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Sunday, 26 July 2009 08:58

Microsoft wins patent for Lotus Notes emoticon idea

This week just past Microsoft was successfully granted a patent for "emotiflags" despite this idea being present in Lotus Notes years prior. Microsoft is even denying current Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie’s involvement.

In today’s modern online world of head-tilting smilies it’s not sufficient, it would seem, to have your inbox indicate if an e-mail is important.

No, you also need to tell your recipients if the e-mail is funny, awesome, cool or one of many other selectable emoticons which show in the inbox along with traditional status information like subject and date.

At least that’s what Microsoft apparently think is going to be big in the future of online messaging judging by a patent application the company filed four years ago and which was granted this week.

Specifically, US Patent 7,565,404 says
Emoticons can be included within an email message; follow-up flags are useful for marking different types of received email messages; and importance flags can be useful for enabling an email sender to indicate to an intended email recipient, the importance of a message. However, there is no means by which to indicate an emotion associated with an email message.

The invention patented is summarised as
An emotiflag is made up of a graphical icon and a text tag, and may also include a textual representation of the graphical icon. A collection of emotiflags is maintained by an email application and made available to users. Users can modify existing emotiflags and create custom emotiflags. Users can also add an emotiflag to an email message they are composing so that when the email message is sent, the emotiflag is sent with the email message. Custom emotiflags received with email messages may be saved to the collection of emotiflags for later use.

Yet, this concept is not new and was just as “not new” in 2005 as it is now.

That's right; Microsoft's successful patent application describes an invention which has clearly been seen already in fairly mainstream computing.

Old Lotus Notes users like myself and iTWire colleague Tony Austin and readers worldwide will undoubtedly remember “mood stamps” within the Lotus Notes mail client.

What is particularly interesting is that Ray Ozzie, the creator of Lotus Notes, subsequently moved on and is Bill Gates’ direct successor as Chief Software Architect at Microsoft.

Yet, the Microsoft patent credits Daniel Gwozdz as the “inventor” of emotiflags, whose LinkedIn profile indicates he was working with the Windows Live Messenger team at the time he filed the patent.

It must be asked why Ray did not Ozzie stand up and point out the “prior art” that disproved his employer’s invention of emotiflags.

Nevertheless, real life is stranger than fiction. At the beginning of this decade Despair Inc. joked they had received the trademark for the “frowny” emoticon, or :-(.

In a mock press release Despair Inc. stated Intellectual Property specialists were stunned because “to extend official registration to an emoticon, one who’s common usage predated the existence of the trademark holder by several years, defies common sense and establishes a dangerous precedent.

Image: a possible emotiflag interface as per the patent.


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David M Williams

David has been computing since 1984 where he instantly gravitated to the family Commodore 64. He completed a Bachelor of Computer Science degree from 1990 to 1992, commencing full-time employment as a systems analyst at the end of that year. David subsequently worked as a UNIX Systems Manager, Asia-Pacific technical specialist for an international software company, Business Analyst, IT Manager, and other roles. David has been the Chief Information Officer for national public companies since 2007, delivering IT knowledge and business acumen, seeking to transform the industries within which he works. David is also involved in the user group community, the Australian Computer Society technical advisory boards, and education.

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