Schematron-Report patented?

Better not to have any ideas at all...

By Rick Jelliffe
January 29, 2010 | Comments: 8

Yet another example of something we made for the public benefit being patented a couple of years later.

Patent 7,058,886 Method and apparatus for declarative error handling and presentation.

What is it? The present invention includes a method and device for generic searching across document types. A further aspect of the present invention is indexing and searching XML documents using an HTML interface generated by a declarative transformation.

Some details:

1. A method for error processing and reporting during validation of a business document in a client-server environment, the method including: accessing a first self-describing, structured document having a document type; validating the first document against a schema corresponding to the document type; generating a second self-describing, structured document including, for any detected errors, at least one error identifier; and a path specification identifying a node within the first self-describing structured document corresponding to the detected error; applying a declarative transformation to the first and second documents, producing a user interface character string, including a plurality of path specification for nodes in the first document; and values for nodes in the first document; and at least one error message corresponding to the at least one error identifier; and transmitting the user interface character string.

2. The method of claim 1, wherein the schema is compliant with any version of a SOX standard.

3. The method of claim 2, further including validating the first document against a set of business processing rules and generating a third self-describing, structured document, wherein the declarative transformation is further applied to the third document.


Further claims cover the cases where the transformation is XSLT, the input is XML and the output is HTML.

Then

12. A method for error processing and reporting during validation of a business document in a client-server environment, the method including: accessing a first self-describing, structured document having a document type; validating the first document against a set of business processing rules applicable to the document type and an intended recipient of the first document; generating a second self-describing, structured document including, for any detected errors, at least one error identifier; and a path specification identifying a node within the first self-describing structured document corresponding to the detected error; applying a declarative transformation to the first and second documents, producing a user interface character string, including a plurality of path specification for nodes in the first document; and values for nodes in the first document; and at least one error message corresponding to the at least one error identifier; and transmitting the user interface character string.

13. The method of claim 12, wherein the business processing rules are Schematron-compliant.

and again for the specific cases of XSLT, XML and HTML.

The patent was filed for in Dec 18, 2001 and granted June 6, 2006.

If readers care too look at the page for Schematron-report they will note the date 1999-11-1, and that I and Academia Sinica are the copyright holders of the source code, under an open source license (Artistic License.) Schematron report was largely David Carlisle (of MathML fame)'s work: allowing a hyperlinked validation report. The old Topologi Schematron validator that was available free from our website, and used by many schools, used it for example.

So what does Schematron-report to? You take any XML document (including business documents) in any environment (including client server: if you are using HTML it is rather difficult not be client-server isn't it?), you run it against Schematron rules (Schematron has both assert rules for validation and report elements for finding patterns) and it generates a series of HTML frames: one is the input document converted to HTML (with ids added), and the other is a list of messages with links to the original nodes.

Or take the Schematron Conformance Test system of early 2001, which became SVRL. This was a simple sytem and schema that processes an XML document according to a Schematron schema or ruleset, and generates an output XML document including paths.

Note also that Schematron by early 2001 had the concept of phases, because different people might be interested in different aspects. (I gave a talk on this general subject at XML 2002 concentrating on the division of labour aspects of progressive validation.)

So it is very difficult for me to see the originality in this patent. I note that the patent application does not cite any Schematron, even though it mentions it explicitly. I was pleased to see that the patent examiner did look at one Schematron article off their own bat (Ogbuji, Chimezie, "Validationg XML with Schematron" which was an XML.COM article: in one of O'Reilly's periodic fits of madness, they changed all the URLs so it is unavailable a the URL given. Tim Berners-Lee said that Cool URLs don't change: O'Reilly does not believe it has any cool URLs, on their behaviour.)

But all the parts of it seem to have pre-existed in well-publicized software or material a couple of years before the patent was filed.

Why is the USPTO granting patents which merely take general-purpose technologies and apply them for one purpose?


  • Schematron can be used with any XML document (or, indeed, any structured document: it has been used with SGML, HTML, RDF as well): why would specifiying "business document" in particular be any reason for making it patentable?
  • Business documents are not an imaginative leap into a new class of documents, they are just a subset of "document" in general. Schematron allows phases so that the report will contain only the information needed for some purpose: why is specifying that this may be an "intended recipient" any reason that it should be patentable? Customized validation by user is just one of any number of customized filterings that may apply. I invented the phase mechanism in Schematron: I studied economics at University: Adam Smith's pin factory is something that known to every educated person, especially economists; phases are merely Smith's a feature to implement Smiths basic specialization and division of labour idea, which is based on different people needing different information. There is no originality to customization of validation/reporting by intended recipient in 2001.

The good news? I see that this patent is included in those of the Patent Commons. But that this patent was granted shows IMHO that the USPTO has not had adequate procedures or criteria (or whatever). It may be that there is just too much information out there now. In which case, if it is indeed so difficult to be sure, why are they still granting any patents?

The USPTO is rather showing itself, in the way it has failed to look at prior art (and this may go right back to its mission statement for all I know, I have no reason to blame examiners or individuals), to be the enemy of the public good. Why should anyone do any work for the public good, have any public spirit, try to work cooperatively, be involved in any volunteer standards work, if that work can then be taken up by any would-be mini-monopolist and patented at an over-worked, under-critical, and perhaps myopic patent office of a foreign country (i.e., the US, a country notorious for its bullying international policy on IPR)?

Patents could go away and the world would not suffer much. Markets would adjust. Business would go on. Standards could not go away without the collapse of our society. Volunteerism is the core of both the standards and the Free and Open Software movements (both corporate and individual volunteerism). The patent system seems to be actively antagonistic to standards and volunteerist development of software.


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8 Comments

You are making the unsupported assertion that those who work on standards are showing public spirit, working cooperatively and are working for the public good. That is a dubious and incredibly naive statement.

Were you in that public benefactor frame of mind when Microsoft offered you money to edit Wikipedia pages for their standards, or when they were paying you to promote their disgraced OOXML standard?

Rob: Thanks for reminding us what you are about.

No, I have found that most participants in standards activities are indeed motivated by a large degree of community spirit, from the employees of large US patent-mad monopolies like IBM and Microsoft to the humblest invited experts and FOSS developers.

(New readers may be interested that in fact I did not edit the Wikipedia OOXML page at that time. After publicizing the MS offer on my blog, I next made sure I found out from Wikipedia editors what the correct approach was: which is to use the discussion pages. )

I'll grant you that many, but not all, involved in doing standards work see themselves as doing work for the public good. But I have I have found that many inventors see themselves as benefiting society by bring their inventions to the world. Many, but not all.

But you seem to be painting a polarized world. You demonize those whom you disagree with ("myopic", "bullying", "enemy of the public good", etc.) while clothing your own interests in sanctimonious robes while you masquerade as the universal benefactor of mankind. This is self-serving and intellectually shallow, especially for someone whose mercenary proclivities with regards to Microsoft standards are far more notable than any public minded service.

Rob: I am not against invention or inventors. Just software patents (and therefore patentees, to that extent), particularly those patents which don't seem innovative, more particularly those patents which seem to rehash technologies in standards, and most particular patents which seem to be based on work that I or my friends have done and deliberately released open source or open standards in the public interest. Examples of these are in this series of blogs.

When I worked in Australian and ISO standards in the mid 1990s, what monopolistic corporate interests did I represent? None. When I worked on XML discussions with the W3C XML effort almost every night in the late 90s, who paid me? No-one. When I worked on developing Schematron and W3C XML Schemas at the turn of the decade, I worked for an academic institution which had no interest in gaining acquiring monopoly rights over the technology. When I edited the ISO standard for Schematron and was involved in the ISO standards for DSDL in the early and middle 2000s, who paid me?: mostly it was out of my own pocket, and sometimes my small Australian company joined in to sponsor me, which no ties any large US company. Even now in 2010, the little effort I put into maintaining ISO Schematron and tracking DSDL developments is entirely on my own time (though Allette Systems does give me some time to maintain the FOSS project.)

I don't want a medal, but it is too much to ask that the USPTO does not sell our work to one US corporation or another?

Now you might think that standards like XML, XML Namespaces, XML Schemas, MIME types for XML, SGML, XHTML, Schematron, RELAX NG, and so on are not notable things to have been involved with (my involvement was in various degrees), but I am proud of them. That I have not sought nor received remuneration over the years is not "sanctimonious robes", it is just what happened. It seems a weak foundation for a personal attack.

At various times over the last 16 years I and my employer have indeed done different kinds of training and development work for large companies, such as IBM, Sun, Novel, Microsoft, but these have never been a substantial part of our business. We do real work for many commercial, government, defense and charitable clients.

Let me make this clear. I have never been paid for one second of my time on a standards body by Microsoft. And I think I was scrupulous in declaring the brief professional relationship of 2007. (It is paradoxical that a fulltime employee of IBM should find it reprehensible that someone could be sponsored by a large monopolistic US corporation: the best defense is an offense I suppose, but it does seems a little muddled in the old hypocrisy stakes.)

Let me put it like this: I, who Rob accuses of being mercenary, have been actively involved in the creation or maintenance of dozens of standards (to one extent or another) mainly at my own expense for about 16 years.

So Rob: which standards have you been involved in over the last couple of decades which was not your day job too?

And which open source programs have you written and actively maintained for more than a decade, mostly at your own expense?

And what is your track record in trying to publicize and expose new ideas to prevent them from being proprietorized by large monopolistic corporations or patent trolls, as I have done repeatedly in this blog? (Through series such as the XSD-to-Schematron series, and many others.)

Are you really saying that I have no right to complain when Open Source software I and MathML David Carlisle (and many others) wrote and put out in an Open Source license a decade ago becomes, on the face of it, the subject of a later patent? Do you think open source developers should shut up if a corporation gets a patent on their work, or just me?

In other comments, you have shown an extreme corporatist agenda: Tim Bray once suggested I was not paying enough attention to the elephants in the room, but to me the representatives of large US corporations sometimes *only* see the elephants and nothing else. Certainly not us little mice.

I thought it was typical that your follow-up to my conciliatory and moderate statement "No, I have found that most participants in standards activities are indeed motivated by a large degree of community spirit, from the employees of large US patent-mad monopolies like IBM and Microsoft to the humblest invited experts and FOSS developers." was that I seemed to be painting a polarized world. You don't want facts to get in the way of your good story.

The comment on bullying referred to US trade negotiation policy is not demonizing those who disagree with me: it is not about them at all, is it? So why say it? (And it is a common perception outside the US, see http://www.globalpolicy.org/component/content/article/209/43744.html or http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/1999-02-16/business/9902150487_1_canadian-advertisers-canadian-officials-canadian-steel .)

The comment on "enemy of the public good" referred to the USPTO as an institution in its effects, not to anyone is disagree with either. And the comment on "myopic" is similarly not directed at anyone I disagree with. Wier is just trolling.

So Rob, why don't you do something useful and get more IBM patents into the Patent Commons? Or learn some conciliation skill to help new versions of ODF out the door faster.

Readers may be interested in why an IBM employee feels they need to jump up and down with these lurid personal attacks, when the subject that software patents are a bad thing, or that they seem to have been granted too easily, comes up?

Especially an employee who seems so concerned about monopolies: an employee of the world's largest patentee writing against monopolies may seem absurd to some, but I look forward to Rob factoring in the costs and stifling effects of the software patent system in a future version of his "Monopoly Freedom Day". As he wrote: "Up until Monopoly Freedom Day the fruits of your labors are not going to you, you family or your community." Yep, we sure wouldn't want to demonize, polarize, sermonize, or apply rules to others that we don't live up to ourselves, would we Rob?

Some of the most important contributions in standards have been made by individuals rather than suits: think of the contributions of James Clark, Patrick Durusau and Dennis Hamilton. (I'd put Tim Bray in this list too.) Some of them may seek or get sponsorship at various times, but their participation predates the sponsorship and continues after it. Martin Bryant's well-known farewell comments to SC34 praising the role of the individual against "standardization by corporation" stands in stark contrast to the elephants-only world Rob occupies.

I notice that you do not list OOXML as one of those standards with which you are "proud" to have been associated with? Why not?

Rob: Because the experience was horrific and made me ashamed at the nastiness of mankind.

Score yet another point for that master of the ad hominem attack, Rob Weir.

As someone close to home once said:

You could dispute the facts I present. You could argue against my logic if you wish. But you have done neither. You merely resort to ad hominen attacks. I'll take that as an expression of your frustration at not finding a hole in my argument.

---Rob Weir, The Personal Angle,, Groklaw (4 May 2009).

Well, Rob, you could have disputed Rick's facts and you could have argued against his logic. But you did neither, merely resorting to an ad hominem attack. Should we not "take that as an expression of your frustration at not finding a hole in [Rick's] argument?" Or is there a double standard that allows only Rob Weir to engage in ad hominem attacks?

Please get back on topic.

Unfortunately the software patent process has almost little or nothing to do with inventions and protecting the rights of inventors.

Instead it has become completely usurped by large corporations who seek instead to crush small inventors and competitive innovation and maintain their market monopolies.

This "Looking Glass" world is now maintained and serviced by patent lawyers and the staff at USPTO. It has become a lucrative job creation scheme - ever since Ronald Reagan decided to make the USPTO self funding.

Do not expect this whole edifice to reflect the needs of software developers, small inventors or the public good any year soon!

If you want to Google my two US software patents related to XML and EDI please do.

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