Interesting Microsoft Patent Application

Guardian Angel:

An intelligent personalized agent monitors, regulates, and advises a user in decision-making processes for efficiency or safety concerns. The agent monitors an environment and present characteristics of a user and analyzes such information in view of stored preferences specific to one of multiple profiles of the user. Based on the analysis, the agent can suggest or automatically implement a solution to a given issue or problem. In addition, the agent can identify another potential issue that requires attention and suggests or implements action accordingly. Furthermore, the agent can communicate with other users or devices by providing and acquiring information to assist in future decisions. All aspects of environment observation, decision assistance, and external communication can be flexibly limited or allowed as desired by the user.

Note that Bill Gates and Ray Ozzie are co-inventors.

Posted on May 13, 2008 at 7:05 AM • 46 Comments


billswiftMay 13, 2008 7:25 AM

Unless there are details of the implementation in the application, it isn't very original; there have been many slightly different versions of this in science fiction literature for decades.

jkMay 13, 2008 7:38 AM

What has Bill Gates ever invented? Not sure why he would get an 'invent' credit on anything. Acquire acquire. Not that he's not great at exploiting that, but I don't know that I've really heard of anything he has invented himself.

Clive RobinsonMay 13, 2008 7:43 AM

On first reading of the patent claims it appears to be for a "subscription" PDA/Phone mobile device that can take money from other users....

Most of the rest of it appears to be very much in the public domain (multiple personalities etc).

The patent is so general and covers so much existing technology and methods I'm realy surprised it has been granted.

It might be fun for blog readers to find "prior art" for all aspects of the patent 8)

Clive RobinsonMay 13, 2008 7:45 AM

@ Bruce,

When did you start reading patents?

You have previously put in print (in one of your books) that you do not actualy look at patents due to the liabilities involved.

MikeAMay 13, 2008 7:53 AM

"What did Bill Gates invent?"

The FAT file system, originally for "Disk Basic", but used in QDOS with his permission, which may have influenced the later negotiations.

Probably other things as well. MSFT was not always really rich. Gates himself was probably born richer than I will ever be, but not in the "can buy anything I want, even companies" league. So he actually did have to work for a while. :-)

Clive RobinsonMay 13, 2008 8:14 AM

@ MikeA,

"The FAT file system"

I'm not sure on that I think it was a modification of something he bought in (like MS-Dos originaly was).

As far as I can tell the only thing he "built" was a machine to read punch tape from traffic auditing machines.

Apparently it was quite unreliable.

Originaly MicroSoft was a hardware company...

Again as far as I can tell he bought in the knowhow for the CPM card for the Apple II.

All in all his strengths are buying in at low prices and knowcking it out at high price to others.

Anyone remember his original letter where he threw the toys out of the pram over software copying?

AlfredMay 13, 2008 8:15 AM

Am I the only one who pictured Clippy asking "Are you sure you want to execute BritneySpears.jpg.exe?"

LukeMay 13, 2008 8:32 AM


"The patent is so general and covers so much existing technology and methods I'm realy surprised it has been granted."

You'll be glad to know then that it hasn't been granted. That publication is a pre-grant publication. The file wrapper says the examination of the case hasn't even started yet.

Very few patents are granted with the same claims that are filed, so the patent should get a lot narrower before Microsoft can sue anyone.

AlMay 13, 2008 8:36 AM

There is prior art in every hospital emergency room. Among many other examples....

Todd PetersonMay 13, 2008 8:42 AM

"flexibly limited" - isn't that the slogan for Windows Vista ...

BlustkralleMay 13, 2008 9:08 AM

I'm glad I'm not the only one who thought of clippy.

"You appear to be downloading pornography. Microsoft Personal Agent can help with that!"

MikeMay 13, 2008 9:15 AM

I think a fancy digital thermostat might qualify (partly) as prior art. It "automatically implements" solutions, monitors the environment, and acts according to predefined "profiles" set by the user.

Now, build me a thermostat that reads my body temperature and adjusts the ambient to suit, and I'm in.

Clive RobinsonMay 13, 2008 9:22 AM

@ Mike,

"Now, build me a thermostat that reads my body temperature and adjusts the ambient to suit, and I'm in."

I did that oh some 15years ago when working for Uniqey (elctronic locks for Hotel industry).

The real problem was people in bed sometimes you could not see enough flesh to measure their temp.

thermostatmanMay 13, 2008 9:29 AM

"The real problem was people in bed sometimes you could not see enough flesh to measure their temp"

@clive: That's the signal to turn the heat up so they pull some of the covers off...

Clive RobinsonMay 13, 2008 9:46 AM


"That's the signal to turn the heat up so they pull some of the covers off..."

Unfortunatly the "thermal lag" in the whole system (human included) ment that when they woke the temp had risen to far. So they picked the phone up and B***hed at the poor lass at reception, who lets face it is on a losser with an unhappy over weight business bod with a dry (fouled) mouth ;)

thermostatmanMay 13, 2008 9:58 AM

That's the kind of problem that I would not want an AI holding my wallet to be facing.

CraigMay 13, 2008 11:08 AM

Why is there so much misinformation about publicly-known Microsoft history going on in this thread?

Microsoft was not originally a hardware company (as if the name "Microsoft" wasn't enough of a clue!). Its original product was the "Micro-Soft BASIC" (note the double-capitalization and hyphen in "Micro-Soft", which if I recall correctly actually was originally the official form, though it hasn't been for decades now) for the 8080 hobbyist systems (MITS Altair, etc.) of the mid-'70s. Bill Gates was the principal author of that software.

As for the FAT filesystem, I'm not entirely sure whether that was part of the 8086 QDOS that Microsoft bought from Seattle Computer Products and developed into MS-DOS/PC-DOS, but if not, the credit for "inventing" it probably should go to one of Microsoft's employees rather than to Gates himself.

WeebleMay 13, 2008 11:51 AM

Slightly delayed April Fool? (The application date is April 3.) I mean, come on: "Furthermore, a device may directly interact with a brain without bulky attachments."

I tried to view the images, but couldn't get them to show in my browser.

Clive RobinsonMay 13, 2008 11:52 AM

@ Craig,

Just did some checking, your half right and so am I 8)

Gates and Allen's original company was "Traf-O-Data" which made the hardware for the paper tape reader I mentioned above.

The company folded and Gates and Allen went on to start MicroSoft in 1975. Apparently the sales of their Basic for the Altair where not that good (hence the Gates rant letter) and Bill wanted to stick to the hardware.

A little while later Apple launched the Apple II with the expansion slots and case. Bill finaly got his way and the Z80 CPM card was developed to help sell Microsoft software.

The trouble is although I have an Apple II with working Microsoft CPM board I bought in 1980 (and yes I still use it very occasionaly) I cannot remember the exact dates and a scan on the internet is not that helpfull.

It was a couple of years after this I actually met Bill for a meeting (about hardware) and he did have some very odd habits.

DavidMay 13, 2008 11:53 AM

I'll really worry when they file one similar to this but instead of "Guardian Angel" they call it "Jiminy Cricket."

MikeMay 13, 2008 12:05 PM

@ Clive Robinson

Very cool! (Sorry for the pun.)

Do you know if similar technology is used while "detecting terrorists", namely using body heat as a (poor) indicator of stress at airports? I'd have to guess that they'd use this kind of tech in conjunction with things like eye-trackers and Bibles.

Oh. Scratch that last bit.

SteveJMay 13, 2008 12:09 PM

I think Bill Gates' name is on a lot of patents. Whenever Microsoft's developers do something patentable, everyone who contributed will be named. Since he's Chief Architect (or whatever his job title is, I forget), and since he does get involved in quite a lot of the company's R&D, all it really takes is for him to have given constructive advice and he's a "co-inventor".

There are 20 inventors on that application: it's probably a project team, plus their entire chain of technical superiors, plus someone that one of them discussed it with at the water cooler one time.

It's the same in other companies. A large team develops something, and then the patent experts decide there's something patentable in there. There's no benefit in figuring out exactly who did or didn't first come up with each of the key ideas, and the whole thing is going to be owned by the company anyway since they did it on company time, so if in doubt name everyone who might have contributed.

klMay 13, 2008 12:11 PM

I think the prior art was described in Accelerando by Charles Stross and called exocortex.

HeatherMay 13, 2008 12:14 PM

I agree with billswift. I recently read part of a novel that featured just such a thing, but couldn't make it through because the idea of it was too annoying. I'm surprised the BBC isn't all over them for considering stealing a Dr. Who plotline as well. And, should a patent ever be issued, I predict that any resulting contraption will simply be called The Wrong Trousers.

Clive RobinsonMay 13, 2008 12:26 PM

@ Heather,

Which do you prefere, wensleydale or Stinking Bishop?

You can get both at Neals Yard Creamery - Borough Market - London

Oh just beware of the Were Rabbit 8)

Nomen PublicusMay 13, 2008 1:28 PM

I can just imagine the EULA for such a product where Microsoft declines any responsibility for anything that occurs on the advice of the invention and limits liability the cost of the product or $5, whichever is the smallest.

Clive RobinsonMay 13, 2008 1:33 PM

@ Rick Auricchio,

"the CP/M Card was not from MicroSoft"

No the SoftCard was definatly from Microsoft (I do not know if they designed it or not). It came with two different MicroSoft Basic interpreter programs one of which was G-Basic (had graphics extensions for the Apple Graphics adaptor which realy was cutting edge back then). Although sold by Microsoft to sell it's software the SoftCard realy did become a big success, and as such many other manufactures did did rip it off (as well as the software much to Bill's further anoyance I should imagine 8).

Also I know to the month when I ordered my Apple and MS SoftCard in 1980 (due to knowing which event in my life provided the money). And I also purchased the Apple UCSD P-System Interpreter and Fortran (which I still use for some reason I cannot possibly fathom myself).

So your dates of 1984 are are considerably later than when I had purchased my SoftCard in the U.K. (and yes we realy did have to pay outrageous amounts of markup in real terms I paid about 2.5 times what it would have cost in the U.S.).

One of these days (I keep promising myself) I will copy all of the data of the old 180K 5.25" flopies before it suffers from bit rot.

Davi OttenheimerMay 13, 2008 1:37 PM

It's like a slice of American history repeats itself. Gates has done no better than Edison's "inventions".

Edison hired a lot of people at low wages and stuffed them into an "innovation" camp where they were expected to pump out ideas, including re-engineering other ideas to claim as their own (e.g. the incandescent bulb design he claimed was copied from an inventor who later won the lawsuit for rights). Edison put his personal name, as opposed to company name, on everything that was invented by the people working for him. Whatever his motive, he ended up with a lot of patent applications under his name.

Today people still talk about Edison as an inventor, even though his real contribution was to revise the inventions of others and develop a market for them. He was an industrialist and a showman, not an inventor. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment was to convince people he was a source of innovation, although his real success came from "improving" upon the inventions of others and out-competing them.

Gates has done similarly well with that strategy.

AnonymousMay 13, 2008 1:39 PM

@Rick Auricchio,

Just one other thing the card your post points to has the memory for the Z80 on board the card.

The Microsoft SoftCard actually used the memory in the Apple (to save on cost) so you had to get the memory upgrade card as well as the 80 column video card.

Chris SMay 13, 2008 1:47 PM

@ Clive Robinson; sez that Bruce has previously put in print that he des not actualy look at patents due to the liabilities involved.

I can see that he might not look at other peoples patent applications, or their otherwise unpublished work. That might create liabilities.

But if you duplicate a patent accidentally, you are still liable. Once a patent is granted, it strikes me as more of a liability to NOT look at them. And if you're going to submit your own patent applications, then you are expected to be familiar with the prior art - including the patents - in that domain.

Michael RichardsonMay 13, 2008 6:45 PM


no, Clippy will say: "I see you haven't moved your mouse in a productive way in 25 seconds. I found some porn on your buddies computer, I suggest we execute BritneySpears.jpg.exe. (NOW) (Later)"

[note lack of cancel button]

Ping-Che ChenMay 13, 2008 8:28 PM

IIRC FAT was designed by Bill Gates and Marc McDonald (who is the employee #1 of Microsoft).

HeatherMay 13, 2008 10:43 PM

@ Clive

Stinking Bishop for sure, and I value the recommendation of London instead of the moon-much easier trip. :)

DarronMay 14, 2008 8:19 AM

The FAT filesystem is very similar to the GRT filesystem from HDOS (Heathkit DOS). The creator of HDOS (J. Gordon Letwin) was later hired by Microsoft -- well before Microsoft got into the Operating System business.

CalebMay 14, 2008 8:27 AM

>> s/co-inventers/co-inventors

I couldn't help but read this as:

AnselmMay 14, 2008 10:01 AM

You didn't have to have a CP/M card in an Apple II in order to run Microsoft software, as the (floating-point) »Applesoft« BASIC on the Apple IIplus was provided by Microsoft -- unlike the »Integer BASIC« on the original Apple II that Steven Wozniak wrote.

TSMay 14, 2008 10:13 AM

Huh? They're trying to get a patent on an intelligent agent that monitors you? Don't we call that a "wife"?

carbon14May 14, 2008 10:29 AM

Wife, eh, I thought it was a backseat driver. When will gates develope a backseat driver that will allow the driver to concentrate on his cell phone and ignore the traffic? Those damed 'wizards are like kids who don't know when to shut up and let dad alone. they chose to intterupt uninvited, and try to change the subject. This is a very annoying way in which geeks who design things because they are social dweebs try to manipulate the computer user. Like the old apple newton, which saved all misspellings after you corrected them and then tried to get you to 'add them to the word list of things the little screen could remember.

Terry ClothMay 14, 2008 12:30 PM

@Chris S: ``Once a patent is granted, it strikes me as more of a liability to NOT look at them.''

Infringing a patent while knowing of its existence (``willful infringement'') allows the court to award the owner up to three times what she'd otherwise get (``treble damages''). If you do a search for prior art, the plaintiff can claim you _must_ have known, even though your search never turned up that particular one.

If you don't know the patent exists you aren't willfully infringing, hence you're liable for 1/3 the maximum amount. Don't look, don't know. :-/

The courts just made the requirements for willful infringement much harder to meet. This may mean folks will once again feel free to look at prior art.

See for more info.

NatMay 16, 2008 2:43 PM

I only read the abstract, but it seems to describe what a competent sectretary did 50 years ago (before the word-processing revolution compelled executives to type their own documents).

natMay 16, 2008 2:55 PM

Is this not what a competnent secretary did 50 years ago? Didn't Della Street do this for Perry Mason? Someone will patent painting in primary colors next.

Leave a comment

Allowed HTML: <a href="URL"> • <em> <cite> <i> • <strong> <b> • <sub> <sup> • <ul> <ol> <li> • <blockquote> <pre>

Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.

Schneier on Security is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Co3 Systems, Inc..