Developer claims Microsoft stole his idea and now earns billions from it

In 1996, V_Graph approached Microsoft with a product that they called ‘Web Widgets’, which was able to incorporate web content within applications. Microsoft ultimately did not formalise a deal with V_Graph and declined to use their product in the development of its next web browser.

But, as VentureBeat reports, when Microsoft launched Internet Explorer 3.0 a few months later, it featured similar technology to that of V_Graph. The former head of V_Graph, Rob Morris, has now accused Microsoft of having “appropriated” the company’s technology, which he says resulted in the demise of his business.


Microsoft Internet Explorer 3

Microsoft was awarded a patent, which it filed in 1997, for "a web browser control for incorporating web browser functionality into application programs", and today it is one of numerous patents from which the company earns licensing fees for its use on Android devices.

Morris claims that the technology helped Microsoft to defeat Netscape Navigator in the ‘browser wars’ of the 1990s, and that it also enabled the company to argue that Internet Explorer was a separate component from the Windows operating system during antitrust trials. He said that he “didn’t think they’d actually get a patent on it, because for a patent you need something novel, and we’d been selling it already for well over a year.”

More than simply complaining, though, Morris is planning to take action, seeking to get the patent overturned before it expires in 2017. "We did not act until now because my little company was basically extinguished by this whole experience," he says. "However, now with the ability to do crowdfunding, it is finally possible to try." 


The 'Free the Browser' campaign aims to raise $35,000 to fight the patent

He has established an Indiegogo campaign called 'Free the Browser', which he says intends "to fight [Microsoft's] bad browser patent" and "to stop them charging for this. Right now, for example, they collect billions of dollars from Android users, with their patent portfolio licensing machine."

He initially hopes to raise $35,000 to file an objection with the US Patent Office, but if he succeeds in raising $250,000, he says he will be able to make the case in person, "to object and to stay in the fight and counter Microsoft's arguments." At time of publication, the campaign had raised $214 in the six days since its launch.

He claims that "this bad patent currently affects every smart phone and tablet user in America today. It was annoying when Microsoft started giving this technology away as part of their operating system, but that only hurt my company. Now, they are making billions licensing their patent portfolio, and it makes us mad to think they are charging Android users for this." 

Source: VentureBeat via WinBeta | upper image via liberliber.it

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I think that some people seem to have missed the point he was making.

They allegedly stole his code/ideas and put them in their browser. They weren't directly making money off of it. It was only last fall, less than a year ago, that he found out that they were charging android users for it as part of the licensing fees for their patents, so that is why he waited so long to act.

That being said it still seems utterly pointless.

Sounds fishy to me. This guy had a great invention and didn't bother to patent it? MS saw a demo, reverse engineered it, and added it to a major program in 'several months'? All of the android folks were totally unaware of this guy's prior art and didn't bother to attack the patent? He never heard of a lawyer taking a case on contingency?

Yet another reason why there should be a 6 month window - either take it to court within 6 months of a new product hitting the market and suing the said company or for ever lose any rights over the patents. Maybe once a time period is put on it we'll see businesses either spend the time to enforce patents rather than using them as a form of FUD to undermine possible competition.

He said that he “didn't think they'd actually get a patent on it, because for a patent you need something novel, and we'd been selling it already for well over a year.”

He's obviously not familiar with software patents. The fact that multiple programmers can arrive at the same technique independently clearly demonstrates the lack of novelty in most of them.

I think Elon Musk's reason for open sourcing his EV patents says it best:


When I started out with my first company, Zip2, I thought patents were a good thing and worked hard to obtain them. And maybe they were good long ago, but too often these days they serve merely to stifle progress, entrench the positions of giant corporations and enrich those in the legal profession, rather than the actual inventors. After Zip2, when I realized that receiving a patent really just meant that you bought a lottery ticket to a lawsuit, I avoided them whenever possible.

That's what software patents have come down to. In fact not only software patents, but patents in general have been usurped by the giant monolithic corporate structures with the intent to suppress all forms of competition through litigation. Even the threat of litigation is often enough to silence them.

By my calculations, if he continues collecting money at the current rate he'll reach his 250k target three years after the patent expires. How cool is that?

Please give me a few tens of thousands of dollars, so that I can roll the dice on winning a few hundreds of millions of dollars. Thank you!

I'm assuming this is about the ActiveX IE control, however ActiveX is COM and OLE smashed together, which predates 1996 by quite a while.

Whut? That happened 18 years ago... We'll see where this is going, I don't expect to much from it, through. Also, what makes him think Microsoft didn't had something similar in development before he walked in? Also... This:

"We did not act until now because my little company was basically extinguished by this whole experience."

Is BS.

Microsoft was working on DDE/OLE/COM since the late 1980s. By 1993, OLE 2.0 was in production supporting exactly this capability of embeddable objects.

Microsoft exposes functionality of many apps through embeddable objects, including Word and Excel. It is a big leap to think that MS only decided to create IE in this manner after seeing this guy's software.

I'm speechless at how some members here are quick to react protecting Microsoft. Maybe it's because some of you are young, or maybe t's plain fan-blindness, but MS DID some nasty things in the 80's and 90's and things like this case would rank as one of the mildest so I would not be surprised.

Heck, MS was even suspected to be involved in the death of some people. Many former company owners blame directly Bill Gates of their demise. The US went full-force against MS monopoly. Companies like Compaq, HP, Dell and Sony were bullied into not including software that competed with Windows preinstalled apps, or else, MS would stop selling Windows licences to them.

Come on people, stop being so gullible, read how MS-DOS started, for example. Read about the Basic fiasco in the 80's, read about the strong-arming and code stealing of IBM's products in the 90's, read about Gary Kildal's death.

No, not a MS hater, but, unlike many, I have a memory. Do you even have any idea how much money it costs to fund a sue like this against a gargantuan company? For you it's so easy to say the timing is "suspicious" because you threat brands like religions and MS it's untouchable.

Makes me sick.

sanctified said,
The US went full-force against MS monopoly. .

The US government LOST their case. But let's not let an inconvenient truth get in the way of a good rant, eh?

sanctified said,
I'm speechless at how some members here are quick to react protecting Microsoft. Maybe it's because some of you are young, or maybe t's plain fan-blindness

I lean towards the latter. The Koolade is strong around here lol.

sanctified said,

but MS DID some nasty things in the 80's and 90's and things like this case would rank as one of the mildest so I would not be surprised.

MS never stopped doing nasty underhanded things. It's in their DNA. They're better at hiding it somewhat these days, wrapping potential anticompetitive agreements in NDA's so no one can speak out. Still, the same old Microsoft comes through when it railroads OOXML though ISO using questionable third parties, funds SCO to attack Linux, spreads F.U.D about patents it holds against GNU/Linux, lobbies for antitrust actions against competitors using third party proxies (ICOMP, FairSearch ), or Mafioso-like protection racket patent extortion schemes. Yes, it's the same old Microsoft, no matter how much people on here claim they have changed.

sanctified said,

Heck, MS was even suspected to be involved in the death of some people. Many former company owners blame directly Bill Gates of their demise. The US went full-force against MS monopoly. Companies like Compaq, HP, Dell and Sony were bullied into not including software that competed with Windows preinstalled apps, or else, MS would stop selling Windows licences to them.

That's why Bill runs his faux-charity foundation, which encourages the privatisation of schools (and adoption of Microsoft software of course), invests in Monsanto, and pushes big pharma drugs to the developing world. It's quite insidious actually.

sanctified said,

Come on people, stop being so gullible, read how MS-DOS started, for example. Read about the Basic fiasco in the 80's, read about the strong-arming and code stealing of IBM's products in the 90's, read about Gary Kildal's death.
No, not a MS hater, but, unlike many, I have a memory. Do you even have any idea how much money it costs to fund a sue like this against a gargantuan company? For you it's so easy to say the timing is "suspicious" because you threat brands like religions and MS it's untouchable.

Inconvenient truths like what you wrote will always fall on deaf ears around here ;) Better to save your energy for more worthy pursuits :laugh:

Major_Plonquer said,

The US government LOST their case. But let's not let an inconvenient truth get in the way of a good rant, eh?

Governments are incompetent at best, entirely corruptible at worst. Either way, it doesn't render the company innocent. Only that the case couldn't be proved.

One only has to look at the infamous Halloween documents (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halloween_documents) to realise what lengths Microsoft will go to in order to destroy the competition. Very little has changed over the years.

This guy is on his own. Unless former MS employees are willing to testify on his behalf (not likely) that the concept was indeed implemented after a V_Graph demonstration, he'll lose. What's difficult to understand is why did he wait almost two decades before making a stink about it?

All it takes is one rich guy/company who feels like donating money to ###### off Microsoft. I'm surprised Google asnt made an anonymous donation just out of spite.

Plus, nifty perks when you donate $25k to the crowd source. Physical CD and manual!!!

Never is too late specially since MS is still profiting from old licenses as a patent (up to 20 years) or as a copyright.

There's often been different ways, code wise, to get the same job done or effect done in software. Maybe the outcome or end result is the same but MS could just as well have done it their own way. I don't think this will go anywhere but heck, if it does get going at least the lawyers win.

So, being the 90s, I wouldn't be surprised if Microsoft did this.

On the other hand, I wouldn't be surprised if this guy was full of crap. If there's one thing you can count on, it's people oversimplifying patents to prove a point. There are already enough idiots on the internet who thing the title of a patent *is* the patent. God forbid anybody flip to page 2.

Official reply:

"They filed in 1997 and I didn't even know that until after 2000. By that time I'd gone on to start an internet calendar company, and was coding a web based financial settlement system. Suing Microsoft when there would be no economic return seemed a distant idea. It was not until I learned about their Android licensing program, that I decided maybe I could get some support for this effort."

" Suing Microsoft when there would be no economic return seemed a distant idea", now he is full of BS right there. Late 90's early 2000's MS had loads and would have gotten an economic return! This guy is just and opportunist!

AsherGZ said,
"Suing Microsoft when there would be no economic return seemed a distant idea. It was not until I learned about their Android licensing program, that I decided maybe I could get some support for this effort."

... Is this for real? Geez, guy, not everything's about the money :p I know legal fees and what-not is expensive, but I feel if he really was passionate about all of this, he would've done it back then anyway, regardless. (Or at the very least, I very well would have!)

M_Lyons10 said,
Why not dispute the patent when it was initially published? That's why they publish them... ?

Because Microsoft wasn't litigating an entire industry (mobile) for billions of dollars over them when IE first came about. It's only recently that Microsoft has started aggressively pursuing royalties.

simplezz said,

Because Microsoft wasn't litigating an entire industry (mobile) for billions of dollars over them when IE first came about. It's only recently that Microsoft has started aggressively pursuing royalties.

Which they have every right to protect and ask for royalty. They have invested money in developing that technologies and no one has right to use it without having MS permission.

How will you feel when you invent something, someone stoles it and makes money? Obviously you will sue them.

He was selling a $200 web browser ActiveX component. How is this different from embedding somebody else's library? I've done that back in the early 1990's for giggles with parts of DOSLynx, the CERN WWW library, etc. Good luck with that.

Javik said,
I hate patent trolls. On that basis alone I hope Microsoft lose.

Someone needs to look up the definition of a patent troll!!

Javik said,
I hate patent trolls. On that basis alone I hope Microsoft lose.

I'm saying it again
I don't mean to offend anyone but it's not fair to blame Microsoft for their hard work for those technologies. I know some of those are no that useful but there are some good patents there too. I do really like Android as an OS (I have a Kindle Fire) but I don't like what Google does. They used some technologies like Oracle's (java) and from MS and other tech firms to build out an OS fast, and get ad revenue from it as fast as they can, then they let HTC Samsung and the other OEMs to pay for their mistakes (by licensing those patents) . They are just taking all the advantages from Android and the OEMs have to pay the price.
And now you take all that anger to Microsoft because they didn't license all those tech for free? Would you do that?
It's not like they dragged anyone into court for some small patent such as rounded squares like Apple did, (you know, squircles) but there are 310 patents.
Heck ... Google didn't even build a Youtube Windows Phone app ... they didn't even allowed MS to build one ! It's not like Microsoft said "I won't license you this patent to build an Android phone". MS even built OneDrive, Office for android and is consider to release Office for tablets before the windows 8 one.

Just don't let Google transform you into sheeps guys :) and have a nice day

LMFAO

If you seriously believe that ANY of these companies haven't built off the backs of someone/something else, you're seriously delusional. It doesn't even matter who stole from who at this point because they're all the same. Please spare me the "MS is innocent and innovative" crap.

nekkidtruth, they all copied, but the worst one is Apple, Name and Logo included:

Panorama + Folders = Android
Notification Bar = Maemo
The name "Apple" = The Beatles
Slide to Unlock = Neonode N1m
Mouse GUI = Xerox
Reject calls with SMS = Symbian
iMaps = Google Maps (Opps)
Fingerprint sensor (Cracked) = PCs (Safe)
Multitasking = webOS
Copy/paste = WinMobile
Ping = Facebook, Twitter
iPad = Samsung´s Photoframe
iPad Mini = Dell Streak
iPod = Creative Technology and Walkman
‘iPhone' the name = Linksys' iPhone®
‘iOS' the name = Cisco's Internet OS (ios)
Original iPhone = Samsung's S700 Mp3 Player
iPhone 4 & 4S = LG's Prada
iPhone 5c = Lumia 620
Pinch to zoom = Samsung
iMessage = BlackBerry Messenger
iCloud = Dropbox + Onedrive
iOS Minimalistic = Windows Phone.
Smartphone Optical Stabilization = Nokia
Siri (Clippy) = Xiaoi Bot + Nuance
App Store = Ubuntu Software Center
Multitouch Smartphone = Bought another company
Bigger Screen smartphone = Everybody else
MacBook Air = HP's Sojourn
Macsafe = Asian Crockery
Thunderbolt = Intel
OSX, iOS = Unix
Newton = Psion Series 3, HP 95LX
Apple Logo = Genesis 1:6, 3:6
Aluminum = Cheapest Metal
Plastic = ($$$ Reinforced Polymers)
Security = Buy a new one...

Steve Jobs' own words:
“We have been ‘ShameLESS' about stealing great ideas”.

xaodw said,
I know some of those are no that useful but there are some good patents there too.

There's no such thing as "good software patents". Software patents are fundamentally bad.

Javik said,
I hate patent trolls. On that basis alone I hope Microsoft lose.

So? Between this comment and my previous comment, the fund only raised $15. Are you included in that tiny $15? Or your hate is not strong enough? c'mon. Now is your chance to prove and do something!! lol.

Javik said,
I hate patent trolls. On that basis alone I hope Microsoft lose.
A patent troll is someone who files a patent for something without actualy using it. Guess what, Microsoft is using this technology, also, there is no prove they stole it from this person.

Javik said,
I hate patent trolls. On that basis alone I hope Microsoft lose.

I don't think you even know what patent troll means? patent troll is a company who just collect fees and royalties for patents they are not using. Microsoft using these patents on their own products. this is not a bad thing. this is to protect something you own. although in this case is a little bit broad, but I don't trust this guy. seems like he wants some cash. why this dude waited this long to realize his idea is stolen and sue Microsoft for it.

Good luck proving the case, Microsoft will have all of it's bases covered. I feel that this guy is just trying to cash in on something he never had in the first place.

I'm sorry but his explanation of waiting is total garbage, and anyone that buys into it needs to have their heads examined. If this guy had a case in the late 90s / early 00s when MS was arguably king of all things tech, lawyers would have been lining up around the block to take MS to court and deferred their payment until any damages were awarded. Now in 2014 he needs indiegogo for $35K? This is the ultimate capitalization of the loud anti-MS crowd on the internet.

Also, $250,000! $250,000! $250,000!!! Does he even realise how much freaking money that is?

Should have just mentioned that he wants to steal people's money. Would have been funnier.

So he openly admits that he waited 17 years to object?

Even if he gets the patent thrown out because of his prior art, it's going to do nothing to slow the 300+ patents Microsoft has against Android. They aren't making billions off this one patent.

Worse, this patent isn't even in the list of 300+ patents the Chinese government said Microsoft holds against Android.

rfirth said,
They aren't making billions off this one patent.

Not with Android, no. But over the years profiting off of using this tech in what MS sells, probably. I dont see this going anywhere tho.

No chance of winning it. And also why the hell are there even allowed to but a patent on something like this.. Next everytime you say A I E O or U you will have to pay a royalty.

Vester said,
No chance of winning it. And also why the hell are there even allowed to but a patent on something like this.. Next everytime you say A I E O or U you will have to pay a royalty.

We're talking 1996 here don't forget. Back then, this kind of stuff was revolutionary.

macoman said,
Be careful that's my baby. I love Microsoft.

I love MS but i must admit, sometimes they are a bunch of d*cks!.

> "We did not act until now because my little company was basically extinguished by this whole experience," he says. "However, now with the ability to do crowdfunding, it is finally possible to try."

So, use other people's money for your own little personal vendetta.

> the campaign had raised $214 in the six days since its launch

Sounds like he can't even get the support of friends and family.

_dandy_ said,
Sounds like he can't even get the support of friends and family.

I know, right? $214 in 6 days? are you kidding me? he will got no where. and it is laughable he even have tried this.

crowd sourcing has much better uses.

When did he file to get compensated? Things like this can be tied up in courts for years. Wouldn't surprise me if MS did this. They were a wayyy different company back then.

Well he's over in /r/Android right now, amassing le reddit armie to this noble cause.

Somebody even gifted him gold!
/u/robmorrisinventor

Edited by AsherGZ, Jun 27 2014, 9:50pm :

Yeah a whole whopping $219 as of 5 seconds ago. This crowd funding campaign started 6 days ago so clearly not many people are stupid enough to give this man their money.

LOL, a lawsuit for something that allegedly happened in 1996?

More than simply complaining, though, Morris is planning to take action, seeking to get the patent overturned before it expires in 2017. "We did not act until now because my little company was basically extinguished by this whole experience," he says. "However, now with the ability to do crowdfunding, it is finally possible to try."

Yeah right. The reason you haven't tried till now is because you just realized that in recent years MS has made quite a lot of money from patent licensing. So if you sue now and win, you'll make a lot of money. But if sued in 1996, or in the early 2000s then you wouldn't have won very much at all.

-Razorfold said,
LOL, a lawsuit for something that allegedly happened in 1996?

It happens. I believe he can go after is for as long as the patent is valid. Whether or not he is going to get any compensation, probably not.

techbeck said,

It happens. I believe he can go after is for as long as the patent is valid. Whether or not he is going to get any compensation, probably not.

Compensation would be up to the jury. American juries love to come down hard on companies. So if he won he would probably get a substantial payout.

LogicalApex said,

Compensation would be up to the jury. American juries love to come down hard on companies. So if he won he would probably get a substantial payout.


Yes but he can now claim for substantially more damages than he could have in 1996.

Isn't one supposed to actively protect their IP/ trademarks or else they lose that right?
Who knows if Microsoft took this idea or simply created something like it BUT here is this random fella who never cared about his baby for almost 15 years...

Edited by dingl_, Jun 27 2014, 7:05pm :

Actively protecting IP is for trademarks i think. And there is also prior art. The original developer may not be able to patent the thing anymore, but because there has been something within the scope of the patent before it was submitted would invalidate the patent and allow anyone to use the parts of it that are covered by prior art. At least i think that's the way it goes (should go). If this guy is only trying to extort money from Microsoft, that shouldn't matter. Even if the claim goes away, someone else can use it to attack the targeted parts of the patent.

dingl_ said,
BUT here is this random fella who never cared about his baby for almost 15 years...

Or maybe he refrained from speaking about it before he could build up his case.

Yeah, seems like he too was frozen in some data center, much like Captain America !!

Man, its been 15 years also if that was his idea the how come MS got patent for this 1997, full 4 years after he made it ??