Tabbed Windows: Patented!

by on April 24, 2007 · 34 comments

You’ll be shocked to hear that yet another patent trolling company has sued a major technology company over a vague software patent. Ars has the scoop. In this case, the plaintiff is “IP Innovation, LLC,” the defendant is Apple, and the patent in queston is this one, covering “User interface with multiple workspaces for sharing display system objects.”

I’ve gotten too busy to do a full “software patent of the week” writeup every week, but this certainly looks like it would be a juicy one. It’s got all the elements that make software patents so pernicious: it’s extremely vague, making it impossible for other software companies to be sure whether their products infringe on it. It’s extremely broad, apparently covering a variety of general characteristics of windowing systems. As the Ars article indicates, there’s likely to be prior art. Finally, it’s extremely wordy, with 62 loquacious claims and dozens of pages describing this “technology” in excruciating detail.

I’ve ranted about all of those problems before, so let me just make a brief policy observation: would anyone seriously claim that granting legal monopolies on the general characteristics of windowing systems is either necessary or helpful to the progress of the software industry? Microsoft and Apple spent the late 1980s and early 1990s battling it out for dominance of desktop computing, introducing numerous important innovations in GUI design. It’s hard to imagine Apple saying “Gosh, I just thought of a great new feature to add to Mac OS System 7, but it will cost a million dollars to develop it and Microsoft will just copy it in Windows 95. So why bother?” Apple and Microsoft copied each other promiscuously (well, OK, Microsoft mostly copied Apple) and consumers benefitted from it. Apple certainly would have liked to prevent Microsoft from copying their innovations (and in fact, they tried very hard to do so) but they ultimately were not able to do so. Does anyone think that consumers would be better off today if the courts had prohibited Microsoft from imitating Apple’s UI innovations?

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

    Just before this article appeared, I referenced in your post “Balance of Patent Terror” a good article from Forbes on the insanity of today’s patent lawsuits. To reiterate, abstract concepts should not be patentable.

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

    Just before this article appeared, I referenced in your post “Balance of Patent Terror” a good article from Forbes on the insanity of today’s patent lawsuits. To reiterate, abstract concepts should not be patentable.

  • DontEvenBother

    As a software developer I’ve come up with several terfiic idea’s, most of them feasible and easy to implement. Main reason I haven’t followed through on any of them, if I’m sucessful I’m almost certain to get sued on any one of them.

  • V

    This is why we don’t need patents. As long as they didn’t steal the code per se, it’s fair game.

  • DontEvenBother

    As a software developer I’ve come up with several terfiic idea’s, most of them feasible and easy to implement. Main reason I haven’t followed through on any of them, if I’m sucessful I’m almost certain to get sued on any one of them.

  • http://linuxworld.com/community/ Don Marti

    Tim, the poetry industry is a fraction of the size of the software industry, due to USPTO’s refusal to undertake a bold initiative on rhyming word patents. And many new poems don’t even rhyme as well as older ones. Where are the intellectualproprietarian white papers when you need them?

  • V

    This is why we don’t need patents. As long as they didn’t steal the code per se, it’s fair game.

  • http://linuxworld.com/community/ Don Marti

    Tim, the poetry industry is a fraction of the size of the software industry, due to USPTO’s refusal to undertake a bold initiative on rhyming word patents. And many new poems don’t even rhyme as well as older ones. Where are the intellectualproprietarian white papers when you need them?

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com/ enigma_foundry

    Yes, I had also read MS’s patent on multiple workspaces and previewing of them, despite that my favorite window manager, blackbox, had the feature a couple of years before MS’s patent.

    Is there any punishment for filing fraudulant patent claims, BTW?

    If so, has anyone recently been prosecuted?

    Saw RMS yesterday, and was happy to hear he was still on message about software patents.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com/ enigma_foundry

    Apple and Microsoft copied each other promiscuously (well, OK, Microsoft mostly copied Apple) and consumers benefitted from it.

    Oh, and Tim, you’d forgotten to mention that, for numerous items, Apple had copied things they’d seen during a visit to Xerox’s PARC. For some reason, the normal procedure of having visitors sign NDA’s was waived for Steve Jobs and Wozniak…

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    Yes, I had also read MS’s patent on multiple workspaces and previewing of them, despite that my favorite window manager, blackbox, had the feature a couple of years before MS’s patent.

    Is there any punishment for filing fraudulant patent claims, BTW?

    If so, has anyone recently been prosecuted?

    Saw RMS yesterday, and was happy to hear he was still on message about software patents.

  • http://www.davidmcelroy.org/ David McElroy

    Xerox was compensated for letting Apple has a look at its technology, if I’m not badly mistaken. I can’t find a link at the moment, but it seems that Xerox was given some benefit related to buying Apple stock at a low price (or maybe just stock options). The notion that Apple engineers were just randomly shown Xerox technology that they were allowed to “steal” does not appear to be close to the truth. (And if you think about the story, it wouldn’t make sense that Apple engineers were allowed close-up access to Xerox technology for any other reason.)

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    Apple and Microsoft copied each other promiscuously (well, OK, Microsoft mostly copied Apple) and consumers benefitted from it.

    Oh, and Tim, you’d forgotten to mention that, for numerous items, Apple had copied things they’d seen during a visit to Xerox’s PARC. For some reason, the normal procedure of having visitors sign NDA’s was waived for Steve Jobs and Wozniak…

  • http://www.davidmcelroy.org/ David McElroy

    Xerox was compensated for letting Apple has a look at its technology, if I’m not badly mistaken. I can’t find a link at the moment, but it seems that Xerox was given some benefit related to buying Apple stock at a low price (or maybe just stock options). The notion that Apple engineers were just randomly shown Xerox technology that they were allowed to “steal” does not appear to be close to the truth. (And if you think about the story, it wouldn’t make sense that Apple engineers were allowed close-up access to Xerox technology for any other reason.)

  • http://weblog.ipcentral.info/ Noel

    Tim, please tell us your understanding of how patents are associated with innovation. Hopefully, your explanation will account for the half dozen or so theories developed by economists in the past few decades, or even hundred years. Also, detail how you interpret “to promote the progress,” and how that has been associated with patents and innovation by policy makers and courts. It seems that you have a certain conception of your own, but I don’t want to put words into your mouth.

    As for who would argue that the above patent should have been granted? Well, I’m guessing that a certain scholar that supports relatively obvious patents for inventions without unclear commercial value, may support it. However, he would probably argue that the patent’s scope should be interpreted narrowly, and its scope further limited by technical disclosure in the claim. Of course, I could tell you who it is, or simply do a write-up on IPcentral about him:)

  • http://weblog.ipcentral.info/ Noel

    Tim, please tell us your understanding of how patents are associated with innovation. Hopefully, your explanation will account for the half dozen or so theories developed by economists in the past few decades, or even hundred years. Also, detail how you interpret “to promote the progress,” and how that has been associated with patents and innovation by policy makers and courts. It seems that you have a certain conception of your own, but I don’t want to put words into your mouth.

    As for who would argue that the above patent should have been granted? Well, I’m guessing that a certain scholar that supports relatively obvious patents for inventions without unclear commercial value, may support it. However, he would probably argue that the patent’s scope should be interpreted narrowly, and its scope further limited by technical disclosure in the claim. Of course, I could tell you who it is, or simply do a write-up on IPcentral about him:)

  • http://tieguy.org/blog/ Luis Villa

    On the plus side, this should invalidate the later Adobe patent on basically the same thing ;)

  • http://tieguy.org/blog/ Luis Villa

    On the plus side, this should invalidate the later Adobe patent on basically the same thing ;)

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com/ enigma_foundry

    Tim, please tell us your understanding of how patents are associated with innovation. Hopefully, your explanation will account for the half dozen or so theories developed by economists in the past few decades, or even hundred years.

    Noel, please do also clue us in to any responses you may have to the many examples made in the excellent book Steal This Idea: The Corporate Confiscation of Creativity by Michael Perelman in which it is exhaustively documented that the present IP regime has retarded innovation, and in particular, during times of mandatory licensing, there tended to be much more innovative product development (for example, the development of consumer radio in the aftermath of compulsory licensing of radio technology.

    Since neither you nor anyone at IP Central has ever undertaken a critique of this important work, I assume you are unable to do so…

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    Tim, please tell us your understanding of how patents are associated with innovation. Hopefully, your explanation will account for the half dozen or so theories developed by economists in the past few decades, or even hundred years.

    Noel, please do also clue us in to any responses you may have to the many examples made in the excellent book Steal This Idea: The Corporate Confiscation of Creativity by Michael Perelman in which it is exhaustively documented that the present IP regime has retarded innovation, and in particular, during times of mandatory licensing, there tended to be much more innovative product development (for example, the development of consumer radio in the aftermath of compulsory licensing of radio technology.

    Since neither you nor anyone at IP Central has ever undertaken a critique of this important work, I assume you are unable to do so…

  • http://www.pff.org Noel

    I’ve never heard of the book before Enigma. If you’ve read it, perhaps you can send me a summary.

    Tim has written about a dozen posts on patents in the past week, and in almost every one he makes some claim to the tune of: “but I don’t see how” or “can somebody tell me why” or “I’m confused.” Well it might be that he’s not a patent agent, he takes a skewed view of innovation and does not really consider some basic elements such as those I outline above. Granted, I will probably disagree with his responses, but I posed the questions so he would at least address some recurring themes.

  • Anonymous

    Noel, as far as I can tell you’ve outlined nothing in this thread.

    I think Tim makes his point nice and clear. Patents are regulation. They regulate what companies and individuals may produce, and therefore they regulate what products and srevices are available for all of us to use. You appear to suggest that only a class of specialists (by “patent agent” I presume you mean “IP lawyer” BTW) is qualified to understand and critique these increasingly arbitrary and invasive regulations.

    You can live your life being told what to do by a bunch of self-serving IP lawyers if you want. I think I’ll take a pass, thanks.

  • Doug Lay

    that was me, above.

    Happy World Intellectual Property Day.

  • http://www.pff.org Noel

    I’ve never heard of the book before Enigma. If you’ve read it, perhaps you can send me a summary.

    Tim has written about a dozen posts on patents in the past week, and in almost every one he makes some claim to the tune of: “but I don’t see how” or “can somebody tell me why” or “I’m confused.” Well it might be that he’s not a patent agent, he takes a skewed view of innovation and does not really consider some basic elements such as those I outline above. Granted, I will probably disagree with his responses, but I posed the questions so he would at least address some recurring themes.

  • http://www.pff.org Noel

    No Doug, I meant patent agent. TLF has its own post-grant opposition system, with Tim as the patent-agent and chief:)

    Happy world IP day to you too!

  • Anonymous

    Noel, as far as I can tell you’ve outlined nothing in this thread.

    I think Tim makes his point nice and clear. Patents are regulation. They regulate what companies and individuals may produce, and therefore they regulate what products and srevices are available for all of us to use. You appear to suggest that only a class of specialists (by “patent agent” I presume you mean “IP lawyer” BTW) is qualified to understand and critique these increasingly arbitrary and invasive regulations.

    You can live your life being told what to do by a bunch of self-serving IP lawyers if you want. I think I’ll take a pass, thanks.

  • http://www.pff.org Noel

    Oh, and Doug, why don’t you answer my questions above since Tim won’t.

  • Doug Lay

    that was me, above.

    Happy World Intellectual Property Day.

  • Doug Lay

    Noel, I hate to break it to you but you’re not a professor and Tim isn’t your student. I think he has better things to do than answer your questions, especially since you’ve got a long history of responding to answers with more time-wasting, circular questions (as well as putting words in the mouths of those you debate with).

    I’m not going to answer your questions either, but I’ll ofer an analogy that may be helpful. If a citizen is angry that the government has raised their taxes, is it their responsibility to research 200 years of the history of taxation, and to write an essay describing the pros and cons of justificiations for taxation? No. They just vote out the SOBs that raised their taxes. End of story.

  • http://www.pff.org Noel

    Yes, thanks. Always nice talking to you Doug:)

    Tim should put a disclaimer on this post: “only rant in approval, but don’t ask critical questions.”

  • http://www.pff.org Noel

    No Doug, I meant patent agent. TLF has its own post-grant opposition system, with Tim as the patent-agent and chief:)

    Happy world IP day to you too!

  • http://www.pff.org Noel

    Oh, and Doug, why don’t you answer my questions above since Tim won’t.

  • Doug Lay

    Noel, I hate to break it to you but you’re not a professor and Tim isn’t your student. I think he has better things to do than answer your questions, especially since you’ve got a long history of responding to answers with more time-wasting, circular questions (as well as putting words in the mouths of those you debate with).

    I’m not going to answer your questions either, but I’ll ofer an analogy that may be helpful. If a citizen is angry that the government has raised their taxes, is it their responsibility to research 200 years of the history of taxation, and to write an essay describing the pros and cons of justificiations for taxation? No. They just vote out the SOBs that raised their taxes. End of story.

  • http://www.pff.org Noel

    Yes, thanks. Always nice talking to you Doug:)

    Tim should put a disclaimer on this post: “only rant in approval, but don’t ask critical questions.”

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