Microsoft Points and the Hillarity of Patents


It would seem I am now an “official” inventor. The USPTO has granted, ahem, Method and system for in-line secondary transactions, an element of the work I did on the system that ultimately became Microsoft Points.

For the record, I think the US Patent system is horribly, horribly broken, particularly when it comes to software patents. Does protection of this “invention” really foster innovation? I don’t think so.

Perhaps more poignantly, the incident reminds me of the fiasco of Microsoft Points, yet another project that could have, should have, would’ve been really cool, except that the drawn-out, risk-averse, by-committee, design process yielded a mushy product with deeply fatal flaws.

Ever wonder why Microsoft makes you do math to figure out how much something costs? It was based on the theory that pricing something in actual currency would bring unbearable regulatory scrutiny. An issue that Amazon, which also has a sizable market cap, brand and balance sheet to protect (not to mention Google, Apple and of course PayPal) seem to have circumvented nicely. That and a completely evidence-free conviction that users would spend more that way. (The so-called “casino effect”)

Of course, on the upside, participants in international, user-to-user transactions can quote each other prices over IM or email. So it’s got that going for it. How’s that scenario working out for you guys?