Microsoft Patent: More Money for Less Functions

May 21, 2009

With U.S. Patent 7,536,726, Microsoft has been granted a patent with which they hope to make a successful business model out of a potentially severely restricted operating system.

Under the title "Restricted software and hardware usage on a computer," the U.S. Patent Office granted Microsoft innovative invention status on May 19, 2009 for their resourceful business idea. Microsoft had filed the patent in 2005 and now the ideas of its coworkers Joachim Kempin, Carl Gulledge, Edward Stubbs and others were finally considered worthy. The patent text, in all its arcane language, gets to the bottom line of a concept not totally unfamiliar to Microsoft: make selected portions and functionality of the operating system unavailable to users or limit their ability to add software applications or device drivers until an "agreed upon sum of money" is paid to "'unlock' or otherwise make available the restricted functionality." The patent seekers see this as a safeguard against the following situation: "One problem inherent in open architecture systems is they are generally licensed with complete use rights and/or functionality that may be beyond the need or desire of the system purchaser... [so that] users with limited needs pay the same rate for these systems as those with universal needs."

So Microsoft has a remedy based on a brilliant idea. The "Summary of the Invention" section of the patent statement provides a scenario: "a consumer initially purchases a computer with restricted functionality at a price that is less than the price that would be charged for a computer with full functionality. Subsequently, the user can, at an additional cost, acquire a digital key that allows the restrictions to be removed, upgrading the computer to full functionality." The Microsoft co-inventors see revenue in it: for a few dollars more a new digital signature will open up further applications and drivers. The hardware maker (read "OEM"), under an agreement with Redmond, can thus determine what apps or drivers to switch on or off based on what users pay. The trick: it will cost the user even just to peek at the OEM's digest catalog of available programs. Also, "the consumer can be given a limited amount of time (e.g., one month or one year) within which he or she can access the OEM's digest catalog."
There's further rationale Microsoft has to provide crippled functionality: "An additional problem with open architecture systems is that virtually anyone can write an application that can be executed on the system." Microsoft will need to work hard to get the extra revenue they seek with this solution. Apparently unfazed by the millions of dollars paid in fines to the European Commission on antitrust charges, they're looking for help in their endeavor. Their conclusion in the patent write-up: "Thus, it would be beneficial to provide a way for the manufacturer of the system to control the extensibility of the system."

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Comments

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  • This will not work.

    This will not work. Everybody has it wrong, especially MS. It is the geeks that drive the industry, not the clueless end-user. Who do the end users go to when things go wrong? The geeks. Who do companies hire to fix troubleshoot problems and identify potential bugs? The geeks. Who are the biggest critics of strong or weak operating systems? The geeks. Who complained the most about the pain in the arz it is to run Vista? The geeks. Who will bad-mouth MS when things go really bad with these driver patents, especially when he/she has to fix a problem on a PC? The geeks. Who will eventually figure out or has already figured out that there is a better alternative than MS out there? The geeks.

    MS did a great job to bring computers to the masses but now hey want to monopolize all computers and it will not work - it is proven that monopolies do not work. This will be among their worst most recent mistakes apart from Vista. We'll see.
  • It would fail in the marketplace

    They can patent all the vaporware they want. The reality is that people and businesses won't pay for such a scheme.

    Heck, businesses have already boycotted Vista by refusing to purchase it. The same would happen if Ms tries to implement this "idea".

    Personally, I hope MS tries it, it would be their biggest mistake and it would precipitate a mass migration to Linux.
  • Bilski - USPTO=Big Fail

    This ain't the bottom of the barrel yet. The amount of insipidity is a crucial clue into what's happening generally in the good ole US of A. It's not 'MS bashing' because MS is just a microcosm of corporate behaviour in general.

    Patenting an idea (Gee, I thought about it first in 199x) without implementation. This goes beyond being ludicrous, that is, even if you ignore prior art. As kids we used to call it 'Fantasy' or 'Role Playing' (Hollywood's strengths).
  • Limiting multi-boot

    Imagine restricting the ability to partition a hard drive so you cannot alter the boot loader software without paying for the feature? Imagine a deal where the BIOS restricts to only allow MS licensed feacture/approve to boot a system....no unapproved rescue disk...no GRUB, no live boot, or...even limiting virtual computing. This is bigger than just pay per feature!!
  • Even More Prior Art

    CDC used to produce the Phoenix disk drive with one two or three fixed platters and one removable platter. It was possible, for a price, to buy an upgrade. A service engineer would arrive and install the extra platter(s) and your fixed storage would go up from 15MB to 45MB or 75MB.

    Later CDC realised that it was cheaper to build the drives with all the platters in place and disable one or two platters for customers who only needed smaller drives. Customers who bought upgrades for the later drives paid for a service engineer to come on site and move a couple of jumpers or flip a couple of switches to enable the extra paltters.
  • The Desktop makes it

    1. I think people want what they know. So as long as they demand a Windowslike look, they will prefer Windows. As soon the user interface becomes like a cell phone with icons they will not bother what the OS behind it is. And I think the desktop as we know it will disappear and only icons will lead the user to the application he want to use.
    2. The more Linux is used, and there are many good reasons for the hardware producers to become more independent from MS, the more drivers/software will Linux see and the more hardware will just run like today for Windows. This will have a pull effect on users to be happy with Linux other than it was with the netbooks. The first round in this case went to MS but "one lost battle is not a lost war" (Napoleon Bonaparte).

    Cheers
  • Yet another piece of prior art

    A lot of computers in the UK are sold with Windows pre-installed, which is itself a clear restriction on the machine's capabilities. The system will typically lock up after a time peroid previously unknown to the user, unless the user pays an additional fee to the retailer (or some third party) for "anti-virus" software. Further performance improvements can often be made by purchasing additional software, but closed APIs are often used to restrict the features available on non-Microsoft software.

    Most of these restrictions can be overcome by installing Linux, but that also normally requires the user to pay a fee - either the cost of an Internet connection for a period of time, or the cost of some physical storage medium. This fee is relatively small, but it looks like the patent attempts to cover small as well as large fees.
  • Astonishing - prior art abounds

    As one comment above says, mainframes typically had this "functionality" and telephone switches (which are just computers) have used this for years. How on earth can this be a novel enough idea for a patent? Strange that when these morally wrong things happen elsewhere it's called corruption but to MS and its ilk it's good business.
  • software hooks

    They've already done it. Have a browse in this ubuntu thread: http://www.uluga.ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=1036051. Essentially, the table that reports data to your OS also can (and does- I've checked mine) report what OS is running, and it's possible to modify the information that gets reported to the OS on that basis. Some laptops running Linux had a problem with the fans not working properly for a while (can't remember which brand). It turned out the DSDT was set up so in windows the OS could manipulate the fan speed, in Linux you had a choice of on or on.
  • Only In Windows?

    Maybe a bit strange, but you all seem to think it is in Windows these restrictions would be. Why not at BIOS level? That way they can absolutely and totally control what kind of hardware you can use. Some hardware would not work without the right "Key".

    If Microsoft makes a deal with the hardware maker they can control what hardware you can use. I can imagine there also could be some software "hooks" that can control witch software can use what hardware. Yes - the BIOS would grow in size, but that's no problem these days...

    Starting to see the picture?
  • MS derails itself, way to go down the slope!

    Well, this patent describes the way IBM went win OS/2 in 1980-s. IBM tried to earn on everything from selling specifications to licensing applications, and this couldn't work: charging for contributing to the culture of platform was costy to IBM.

    I don't think Microsoft will try to go this way, though they're welcome to kill themselves this way.
  • re that fantastic patent

    So the US of A thinks it's a new idea to sell a computer program for money? And if it does some more, you maybe should pay more money for it? They should try exporting that idea. It's really novel. In fact, why don't they give someone a patent on the idea of selling ANYTHING for money?
  • Prior Art

    I am not a lawyer but based on all the comments thus far there is already prior art. So they can file all they want, this patent likely will never hold up. I am sure there are other angles to send this one to /dev/null.

  • Are you kidding me???

    Are you effing kidding me? Who in the effing world is rubber stamping this cruft??? For the life of me, the ONLY thing this could be considered is an improvement on an already vast amount of prior art. Holy crap! Just take a look at the thousands of freeware titles that promise to unlock the rest of the features once a valid product key is entered. Is M$ now promising they can eff around with your hardware now, just because you haven't paid their tax?

    Heck, even some of the netbooks sold by cellular companies give the companies the option to brick the hardware if the user doesn't keep up with their monthly installments.

    Sheesh!
  • old news

    One thing that comes to my mind is the Fanuc and Mitsubishi CNCs have been this way for years.
    Enjoy.
  • Have had this a long time ...

    We have had this sort of thing on the IBM mainframes (zSeries) for a long time. I have a product with multiple features. For each feature that we license, we get a key for that specific feature to apply using a utility. That key allows use of the selected feature for, usually, one year. At the end of the year, we pay another fee and get a new key. No pay fee, no get key, no use software.
  • This Is Not Original

    Similar functionality is available in the OLPC Bitfrost security system. You must get a 'developer key' in order to access/modify various parts of your system. Of course, the OLPC system is only in place for the security of the users. I can't imagine Microsoft's motives are as pure.

    http://wiki.laptop.org/go/O...IOS_CORE:_core_BIOS_protection
  • Cool. Always wanted a way to pay more for something I can get for free. Thanks.

    This will most certainly increase the profits Microsoft can milk from business and governments. I also think it makes since not to let computer users who upgrade their graphics cards to use them until an additional fee is paid based on the computational capabilities of the card.
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