from the vendor-capture dept.
There are still a few months to fix this, but for now the US Patent and Trademark Office's (USPTO) Acting Commissioner for Patents, Andrew Faile, and Chief Information Officer, Jamie Holcombe, have announced that starting January 1st, 2022, the USPTO will institute a surcharge for applicants that are not locked into Microsoft products via the proprietary DOCX format. From that date onwards, the USPTO will move away from PDF and require all filers to use that proprietary format or face an arbitrary surcharge when filing.
First, we delayed the effective date for the non-DOCX surcharge fee to January 1, 2022, to provide more time for applicants to transition to this new process, and for the USPTO to continue our outreach efforts and address customer concerns. We've also made office actions available in DOCX and XML formats and further enhanced DOCX features, including accepting DOCX for drawings in addition to the specification, claims, and abstract for certain applications.
One out of several major problems with the plans is that DOCX is a proprietary format. There are several variants of DOCX and each of them are really only supported by a single company's products. Some other products have had progress in beginning to reverse engineering it, but are hindered by the lack of documentation. DOCX is a competitor to the fully-documented, open standard OpenDocument Format, also known as ISO/IEC 26300.
DOCX is not to be confused with OOXML, though it often is. While OOXML, also known as ISO/IEC 29500, is technically standardized, it is incompletely documented and only vaguely related to DOCX. The DOCX format itself is neither fully documented nor standard. So the USPTO is also engaged in spreading disinformation by asserting that it is.
(2015) Microsoft Threatened the UK Over Open Standards
When the UK government announced plans to shift to the .odf Open Document Format, and away from Microsoft's proprietary .doc and .docx formats, Microsoft threatened to move its research facilities out of the UK.
The prime minister's director of strategy at the time, Steve Hilton, said that "Microsoft phoned Conservative MPs with Microsoft R&D facilities in their constituencies and said we will close them down in your constituencies if this goes through" "We just resisted. You have to be brave," Hilton said.
Although I am not a great lover of Microsoft, I'm not sure that this is any different than many other companies who will try to protect their profits - and, arguably, the jobs of their employees - when they can see the potential for the loss of business. But perhaps other companies are a little more subtle - especially when it is obvious that official papers will one day become public knowledge.
[Editor's Comment: This submission has been significantly edited - comment is not attributable to sigma]
[Editor's Comment: Please see public apology regarding this story.]