Software Patent of the Week: Cup Holders AND a Spoiler!

by on June 23, 2006 · 34 comments

Every week, I look at a software patent that’s been in the news. You can see previous installments in the series here. This week’s software patent was highlighted by last week’s ruling that Microsoft had to pay its holder $6.1 million.

This is the relevant patent. None of the news stories I could find said which patent it was, probably because the inventor’s name is listed as Carlos Amada in the patent while, the news stories all give it as Carlos Amado. The patent is extremely long, weighing in at more than 20,000 words. It describes, in great detail, the features of a graphical database program that Mr. Armado apparently developed in the early 1990s. From the description, it sounds like it may have been an impressive piece of software, with many useful features integrated in a user-friendly manner.

Is this patent obvious? And did granting it likely promote innovation? I’ll explore those questions below the fold…


Let’s start by considering what the patent itself says about prior art:

The cited PRIOR-ART references are important because the invention provides the benefits of integrating their main characteristics. Like database add-ins, the invention is a spreadsheet enhancement. Yet, it is the only spreadsheet enhancement that implements options for full environment definition and automatic read and write operations between database and spreadsheet structures. The RONSTADT’S FINANCIALS financial forecasting system, by Lord Publishing Inc., and the REFLEX PLUS spreadsheet analysis tool, by Borland International, store their information in database structures similarly to the invention. Also, the RONSTADT’S FINANCIALS financial forecasting system allows formula operation on database structures. Yet, the invention integrates these concepts in spreadsheet instruments. Spreadsheet compilers implement options for full environment definition, but the invention does so while keeping the interactive nature of a full spreadsheet environment.

Thus, as stated before, the invention allows users to interactively develop new environments to program and use finished applications, and to use database files for the storage of information operated in the spreadsheet program. Prior art references do not implement interactive creation of spreadsheet environments.

The patent basically admits that most of its features, taken by themselves, are not new. There were dozens of database and spreadsheet projects on the market in 1990, and they had a variety of innovative features. Hence virtually all of the feature described in Amado’s patent apparently existed in other products before Mr. Armado combined them all into one package.

So it seems that Mr. Amado’s “invention” consisted in taking a bunch of features from several other database products and combining them into a single user-friendly package. This is somewhat akin to a car company patenting the idea of a car that has anti-lock brakes, an onboard navigation system, and remote keyless entry. The patent could have glossy color pictures of the vehicle and describe in great detail how seamlessly the features work together, but it still wouldn’t be an invention worthy of patent protection. Combining several previously-known features into one product isn’t innovative, even if the new product allows you to do things the old one didn’t.

Here are just a few of the “novel aspects” of Mr. Amado’s invention:

  • A browse view in the spreadsheet which shows the contents of a number of different records in the active database file…
  • Layout tools by which the user can write his or her own help screens that explain various screens of an application that user has developed…
  • A set of layout commands by which the user may program his or her own menus and the “look” of the screen…
  • Data validation tools are invoked from the layout menu in the layout environment. The user then selects a range by entering the upper left and lower right corners of the range or by pointing to the range corners with a cursor. Then the user presses “enter” and the range is accepted.

    These are all worthwhile things for a database to have, but the strike me as being akin to adding a spoiler and cup holders to a car. It’s hard to see what the “invention” is.

    It’s also hard to see how a patent like this promotes innovation. The addition of new features to software applications is a routine part of the development process. Most desktop applications these days have more features than any user could possibly use. What makes a piece of software particularly good is less the list of features and more the skill with which the features are integrated into a powerful, bug-free, and user-friendly whole.

    But legalese is too cumbersome a language to describe the thousands of clever implementation details that add up to a great piece of software. Luckily, programmers have come up with a specialized language (several of them, actually) for describing the implementation details of software. It’s called source code. And as luck would have it, we’ve even got an intellectual property regime called copyright for protecting source code. It’s hard to see how patents like this one add anything to the protections already available under copyright law.

    I’ll be on vacation next week, so there’ll be no software patent of the week next Friday.

    Irrelevant aide for the computer geeks in the audience: I thought this paragraph was funny:

    The invention can operate as the software equivalent of a hardware parallel processor for several Turing machines. Additionally, some tools of the invention can make it operate more efficiently than a the parallel Turing machines. Any computation or recognition problem for which there is a known informal algorithm can be handled by a Turing machine. Therefore, the invention can handle and solve all sorts of programming problems.

    Don’t most computing devices operate more efficiently than a Turing machine?

    • wow, another great patent

      First, it’s hard to feel sorry for Microsoft. But before some readers assume that I’m “anti-Microsoft”, I should say that I use Microsoft products on a daily basis, I like some of their products, and I even recommend them on occasion.

      At any rate. I examined this patent and I can’t find anything that seems novel. Certainly the chaining of systems or the inter-operability of systems isn’t novel. I gather that this IDIOT from Guatemala for some reason thinks he’s figured out something that no one else can grasp; that’s why his patent includes so much noise and general by-product of food eaten by a bull.

      These novelties are called features. They’re obvious to any developer worth his or her salt. This Guatemalan Pusbag and/or his attornies obviously blinded the judge with jargon. I think this happens a lot in patent filings and during patent litigation.

      My pretend patent description.

      When stored in hardware, such as a CDROM or hard disk drive, the resources are in a storage context. When the human operator activates the user agent, these resources are loaded into memory on the playback device.

      There, I just created a completely jargonized description of a file stored on a CDROM or hard disk and what might happen when the user loads the file from storage memory into RAM. Wow! Isn’t that a super-neato-technical description. This certainly “sounds” novel to someone who is not significantly computer literate, but then again, it might sound novel to the programmer in the cubicle next to mine. It depends on whether or not the neighboring programmer understands the jargon. And remember … I wrote my example in two minutes. If I spent a year or more, I’m sure I could decompose this into utter nonsense and be granted a patent.

      And perhaps if I were a Mr. Bull Fecal Matter from Guatemala, and/or any other holder of a software patent, I might decide that using jargon makes me sound smarter than I really am and certainly looks better on a patent application. Therefore, if I were a Mr. Puke Vomit from Guatemala, I would use as much jargon as possible. That way I could describe basic, boring, and non-unique ideas in a way that sounded unique.

      Has anyone ever seen the movie Brokedown Palace? There is a scene where the two female characters are asked to provide statements. Later, they are asked to sign these statements, and … SURPRISE … the statements have been transcribed in Thai. Of course, neither of the women speaks or reads Thai and they have no idea what they are signing. Trouble ensues. Etc, etc, etc.

      That’s what’s going on in the patent office. These patents contain so much jargon that they might as well be written in Thai. So Mr. Bull Fecal Matter Vomit Puke from Guatemala was obviously granted this patent because the reviewer simply didn’t understand the jargon.

      I’ve said it before. Software patents are going to seriously damage the software industry. While I might seem to treat Mr. Bull Fecal Matter Vomit Puke with unnecessary disdain, I would invite the audience to remember that their jobs are on the line. And not just the programmers in the audience. This patent noise, and we’re only seeing the opening volleys in what is sure to be an INSANE war, is going to wreck havoc on the industry.

      It’s basic economics. While vigorous head-to-head competition actually destroys some value in any given industry, consumers benefit and markets are opened. These new markets open additional markets and so forth. In addition to the chilling effect on innovation, software patents are going to damage competition. I think software patent holders like Mr. Bull Fecal Matter Vomit Puke are simply afraid to compete. Competition is scary, I’ll give you that, but a market with reduced competition…that’s even scarier. It’s really interesting to think about what the word “free market” means when framed in the patent debate. Software patents will destroy the free market, and give us instead a market regulated by judges and government officials who know a lot about the law and nothing about software.

    • wow, another great patent

      First, it’s hard to feel sorry for Microsoft. But before some readers assume that I’m “anti-Microsoft”, I should say that I use Microsoft products on a daily basis, I like some of their products, and I even recommend them on occasion.

      At any rate. I examined this patent and I can’t find anything that seems novel. Certainly the chaining of systems or the inter-operability of systems isn’t novel. I gather that this IDIOT from Guatemala for some reason thinks he’s figured out something that no one else can grasp; that’s why his patent includes so much noise and general by-product of food eaten by a bull.

      These novelties are called features. They’re obvious to any developer worth his or her salt. This Guatemalan Pusbag and/or his attornies obviously blinded the judge with jargon. I think this happens a lot in patent filings and during patent litigation.

      My pretend patent description.

      When stored in hardware, such as a CDROM or hard disk drive, the resources are in a storage context. When the human operator activates the user agent, these resources are loaded into memory on the playback device.

      There, I just created a completely jargonized description of a file stored on a CDROM or hard disk and what might happen when the user loads the file from storage memory into RAM. Wow! Isn’t that a super-neato-technical description. This certainly “sounds” novel to someone who is not significantly computer literate, but then again, it might sound novel to the programmer in the cubicle next to mine. It depends on whether or not the neighboring programmer understands the jargon. And remember … I wrote my example in two minutes. If I spent a year or more, I’m sure I could decompose this into utter nonsense and be granted a patent.

      And perhaps if I were a Mr. Bull Fecal Matter from Guatemala, and/or any other holder of a software patent, I might decide that using jargon makes me sound smarter than I really am and certainly looks better on a patent application. Therefore, if I were a Mr. Puke Vomit from Guatemala, I would use as much jargon as possible. That way I could describe basic, boring, and non-unique ideas in a way that sounded unique.

      Has anyone ever seen the movie Brokedown Palace? There is a scene where the two female characters are asked to provide statements. Later, they are asked to sign these statements, and … SURPRISE … the statements have been transcribed in Thai. Of course, neither of the women speaks or reads Thai and they have no idea what they are signing. Trouble ensues. Etc, etc, etc.

      That’s what’s going on in the patent office. These patents contain so much jargon that they might as well be written in Thai. So Mr. Bull Fecal Matter Vomit Puke from Guatemala was obviously granted this patent because the reviewer simply didn’t understand the jargon.

      I’ve said it before. Software patents are going to seriously damage the software industry. While I might seem to treat Mr. Bull Fecal Matter Vomit Puke with unnecessary disdain, I would invite the audience to remember that their jobs are on the line. And not just the programmers in the audience. This patent noise, and we’re only seeing the opening volleys in what is sure to be an INSANE war, is going to wreck havoc on the industry.

      It’s basic economics. While vigorous head-to-head competition actually destroys some value in any given industry, consumers benefit and markets are opened. These new markets open additional markets and so forth. In addition to the chilling effect on innovation, software patents are going to damage competition. I think software patent holders like Mr. Bull Fecal Matter Vomit Puke are simply afraid to compete. Competition is scary, I’ll give you that, but a market with reduced competition…that’s even scarier. It’s really interesting to think about what the word “free market” means when framed in the patent debate. Software patents will destroy the free market, and give us instead a market regulated by judges and government officials who know a lot about the law and nothing about software.

    • Steve R.

      I am still left with a fundamental problem of what was theoretically patented. If the “product” description was simply a schematic of linked “black boxes” backed up by excruciating abstract narrative, then I fail to see how any patent could have been granted as the product would constitute “vaporware” since it only exists as a concept.

      Now if Mr. Amada actually wrote real code for that successfully integrated a spreadsheet and database there may be an excuse for Mr. Amada to receive a royalty based copyright law provided that Microsoft “borrowed” his code. However, if Microsoft simply reversed engineered this concept, Mr. Amada would not be entitled to anything.

    • Steve R.

      PS: You are correct to say that assemblying existing features into a package would not be worthy of a patent.

    • http://www2.blogger.com/profile/14380731108416527657 Steve R.

      I am still left with a fundamental problem of what was theoretically patented. If the “product” description was simply a schematic of linked “black boxes” backed up by excruciating abstract narrative, then I fail to see how any patent could have been granted as the product would constitute “vaporware” since it only exists as a concept.

      Now if Mr. Amada actually wrote real code for that successfully integrated a spreadsheet and database there may be an excuse for Mr. Amada to receive a royalty based copyright law provided that Microsoft “borrowed” his code. However, if Microsoft simply reversed engineered this concept, Mr. Amada would not be entitled to anything.

    • http://www2.blogger.com/profile/14380731108416527657 Steve R.

      PS: You are correct to say that assemblying existing features into a package would not be worthy of a patent.

    • Anonymous

      In response to your comment, where you said “I am still left with a fundamental problem of what was theoretically patented.

      That is basically my entire point. The patent is so full of jargon that certainly a patent examiner is going to have trouble determining what it means. I think many/most patents rely on the use of obfuscation via jargon, in an attempt to purposefully create the mistaken impression that their “ideas are unique”.

      I also agree with your point about “borrowed code”. Code borrowing would qualify for a royalty. I wonder what’s going to happen if/when people start patenting more medical procedures. Does that mean that only certain hospital would be allowed to perform certain combinations of life-saving treatments? I wonder if this is aleady a problem.

      By the logic of most software patent holders, combination therapy for illnesses can be patented. Scary.com.

      More vomit, more vomit, more vomit.

    • Anonymous

      In response to your comment, where you said “I am still left with a fundamental problem of what was theoretically patented.

      That is basically my entire point. The patent is so full of jargon that certainly a patent examiner is going to have trouble determining what it means. I think many/most patents rely on the use of obfuscation via jargon, in an attempt to purposefully create the mistaken impression that their “ideas are unique”.

      I also agree with your point about “borrowed code”. Code borrowing would qualify for a royalty. I wonder what’s going to happen if/when people start patenting more medical procedures. Does that mean that only certain hospital would be allowed to perform certain combinations of life-saving treatments? I wonder if this is aleady a problem.

      By the logic of most software patent holders, combination therapy for illnesses can be patented. Scary.com.

      More vomit, more vomit, more vomit.

    • fishbane

      Don’t most computing devices operate more efficiently than a Turing machine?

      Depends on whether your referent is an actual replication of the device Turing imagined (physical tapes and all), or more generally a member of the class of devices which are functionally indentical to a Turing machine.

      In the first place, yes, in the second, no.

      Sorry to be pendantic, but you did say is was an aside for geeks…

    • fishbane

      Don’t most computing devices operate more efficiently than a Turing machine?

      Depends on whether your referent is an actual replication of the device Turing imagined (physical tapes and all), or more generally a member of the class of devices which are functionally indentical to a Turing machine.

      In the first place, yes, in the second, no.

      Sorry to be pendantic, but you did say is was an aside for geeks…

    • ted

      The comment in the patent about Turing Equivalence is actually quite damning.

      Practically every modern programming language/paradigm is “turing complete.” And thus, technically, there is no more powerful computer than a Turing Computer — it can compute anything that is computable. This isn’t a performance claim, it’s an expressability claim.

      The reason this is somewhat damning, is because of the so-called doctrine of equivalence. The doctrine of equivalence is usually used by a patent holder to broaden the scope of infringement, giving patent holders the right to claim not only inventions that work as described, but ones that work in an ‘equivalent’ manner.

      The problem here is that Amado is claiming he has invented a turing machine equivalent, and Turing machines have been around since when, about 1930? So not only is this a prima facie admittal that he knew he wasn’t doing something new, but also an insanely broad description of the “full power” of his invention.

      The fact that the examiner didn’t reject a patent with such obviously bad claims (any 2nd year CS student understands this garbage) is a damning statement of how expert USPTO examiners really are.

    • ted

      The comment in the patent about Turing Equivalence is actually quite damning.

      Practically every modern programming language/paradigm is “turing complete.” And thus, technically, there is no more powerful computer than a Turing Computer — it can compute anything that is computable. This isn’t a performance claim, it’s an expressability claim.

      The reason this is somewhat damning, is because of the so-called doctrine of equivalence. The doctrine of equivalence is usually used by a patent holder to broaden the scope of infringement, giving patent holders the right to claim not only inventions that work as described, but ones that work in an ‘equivalent’ manner.

      The problem here is that Amado is claiming he has invented a turing machine equivalent, and Turing machines have been around since when, about 1930? So not only is this a prima facie admittal that he knew he wasn’t doing something new, but also an insanely broad description of the “full power” of his invention.

      The fact that the examiner didn’t reject a patent with such obviously bad claims (any 2nd year CS student understands this garbage) is a damning statement of how expert USPTO examiners really are.

    • Bruce

      The Supreme Court just granted cert. on the very issue you discuss in this post.

    • Bruce

      Drat, bad link, this is where I was trying to send you: http://www.patentlyo.com/patent/2006/06/supreme_court_g.html

    • Bruce

      The Supreme Court just granted cert. on the very issue you discuss in this post.

    • Bruce

      Drat, bad link, this is where I was trying to send you: http://www.patentlyo.com/patent/2006/06/supreme_court_g.html

    • angry dude

      Idiots !

      If you can’t read and understand the patent in question just say so…

      Mr. Amado is not some poor peasant from Guatemala trying to blackmail MShit.
      he was a Stanford Ph.D. student when he came up with his very clever way of linking spreadsheet and database progams.

      You are just complete morons, leave Mr. Amado alone …

    • angry dude

      Idiots !

      If you can’t read and understand the patent in question just say so…

      Mr. Amado is not some poor peasant from Guatemala trying to blackmail MShit.
      he was a Stanford Ph.D. student when he came up with his very clever way of linking spreadsheet and database progams.

      You are just complete morons, leave Mr. Amado alone …

    • http://tjek.nu/l- gay monster cocks

      1edb79f8cc5c Hello! http://tjek.nu/l- gay monster cocks
      http://tiny2go.com/5dk?go playboy centerfolds
      http://tiny2go.com/5du?go teen pussy fucking
      http://tiny2go.com/5df?go sexy asses
      http://sexmovies.I89.us free gay sex movies
      http://tjek.nu/lo double dildo
      http://tjek.nu/m1 sexy horny moms
      http://tjek.nu/lq hairy vagina
      http://www.whak.com/off/?337 blow jobs
      http://hotchicks.I89.us naked hot chicks

    • http://tjek.nu/l- gay monster cocks

      1edb79f8cc5c Hello! http://tjek.nu/l- gay monster cocks
      http://tiny2go.com/5dk?go playboy centerfolds
      http://tiny2go.com/5du?go teen pussy fucking
      http://tiny2go.com/5df?go sexy asses
      http://sexmovies.I89.us free gay sex movies
      http://tjek.nu/lo double dildo
      http://tjek.nu/m1 sexy horny moms
      http://tjek.nu/lq hairy vagina
      http://www.whak.com/off/?337 blow jobs
      http://hotchicks.I89.us naked hot chicks

    • http://www.abc-acupuncture.com/baxqorav tramadol

      81e31de21f46 My homepage http://www.abc-acupuncture.com/baxqorav tramadol

    • http://www.abc-acupuncture.com/baxqorav tramadol

      81e31de21f46 My homepage http://www.abc-acupuncture.com/baxqorav tramadol

    • http://church.kgbsearch.org Sten63980

      I haven’t been up to anything these days. So it goes. I can’t be bothered with anything these days.

    • http://church.kgbsearch.org Sten63980

      I haven’t been up to anything these days. So it goes. I can’t be bothered with anything these days.

    • http://hydrochlorothiazide.sebabki.com/sitemap.htm Sten85225

      I just don’t have much to say these days, but so it goes. Today was a total loss. I guess it doesn’t bother me.

    • http://hydrochlorothiazide.sebabki.com/sitemap.htm Sten85225

      I just don’t have much to say these days, but so it goes. Today was a total loss. I guess it doesn’t bother me.

    • http://fall.kgbsearch.org/sitemap.htm Sten92020

      I feel like an empty room, but eh. Nothing seems worth doing. I haven’t gotten much done today.

    • http://fall.kgbsearch.org/sitemap.htm Sten92020

      I feel like an empty room, but eh. Nothing seems worth doing. I haven’t gotten much done today.

    • http://companion.betsdice.com/sitemap.htm Sten42105

      I haven’t gotten anything done recently. I’ve just been hanging out doing nothing. I haven’t been up to anything these days, but it’s not important. Today was a total loss.

    • http://companion.betsdice.com/sitemap.htm Sten42105

      I haven’t gotten anything done recently. I’ve just been hanging out doing nothing. I haven’t been up to anything these days, but it’s not important. Today was a total loss.

    • http://composting.betswork.com/sitemap.htm Sten40418

      I just don’t have anything to say , but shrug. So it goes. Not much on my mind recently. I can’t be bothered with anything recently.

    • http://composting.betswork.com/sitemap.htm Sten40418

      I just don’t have anything to say , but shrug. So it goes. Not much on my mind recently. I can’t be bothered with anything recently.

    • http://drugs.sebabki.com/drug-war.htm Sten38573

      retty much nothing seems worth thinking about. My life’s been completely dull , not that it matters. I’ve just been staying at home waiting for something to happen.

    • http://drugs.sebabki.com/drug-war.htm Sten38573

      retty much nothing seems worth thinking about. My life’s been completely dull , not that it matters. I’ve just been staying at home waiting for something to happen.

    Previous post:

    Next post: