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Microsoft Awarded 'Super Cookie' Patent

A new Microsoft patent is causing a little heartburn in some quarters, but the patent for a so-called "super cookie," may have come so long after Microsoft's application that it's been superceded by newer technologies.

U.S. Patent 7,039,699, or '699, will provide developers with a permanent cookie that can contain bits, counters, dates and strings and can be accessed via an API that can be called from JavaScript, ASP and VBScript.

It's what can be done with the cookie that has some people sensing an invasion of privacy.

Web sites can use information found in the domain cookie to determine where the user has been and what kind of activity they engaged in and purchases they made to determine what kind of content they should present to the visitor.

Customized content may range from Web content that reflects the user's past interests to targeted advertising to special limited services.

As the author of a story on the hobbyist site Ars Technica put it, "it doesn't seem very original since Web developers have been using what are essentially cookies for years."

True enough, said attorney Daniel A. Tysver, a partner at law firm Beck & Tysver, in Minneapolis, Minn., who runs the BitLaw server, which tracks Internet-related legal issues. He thinks the patent has most likely been surpassed by newer technologies since Microsoft first applied for it in 2000.

"It seems to me that Microsoft can already be tracking that kind of usage in a bunch of different ways, as can everyone else out there," he said. "From what I understand they could do now, they could do other things that would work better. If that's the case, then this technology has been outdated."

David Kaefer, director of business development for Microsoft's IP licensing group, said the same thing in an e-mail to internetnews.com. "While we have a patent to useful and efficient ways of generating and using cookies, it doesn't necessarily mean there aren't other ways of achieving similar outcomes through different methods," he said.

Microsoft has no specific plans for this patent, he said, and if other companies are interested in licensing the "super cookie" technology, Microsoft's general policy is to allow others to license its patents for use in their products.