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 ...