally, is just three days prior to the company's formal announcement that it planned to build support for RSS into the next version of its Internet Explorer browser and into its planned Windows Vista operating system--then referred to as Longhorn.

Jane Kim, program manager for RSS in Internet Explorer, detailed those features in a blog entry last year. Kim and her colleague Amar Gandhi, who serves as group program manager of the Windows RSS team, are among the inventors listed on both applications.

RSS is typically used by news publishers, bloggers and podcasters to notify subscribers of new postings. Web users can choose from a number of freeware applications to collect and read those feeds.

If granted, one proposed patent would cover "finding and consuming Web subscriptions in a Web browser." The invention, for example, could allow a user to "subscribe to a particular Web feed, be provided with a user interface that contains distinct indicia to identify new feeds, and...efficiently consume or read RSS feeds using both an RSS reader and a Web browser."

A related application, titled "content syndication platform," appears to describe a system that can break down feeds into a format that can be accessed and managed by many different types of applications and users.

This is not the first time a company has attempted to patent a means of Web syndication. Last year, an application surfaced for a patent sought by Google that would cover delivery of advertisements via syndicated news feeds.

Word of Microsoft's applications drew fire from Dave Winer, a self-described co-inventor of RSS. "Presumably they're eventually going to charge us to use it," he wrote in Thursday morning's dispatch at his site, Scripting News. "This should be denounced by everyone who has contributed anything to the success of RSS."

Other bloggers criticized the patent applications as unoriginal or overly sweeping. But Nick Bradbury, who created the HTML editor HomeSite and the RSS reader FeedDemon, said he wasn't ready to jump on the "Microsoft is evil" bandwagon yet. By his estimation, Microsoft's patent claims were questionable, but, for better or worse, they were perhaps a response to the state of the U.S. patent system, he wrote in a blog entry.

"Companies like Microsoft often file patents to prevent having to shell out millions of dollars to predatory lawyers who haven't invented anything other than a legal pain in the ass," he wrote.

A company spokeswoman said Microsoft doesn't generally make public statements about pending patents. Jason Matusow, Microsoft's director of corporate standards, said the company takes many steps to ensure the quality of its patents and invites anyone to "submit prior art or input on a patent application with relevant authorities before a patent is issued."