Niall Kennedy takes a detailed look at Microsoft's recent RSS related patent applications. It is pretty clear Microsoft is not attempting to patent RSS, only certain interactions with Internet Explorer. Niall points out several areas where "prior art" or similar functions might already exist. Many patents are overlapping and similar, and certainly sound the same. This is not unusual. Software patents present a conundrum to big companies like Microsoft. File them and look bad, or don't file them and get sued for hundreds of millions by a patent troll
TechDirt wrote a blog today that sums up the sad state of software patents. Patents are necessary for defensive purposes but they sometimes create a PR mess. It is analogous to a hopeless fight between an elephant and a mouse - futile for the elephant, with everyone's sympathies on the side of the mouse.
Microsoft, in my opinion, is not trying to pretend they invented RSS, and is not trying to use the patent to collect royalties, or stifle innovation. They are simply trying to protect themselves from frivolous, but very expensive, lawsuits.
I can't think of a single case in 30 years where Microsoft has sued a company for patent infringement. There may be one, but it is rare indeed. This is a defensive move in my opinion.
Eolas cost Microsoft over $600M. NTP cost Blackberry nearly $1 Billion. RedHat had to pay millions for some obscure "Hibernate" patent. Sad, but is the way the legal system and patent system work...or more accurately...don't work. It results in what I call the "Patent Lunacy Defense".