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Offshoring incompetence

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Microsoft is recruiting patent engineers - but complete ignorance of patent law is not considered an obstacle to being hired, according to the job ad.

Last year, Redmond began outsourcing the task of researching and analysing patents to a firm called Intellevate, and the team is based in New Delhi, India. The applicant must be a computer science or electrical engineering PhD, and will be involved in prior art searches, patentability research, "file wrapper analysis", "claim scope mapping" and technical analysis.

But "patent experience" itself "is helpful but not mandatory," for potential recruits. To emphasize the point, the ad stresses that "although advance knowledge of patent law is helpful, it is not required".

Over the past eighteen months, Microsoft has dramatically accelerated its patent filing activity. Many claims, such as tabbing through a web page have little chance of withstanding the most basic prior art examination.

Just before Christmas Microsoft was granted a patent for online bill payment (which includes the innovation "'the consumer is in direct control of the amount to be paid and the payment date") and fine-grained IM presence - ("... a participant might not want someone else to know whether or not the individual is logged in or out to lunch. Thus, one might want to prohibit other individuals from viewing such presence information").

The USPTO has also granted Microsoft's Expedia a patent for matching a quote with an offer, which claimed -

"An effective electronic exchange system for satisfying an offer by a purchaser with a quote from a supplier has eluded those skilled in the art."

Other recent filings include attempting to patent the "y-axis", the "IS NOT" operator in Basic, interactive test feedback, and reading ahead 20 records at a time in a database, when the user clicks the Previous or Next buttons.

Thanks to Theo for recording these absurdities, and in particular Microsoft's attempt to patent a latitude/longitude co-ordinate stored as a base-30 number. As he points out, this has been on the K-6 curriculum for some time.

Along with other companies, Microsoft is mining India's brilliant engineering talent to save money. But judging by recent form, it may as well save even more money by dropping the requirement for PhDs altogether - and simply employ children. ®

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