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Microsoft comics? (or: a look at the patently silly)

By Arkady in News
Sun Jun 18, 2000 at 08:57:55 PM EST
Tags: Technology (all tags)

I was bored and clicking around the Net over my morning coffee when I hit a link to the IBM Patent server, of which we're all probably aware. I did the traditional search to see what Microsoft has been up to and encountered this little gem.

Don't you think it'd be neat to have a visual MOO or MUD client that presented the environment as a comic strip? Well, tough beens laddo, Microsoft owns that too.

Now, before I get the comments on American-centrism, bear in mind that a patent issued in the U.S. will have been filed concurrently with all the other registries and will be covered by the World Intellectual Property Organization treaties. So this sort of silliness really is global.

What this patent describes, in excruciatingly bad prose, is basically a mechanism for turning chat sessions (or any text stream with two distinct sources, really, since it's naturally written to be as broad and vague as possible) into a comic strip. What's really interesting about it is:

  • it does not really create something new; it's merely an attempt to codify the process used by comic strippers to layout their panels
  • as far as I can tell, they never actually built the thing; there's a refernce to a part of the "invention" which is "a comic generation program for automatically generating comic panels" on page 15, but there's just a very abstract flowchart of a possible program
  • though the entire 25 page document casts the "invention" in hardware terms (talking about display devices, data storage mechanisms, connected data processing systems), the only piece mentioned which isn't very common already is this "comic generation program", which doesn't seem to actually exist

What I find disturbing about this, other than the fact that the damn thing was actually issued, is that it's not even an invention; it's more of a proposal and for something that is an intuitively obvious application for anyone remotely familiar with expert systems. Oh, and it's also disturbing that there's no evidence that they ever actually wrote the program. And that the discussion is so broad that it could include any system which takes text streams and generates a graphical representation of characters' conversation, so anyone trying to build an Avatar system will be sueable with it.

There's also rather a lot of prior art in the software world that conflicts with this patent as well. Anyone else remember The Palace (which doesn't seem to be around anymore, at least it wasn't at "http://www.ThePalace.com" while I was writing this). It also conficts with an IBM patent from 1998 which controls graphically expressing emotion in "a face on a computer screen". So, though Microsoft now legally controls computer generated visual representations of conversation, they can't show emotion in the characters' depictions? And since IBM has a block of patents describing a similar but broader concept in 3d, Microsoft can't do 3d comics with theirs either.

Isn't "Intellectual Property" entertaining? No? OK, I guess I'll get back to my coffee ...


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Related Links
o the IBM Patent server
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Microsoft comics? (or: a look at the patently silly) | 13 comments (13 topical, editorial, 0 hidden)
The program does exist - Microsoft ... (none / 0) (#1)
by Pelorat on Sun Jun 18, 2000 at 04:36:05 PM EST

Pelorat voted 0 on this story.

The program does exist - Microsoft Chat. Dunno if it's still around, but it was a goofy-ass chat program with little cartoon avatars in a panel and text that appeared in speech balloons.

Patents are *always* written to be as vague as possible - if they get it, that's less 'territory' for the competition to claim. So no, there's no conspiracy here. Try posting it to /., see how far they go with it =) I should patent the process and method for going apeshit whenever a questionable patent is discovered. I'd be one rich bastard.

Re: The program does exist - Microsoft ... (none / 0) (#9)
by Arkady on Sun Jun 18, 2000 at 09:29:07 PM EST

I never said there was a conspiracy! Where'd you hear I said that!? Where?! ;-)

Several folks mentioned the MS Comic Chat (or similar names), so it would seem that they did actually write a program to do this. I think I'll stand behind the perspective that it's still not a "legitimate" (by PTO rules and IMHO), though.

I think you should go ahead and patent that idea. A microcent revenue on each /. flamewar would be a tidy living ... ;-)

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.

[ Parent ]
We already have 'Cybersquatting', w... (none / 0) (#8)
by Bart Meerdink on Sun Jun 18, 2000 at 04:41:49 PM EST

Bart Meerdink voted 1 on this story.

We already have 'Cybersquatting', why not 'Patentsquatting' as well. I hope both will share the same fate.

They havent patented comic-strip li... (3.00 / 1) (#4)
by tjansen on Sun Jun 18, 2000 at 05:18:54 PM EST

tjansen voted 1 on this story.

They havent patented comic-strip like chat environments. It wouldnt be possible anyway since such systems exist since the 80s (i think it was called Habitat). What they patented are things like the software analysing the text and then animate the character accordingly.

Re: They havent patented comic-strip li... (none / 0) (#10)
by Arkady on Sun Jun 18, 2000 at 09:33:04 PM EST

Ah, but they have. There isn't anything _to_ a "comic-strip like chat environments" that makes it that except the bit that analysis the text and constructs the panels. And that there's prior art was _my_ point ... ;-)

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.

[ Parent ]
I take it you've never see Microsof... (none / 0) (#5)
by Marcin on Sun Jun 18, 2000 at 06:58:32 PM EST

Marcin voted 0 on this story.

I take it you've never see Microsoft Comic Chat? It was an IRC program that's a few years old (probably, funnily enough, the same age as this patent) where you'd allocate characters to people in IRC and it'd make a comic out of the conversation happening. I should try and find it again and give it a whirl on #k5.. heh.

On another note, the USPO seems to give you a patent for anything these days. I should go patent my "Hot Brown Wakey Wakey Liquid" which I drink every morning.

sounds like MS Chat, with the prett... (none / 0) (#7)
by 31: on Sun Jun 18, 2000 at 07:31:20 PM EST

31: voted 1 on this story.

sounds like MS Chat, with the pretty little characters... there was some interesting stuff to the program, characters would look different ways as it guessed at the sort of thing you were saying (if it looked like a question, you'd look quizical). But then, what's the point? None that I can see, what ended up happening is all the irc peoploe used those servers, since they were fast, and most channels had mostly irc commands wrtten through them. Not that I, um, would ever use such a silly microsoft product :)


Just another "I think patents/x pat... (none / 0) (#6)
by duxup on Sun Jun 18, 2000 at 07:50:33 PM EST

duxup voted -1 on this story.

Just another "I think patents/x patent are/is bad" article. Nothing new here.

I heard of the palace, it was on ev... (none / 0) (#3)
by krogoth on Sun Jun 18, 2000 at 08:00:47 PM EST

krogoth voted 1 on this story.

I heard of the palace, it was on every PCGamer CD for a while. This stupid, but you can't expect much from the US patent office...if it gets much worse, we should just start ignoring patents. They'll go after some people, but after a while the DeCSS effect will take over. At that point, they either give up or put a whole country in jail.
"If you've never removed your pants and climbed into a tree to swear drunkenly at stuck-up rich kids, I highly recommend it."

Actually, MS ComicChat has been aro... (none / 0) (#2)
by fluffy grue on Sun Jun 18, 2000 at 08:39:56 PM EST

fluffy grue voted 1 on this story.

Actually, MS ComicChat has been around for quite some time. I've even seen some stupid wannabe-webcomics use it. i've tried it and was unimpressed, and a lot of IRC channels I've been in in the past have been polluted by the fact that MS ComicChat uses IRC as the underlying protocol but does NOT play nice within the standard (like, it uses PUBLIC MESSAGES to send client-specific events, instead of broadcast CTCP like it's supposed to).

Doesn't surprise me too much that they have a patent. Guess that fucks up one of my ideas for a comics-like Solace interface frontend. :/
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]

Re: Comics using Comic Chat (none / 0) (#13)
by dgfitch on Thu Sep 21, 2000 at 04:32:09 PM EST

Is Jerkcity a wannabe webcomic?


[ Parent ]

The greatest patent of all time: (none / 0) (#11)
by evro on Sun Jun 18, 2000 at 10:41:47 PM EST


Thank you.
"Asking me who to follow -- don't ask me, I don't know!"

Re: The greatest patent of all time: (none / 0) (#12)
by Greener on Mon Jun 19, 2000 at 01:02:25 PM EST

I've accually seen one of these on a CBC documentary on The Nature Of Things called Phallacies. They interviewed a guy who used one connected to an 8 pound weight to, uh, make up for certain inadequacies he thought he had.

[ Parent ]
Microsoft comics? (or: a look at the patently silly) | 13 comments (13 topical, 0 editorial, 0 hidden)
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