Wednesday, March 01, 2006

BALTHASER'S PATENT, THE HYPE, AND THE BACKLASH: Last week, a company called Balthaser announced in press releases that the company was finally awarded U.S. patent 7,000,180, titled "Methods, systems, and processes for the design and creation of rich-media applications via the Internet." The patent is a continuation-in-part of a prior application which was based off of a number of provisional filings dating back to June of 2000.

After almost 6 years of waiting for the patent, Balthaser decided to hype the patent to the press, and threw in some veiled threats to industry players such as Microsoft, Adobe, Google, and Yahoo! for good measure:

the patent covers all rich-media technology implementations, including Flash, Flex, Java, Ajax and XAML, and all device footprints which access rich-media Internet applications, including desktops, mobile devices, set-top boxes and video game consoles. Balthaser will be able to provide licenses for almost any rich-media Internet application across a broad range of devices and networks . . . We're ready to defend it vigorously if we have to . . . The broader claim is one that basically says that if you got a rich Internet application, it is covered by this patent.

As a matter of course, programmers and commentators went bananas (see the fun at Slashdot here). Some even started speculating that Balthaser could become the next NTP. At a minimum, it was feared that the patent would bring whole Web 2.0 resurgence to a screeching halt.

But after reading the patent (164 pages), it appears that Balthaser overstated its case. The patent has 83 claims. Claim 1 reads as follows:

1. A method for users to create and maintain a rich-media application on said host website via the Internet comprising:

creating a user account; accessing a user account; and viewing available options for creating rich-media applications,

wherein said accessing a user account comprises one or more of the following:

accessing account information; creating a new rich-media application; modifying an existing rich-media application; and accessing statistics from an existing rich-media application;

wherein accessing a user account comprises modifying an existing rich-media application and wherein said modifying an existing rich-media application comprises one or more of the following:

accessing account information; accessing rich-media application information; accessing rich-media application specification information; saving said rich-media application; closing said rich-media application; deleting said rich-media application; publishing said rich-media application; previewing said rich-media application; accessing components used in the construction of said rich-media application; accessing component-editing graphical user interfaces; and accessing a scene of said
rich-media application; and

wherein said modifying an existing rich-media application comprises publishing said rich-media application and wherein said publishing said rich-media application comprises downloading said rich-media application from said host computer to the user's remote computer system.

The other claims are pretty much similar to claim 1, and basically cover Internet/GUI Groupware where users use online tools to design "rich-media" applications from
components. The patent does not cover Rich Internet Applications in general, but instead covers rich media hosting websites and content websites where the rich content is added, modified or deleted by individual users within their user accounts.

The publication SYS-CON took this patent to some prominent industry specialists, and they also concluded that the patent was more bark than bite, although it was still possible to ensnare some specific applications like Flash-based websites.

The biggest shortcoming of the patent however, is the skimpy prior art search conducted at the USPTO - since the original application was filed, the first substantive office action didn't actually occur until March 2005. After amendments were filed in response to a September 2005 Final Rejection, the application was allowed, citing only 4 patents as prior art, and no non-patent prior art.

In fact, this prompted a number of rich Internet application people to host a web site dedicated to collecting prior art on the patent.

Oddly enough, while Balthaser was proclaiming the importance of the patent, the USPTO has no record of any continuations being filed off of the '180 patent. Also, the '180 patent appears to be the only patent issued to the company.

Will Balthaser be suing anyone? It doesn't seem that they would, at least in the near future. With the tremendous backlash that is currently ongoing, this could be a lesson to other companies to take care in choosing the language they use when promoting newly-issued patents.

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