Firms May Face Fees For Using Patented Y2K Fix (windowing) : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Firms may face fees for using patented Y2K fix By Erich Luening Staff Writer,CNET

Companies could owe substantial back payments for use of a popular Year 2000 software fix that recently became patented. Aircraft manufacturer McDonnell Douglas has received a patent for a software technique called "windowing" that is used to fix computer code and has handed the patent over to the technique's inventor.

More Tech News Download Free Software Find Product Reviews Lawyers for inventor Bruce Dickens are reportedly threatening legal action to enforce payments from Fortune 500 companies that have used software fixes based on the now-patented technology.

Bill Cray, Dickens's attorney, would not comment on the specifics of the claim but said he is writing letters to companies that may have infringed on the patent.

This could have serious repercussions for the thousands of companies--roughly 90 percent--that have used some form of "windowing" to fix their computer systems, said Kazim Isfahani, an analyst with Giga Information Group.

Most popular technique Windowing is the most popular of several techniques used to enable software to recognize four-digit year fields. A typical windowing fix would reconfigure software so that years entered as 00-29 are assumed to represent 2000 through 2029, and years entered as 30-99 represent 1930 through 1999.

Over the next month, the California law firm of Levin and Hawes will begin a systematic effort to contact U.S.-based organizations in an attempt to procure a lump sum for previous use of the patent, according to Isfahani.

"We think this is ridiculous," Isfahani said. "I suspect many companies will end up paying off as some form of nuisance fee, while smaller companies will try and fight this in court. They will be the ones that set the precedent on how this will go forward."

Giga Information Group expects that Dickens's attorneys will seek lump sum payments ranging from $50,000 to $100,000 from firms that already have used the Y2K fix.

Windowing is considered a faster way of fixing corrupted code than more traditional methods--such as the expansion method, for example, which allows software to recognize four-digit dates, like the year 2000.

After the turn of the century, the licensing fees will increase substantially for firms that are unwilling to agree to the initial offer, Isfahani said in a brief.

The Y2K problem, also known as the millennium bug, is rooted in the way dates are recorded in computer code. Previously, systems programmers used two digits to represent years to conserve PC memory. With this format, however, the year 2000 is indistinguishable from 1900, or 2001 from 1901.

Many technology executives, analysts, and government officials warn that the glitch could cause everything from failed cash registers and airline travel interruptions to possible power outages.

-- LOON (, November 02, 1999



In order for a patent to be valid it has to be 'unique and non-obvious'. Windowing is pretty obvious and is hardly unique. I think the reason they handed the patent over to him is that *HE* is going to have to foot the legal bills to defend it. Expect this one to thrown out (ie. patent rescinded) pretty quickly.


-- TECH32 (TECH32@NOMAIL.COM), November 02, 1999.

Ooh! Ooh! I just invented something! I pushed this here button labeled "Power" and it made my computer functional. I'm calling a patent attorney right now!

Don't any of you try to steal my idea, now, 'cause I'll sue you for milyuns and milyuns of dollars! I will, too!


Who says our government isn't in the pocket of big business? Anyone?

Now reaching for a tissue... this is so very sad.

-- Arewyn (, November 02, 1999.

As I recall, it was in the spring or early summer of 1998 when I read about an automated remediation tool being sold by IBM. If memory serves, the price was $50,000 per mainframe. What it did was to automate part of the work of windowing. (The fact that it only automated part of the job led to heavy criticism.)

Now if this patent has any validity, I would think that IBM, and not the customers for its tool, would be on the hook for the royalties. Do you think IBM is going to pay a huge amount of money to the supposed "inventor" of this technique?

-- Peter Errington (, November 02, 1999.

The patent has no validity. It can't. From the very first day I started working on this (around 1994), there were already three "accepted" ways of fixing the problem: Windowing, Encapsulation, and Expansion. And if you couldn't afford one of the major vendor's packages, you rolled your own (maybe I should patent my technique for using edit macros under ISPF for targeting date problems, huh?). The Giga snalyst is right -- this is ridiculous. Just some dweeb trying to extort some bucks from the deep pockets. Besides, if Algore (The Inventor of the Internet) hasn't sued us all by now, this suit is the LAST thing I'd take seriously. (My $0.0121, adjusted for inflation.)

-- I'm Here, I'm There (I'm Everywhere@so.beware), November 02, 1999.

The patent has validity until someone with the bucks and the chutzpah to challenge it actuallly stands up and takes MD to court. Now, having said that, I know a firm who's patent division would *loooove* to represent such a challenge. Talk about a softball. this patent should end up dying a quick, painless, and totally unenforced death.

-- Paul Neuhardt (, November 02, 1999.

It appears that MacDac (having lost the ability to build quality aerospace products) have now gone into the nuisance lawsuit business. Would love to see them make a run at Big Blue on this; IBM's lawyers have lawyers! *Poof* goes the patent.

-- Mac (sneak@lurk.hid), November 02, 1999.

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