Web content management company Interwoven is touting a recently-granted patent (#6,505,212) on a multi-user, multi-staged versioning system for website development. From the patent abstract:
A system and method for file management is comprised of hierarchical files systems, referred to as "areas." There are three types of areas: work areas, staging areas, and edition areas. A work area is a modifiable file system, and, in a work area a user can create, edit, and delete files and directories. A staging area is a read-only file system that supports select versioning operations. Various users of work areas can integrate their work by submitting the contents of their work area to the staging area. In the staging area, developers can compare their work and see how their changes fit together. An edition is a read-only file system, and the contents of a staging area are virtually copied into an edition to create a frozen, read-only snapshot of the contents of the staging area. One use of the system and method for file management is as a website development tool.
Um, that description would cover the use of any moderately-featured source-code control system for web development. That's the first thing anyone with experience in coding projects tried for controlling web content in the early-to-mid-90s. We used Microsoft SourceSafe to version our intranet and public internet websites at Activerse by late 1996 (maybe even earlier), and I'm sure many others were using other filesystem-backed version-control software similarly even earlier. Interwoven filed this patent in 1998.
Sometimes the abstract isn't fair; the claims of a patent -- which are after all the only part that legally matters -- may elucidate the novelty and usefulness of an invention more effectively. But that's not the case here. Each of the patent's 13 claims just further describes what was already common practice for software and technical documentation development a decade or more ago -- and what many teams independently adopted as their practices for web file management throughout the 90s.
Interwoven wasted their money pursuing this absurd patent for an obvious and non-novel system. Let's see if they waste any more money trying to enforce it -- or if instead this patent just goes into that limbo where it remains legally valid but not credible enough to risk enforcing. (I suspect that tens of thousands of granted patents, perhaps even a majority of all unexpired patents, fall into this same limbo category.)