vergil asks: "I've been researching software and business method patents issued by the U.S. PTO and placing choice examples here. Recently, I stumbled upon an interesting Microsoft patent (6,175,833) filed on April 22, 1998, granted on Jan. 16, 2001 and entitled 'System and method for interactive live online voting with tallies for updating voting results.' Is anyone aware of substantially similar web polls (WhizQuest, perhaps?) that were in use before Microsoft filed for this patent and might qualify as prior art against any of this patent's claims? This nugget of intellectual property seems to cover many fundamental aspects of web-polling - such as the Slash pollbox, for example." In light of the things that can get patented these days, I'm hoping it shouldn't be all that hard to find suitable examples to bust up this one.
"The patent above appears to claim an automated, database-run webpoll that:
- Has an automatic 'authoring tool' that allows an editor to create and store polls (claim 7), including fields for question text, numbers, and answers (claim 4).
- Total votes and percentage fields for displaying poll results (claim 5).
- A 'votes table' to track users that have already voted, a "totals table" to contain vote tallies, a 'vote handler' that processes votes, and a 'survey index table' that displays either the poll questions, or results, depending on whether the user has voted (claim 1)."
Of course, the voting system has evolved quite a bit since March of '98. Our current polling system, like the patent, uses 3 tables: one table to keep track of the questions (pollquestions), one to keep track of the answers for each poll (pollanswers), and another to track the individual votes made to the active poll (pollvoters). However, back in March of '98, the system was only two tables: pollquestions, and pollanswers, with pollanswers pulling double duty as the place where the votes were counted. Duplicate vote checking wasn't implemented until the creation of the pollvoters table, waaay back in Slash v0.9, which was released in the beginning of 1999, almost a year later.
Still, as I understand it, you don't need to have prior art that's an exact implementation of a patent to break it. I think that as long as enough core ideas of a patent are exhibited in a piece of prior art, then there may be grounds for the patent to be invalidated, but I Am Not A Patent Lawyer, and unfortunately, I won't have time to contact one before this story runs.
So, is Slashdot's Poll feature enough to constitute prior art in this case?
Regardless, we're looking for other examples prior art (the more the better), to try and break yet another example of a Patent That Should Never Have Been. There is always the worry that Microsoft can begin acting in the same fashion as NCR has recently (since the patent has been issued), and start throwing lawsuits at every online poll they can find on the net.
Update: 03/16 07:24 PM by C :According to CmdrTaco, the poll system had it's earliest incarnations in the beginnings of Slash, way back in November of 1997, however that system wasn't SQL based, it was text file based (with judicious use of various unix tools [sed, grep, wc] to cull the voting and catch dupes). You can see a mention of the old system from this archived story from the earliest days of Slashdot...way back in November of 1997. The first SQL implementation of the poll is the March, 1998 version. And there is even more existence of online polls from Slashdot archives, including an even earlier article which mentions a ZDNet poll in the comments! Just so you know, even though the dates in the comment say 1998, they do indeed come from 1997. Blame CmdrTaco's bad code. ;)