Microsoft Wins 10,000th Patent, Lawyers Everywhere Rejoice

Microsoft Tuesday said the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office awarded the giant software developer U.S. patent No. 7,479,950, which Microsoft said applies to its Surface tabletop computing technology.

Microsoft said the invention specifically describes how users can place physical objects—everything from cell phones to their own fingers—on the computer tabletop display and the computer will identify the objects and track their location, orientation and motion. Microsoft said the technology provides a way to associate such objects with data or stored media such as music and photos.

"Surface computing gives people instant access to digital information in a new way," said Curtis Wong, one of the four Microsoft researchers listed on the patent as co-inventors of the technology, in a statement. He said the goal is to make interaction between the physical and virtual worlds "a little more seamless."

Microsoft said that last year it was awarded more than 2,000 patents, which put it fourth behind IBM with 4,186 patents, Samsung (3,515) and Canon (2,114) in 2008, according to a story in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Last year the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) ranked Microsoft's patent portfolio No. 1 in terms of its power and influence.

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Wong himself has authored more than 45 patent applications. Microsoft said it spends about $8 billion a year on research and development.

In 2003 Microsoft unveiled an effort to expand its intellectual property licensing program to make more Microsoft technology available to the industry. But Microsoft has had a reputation for calling out its attorneys to protect what it views as its patent turf. The company, for example, has long argued that open-source software is riddled with Microsoft technology, saying in 2007 that the Linux operating system alone violates 42 Microsoft patents.