What I sent to the USPTO today about DOCX

The USPTO appears to be digging in its heels on DOCX.   The USPTO published a Federal Register notice on December 29, 2022 entitled Setting and Adjusting Patent Fees During Fiscal Year 2020 (click here to see it) that provided an email contact.  On February 3, 2023 I wrote to the email contact, asking that my document The Fool’s Errand That Is DOCX (click here to see it) be placed in the rulemaking record.  He wrote back saying this:

Thank you for your message.
In accordance with Office Policy, I have not opened the attachment.

I wrote back the same day, saying:

Dear Mr Polutta —
You mention an “Office Policy.”  Could you please provide a cite or URL where it’s published?

I never heard back from him about this.  So I guess he was refusing to place the document into the rulemaking record in response to my email message.

So I guess there is no choice but to send it to him on paper, so as to eliminate the excuse of it having been an email attachment.  That is what I did today (click here to see what I sent).  Let’s hope that now he might place this document into the rulemaking record.

4 Replies to “What I sent to the USPTO today about DOCX”

  1. Was the attachment you sent that ‘in accordance with Office Policy, I have not opened” a DOCX? Just wondering ….

  2. While ChatGPT has proven to be remarkably unreliable on many issues, I think it gave some fair feedback when I asked it about the DOCX standard. Here is a transaction record of my questions and its answers from a few moments ago:

    The USPTO is planning to require all patents applications to be submitted using the Microsoft DOCX “open standard.” But is DOCX really an open standard? Is there a body besides Microsoft that regularly updates the standard and ensures it is robust? Is it a standard that is reliable across platforms, or one that depends heavily on the details of the machine and software environment of the user, such that we can’t ensure that what the USPTO receives and publishes is what the authors of a document intended?

    The DOCX file format is an open standard in the sense that it is based on XML and its specifications are publicly available. The standard is maintained by the international standards organization, ECMA International, which is made up of various companies, including Microsoft. However, ECMA International is not an independent standards body, and its members have a vested interest in the standard’s development and adoption.

    The DOCX standard is subject to periodic updates, but these updates are largely driven by Microsoft, and there is no independent oversight to ensure that the standard is robust and interoperable across platforms. This means that while DOCX files can generally be opened and edited by other software programs, there can be compatibility issues, especially when it comes to complex documents with formatting, graphics, or macros.

    The reliance of DOCX on the specific machine and software environment of the user can also pose a problem, as different versions of Microsoft Office and other software programs may interpret the standard slightly differently. This means that what the USPTO receives and publishes may not always be exactly what the authors of a document intended, especially if they are using different software or operating systems.

    Overall, while DOCX can be considered an open standard in a technical sense, it is still heavily influenced by Microsoft and lacks the independent oversight and interoperability that many consider essential to a robust and reliable file format standard.

    One author recently wrote, “The ECMA standard ECMA-376 is more than six years old, and no current word processor follows that standard. Microsoft has ‘extended’ its flavor of DOCX some eighteen times since the last time any standards-setting activity took place for the ECMA-376 standard.” Is there anything factually incorrect in that statement? If the “ECMA standard” is not followed anymore and hasn’t been for six years, is it fair to speak of DOCX as an open standard?

    The statement that the ECMA-376 standard is more than six years old is correct. It was first published in 2006, and its latest update was in 2012. The statement that no current word processor follows that standard is not entirely accurate, as some software programs such as LibreOffice and OpenOffice do support the standard to varying degrees. However, it is true that Microsoft has extended its flavor of DOCX multiple times since the last update of the ECMA-376 standard.

    Given the reliance on Microsoft’s extensions, it is fair to question whether DOCX can still be considered an open standard. The fact that the standard has not been updated in over six years, combined with the significant extensions made by Microsoft, suggests that the standard is not being widely adopted or actively maintained by the broader software industry. This lack of adoption and maintenance could have implications for the interoperability and reliability of DOCX files, as there may be compatibility issues with other software programs that do not support Microsoft’s extensions.

    Overall, while DOCX may technically be considered an open standard, its reliance on Microsoft’s extensions and the lack of widespread adoption and maintenance of the ECMA-376 standard raises questions about its openness and interoperability.

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