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Microsoft Patents Grouped Taskbar Buttons 714

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the thought-of-that-before dept.
I_am_Rambi writes "According to the US Patent office, patent #6,756,999 belongs to Microsoft. The patent this time is grouping taskbar icons processes. This is included in Windows XP, and some prior art in X. Looks like it was accepted two days ago."
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Microsoft Patents Grouped Taskbar Buttons

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  • by Anononnyous Covvard (592743) on Thursday July 01, 2004 @09:26PM (#9588256)
    Was the prior art in X prior to Windows XP's release and/or wide beta?
    • Funding (Score:5, Interesting)

      by nurb432 (527695) on Thursday July 01, 2004 @09:56PM (#9588471) Homepage Journal
      When a case such as this is won, and the patent is revoked, is there any funding that is returned to the side that won to recover litigation costs?

      • Re:Funding (Score:5, Interesting)

        by SilentChris (452960) on Thursday July 01, 2004 @10:37PM (#9588708) Homepage
        Who's going to file a case? The Xfree86 committee? Sun? BeOS (which I also read had prior art)? There is no company even interested in fighting this.
        • Re:Funding (Score:5, Informative)

          by CaseyB (1105) on Thursday July 01, 2004 @11:12PM (#9588894)
          You don't "file a case" to defeat a patent. You release a product that uses the patented work, and wait for them to come to you.
        • Re:Funding (Score:3, Insightful)

          by NanoGator (522640)
          "Who's going to file a case? The Xfree86 committee? Sun? BeOS (which I also read had prior art)? There is no company even interested in fighting this."

          Sounds like the beef should be with the patent office instead of Microsoft. Afterall, they didn't do anything that Apple or IBM wouldn't do.
      • Re:Flogging (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        When a case such as this is won, and the patent is revoked, is there any funding that is returned to the side that won to recover litigation costs?

        I'd be satisfied with public flogging of the USPTO employee(s) who issued this absurdity. Twenty lashes per lame, revoked patent ought to do.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      This actually has been in KDE before XP as far as I can remember. Nothing new here
    • by EvanED (569694) <evaned@ g m a i l.com> on Thursday July 01, 2004 @10:08PM (#9588543)
      XP's release date has nothing to do with it. You need to find a system than had it in use no later than April 1999, one year before the filing date, to be sure of prior art.

      The regulations are that prior art disqualifies a patent if and only if it was in use or on sale or had a description published before the latter of the invention date (which might be hard to prove) or one year before the filing for the patent. (35 USC 102 [cornell.edu].) Because we are not sure of the invention date, we need to go off of the one year previous rule.
    • by msobkow (48369)

      Prior art only matters if you can afford to buy congress.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 01, 2004 @09:27PM (#9588258)

    Cue the "We need to abolish the patent system" posts and just get it over with...
  • Wow.. (Score:3, Funny)

    by faldore (221970) on Thursday July 01, 2004 @09:27PM (#9588259)
    I think M$ should pantent mouse clicking. After all, they invented it.
    • Re:Wow.. (Score:4, Informative)

      by cavebear42 (734821) on Thursday July 01, 2004 @09:41PM (#9588365)
      they did pantent it [slashdot.org]
    • Re:Wow.. (Score:4, Funny)

      by System.out.println() (755533) on Thursday July 01, 2004 @09:41PM (#9588368) Journal
      We should award them a pantent for the spell checker as well.
    • Re:Wow.. (Score:5, Funny)

      by suso (153703) on Thursday July 01, 2004 @09:42PM (#9588373) Homepage Journal
      They should also patent rebooting.
  • Uh okay (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NanoGator (522640) on Thursday July 01, 2004 @09:27PM (#9588266) Homepage Journal
    Microsoft (as well as any other corp out there) patents everything they can. The real headline should be "USPO grants Patent to MS for $DUH_GUIFEATURE". That's who your pitchforks should be pointed at unless you'd like to point them at IBM, Apple, Palm, Sun....
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 01, 2004 @09:28PM (#9588269)
    THERE IS prior art.

    BeOS' Tracker had that in 1999 before anyone else. All windows/instances from the same application are showing grouped in the BeOS Deskbar, under the same sub-menu.
    • by SoTuA (683507) on Thursday July 01, 2004 @09:36PM (#9588330)
      It seems like the "new" twist in WinXP is that the grouping happens only when there is no more room left in the taskbar, and when there's room again it ungroups.

      Wich is a behaviour that makes it really annoying, because you have to switch your mind-gears between "searching among open windows for the useful window" and "search for the app icon and then navigate to the useful window". I'd rather have "grouping always" or "grouping never", the latter being what you get when you disable the grouping 'feature'.

      • by Wordplay (54438)
        Install the Tweak UI Powertoy. You get a "Group when N or more windows" option. Setting it to 2 gives you always. As you mention, the option to disable it entirely is in the standard taskbar preferences dialog.
      • My bed room,
        Every since I was a young child (25 odd years ago), i've been scattering things on the floor, and then when there's too many things I tity them up into groups, only to be scattered again when I have more space, ore some of them have been put away properly.

        When I worked in a resturant we used to group meal tickets when there wasn't enough space on the 'task bar'
      • by OblongPlatypus (233746) on Thursday July 01, 2004 @10:05PM (#9588526)
        I fail to see how this new "twist" is non-obvious, though. It seems an extremely obvious combination of the Windows taskbar and the Be deskbar.

        By the way, here [google.com] is a USENET post from 1998 discussing the deskbar.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Watch out! Next time they are going to patent tabbed web-browsers.
  • Not exactly the same (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 01, 2004 @09:28PM (#9588276)
    It seems the big difference is in the 'time threshold' part:

    "The system organizes like application files and clusters the corresponding taskbar buttons and, upon reaching a threshold limit, creates and displays a group button that contains the like application files and removes the like taskbar buttons from the taskbar. Further, upon reaching a second threshold limit, the system ungroups the application taskbar buttons, displays them on the taskbar and removes the group button from the taskbar."

    Big difference? Probably not, but enough for it to be 'new'...
    • Nowhere does it mention time based threshold. The threshold in question could be "more than ten windows open". The second could be "less than ten windows open". Nothing to do with time at all.

  • by eamacnaghten (695001) on Thursday July 01, 2004 @09:30PM (#9588287) Homepage Journal
    GNOME did this before Microsoft did I seem to recall. The date of the Patent Application is 2001 - I do not know if GNOME did this then. I am surprised if the concept was not published prior to Microsoft's application though.
  • Patent this! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by HarveyBirdman (627248) on Thursday July 01, 2004 @09:30PM (#9588291) Journal
    Yeah, well, somewhere are patents concerning Sarin gas, the Tacoma Narrows bridge and the Edsel.
  • This is silly... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by WIAKywbfatw (307557) on Thursday July 01, 2004 @09:30PM (#9588292) Journal
    You can patent putting similar tools together? Like cut, copy and paste in any application? Or backwards and forwards in a web browser? How about +, -, * and / in a calculator?

    What next? Ford applying for and getting a patent on the side-by-side arrangement of foot pedals in a car? Or the standard gear-stick arrangement? How about patenting putting the speedometer and revmeter next to each other? Or the fuel, water and temperature gauges within a certain distance of one another.

    The USPTO is crazy. I swear they'd let you patent the colour of the sky if you paid your processing fee.
    • Re:This is silly... (Score:3, Informative)

      by Epistax (544591)
      I don't remember exactly but a while earlier there was a patent described on slashdot which was simply a mix of a couple basic techniques. My analogy (although incorrect and over-simplifed) was the notion of patenting the mix of peanut butter, jelly, and bread, even if you have no obvious ownership over the rest.

      Actually I am remembering now. It was the concept of having a window fade when not in use, and fade more as it is not being used, patented by Apple. This combines time and variable transparenc
  • Prior Art (Score:5, Informative)

    by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Thursday July 01, 2004 @09:31PM (#9588298)
    While there is probably prior art for this, you have to realize that the issue date in not what determines if the prior art is relevant. It is the invention date or original filing date, which in this case was back in April 2000.

    • Re:Prior Art (Score:3, Insightful)

      by RickHunter (103108)

      Yes, and BeOS had it in 1999.

      Last time I checked, 1999 was before 2000.

      Of course, this is just more verification that Microsoft's never actually invented anything. Just taken ideas from other companies and then crushed them to try and make the world forget who really innovates.

  • by blamblamblam (610567) on Thursday July 01, 2004 @09:32PM (#9588302) Homepage
    So if they're going to patent this crap, why don't they do something truly novel and innovative and let me rearrange the processes on my taskbar so that they're not arranged in a completely useless order (ie the order in which I opened them, earliest to latest). And maybe let me arbitrarily reduce some processes to systray icons instead of huge frickin rectangles.

    I just know someone's going to tell me you can do it in Window Manager XYZ, and if I'd just googled it, I'd know that. But if not, then I could actually celebrate that I had an original idea for once and go eat a steak dinner. Or maybe I should just go eat steak anyways.

  • by Weaselmancer (533834) on Thursday July 01, 2004 @09:32PM (#9588304)

    Look at how freaking many people they claim it took to come up with the idea of "grouping similar shit together".

    Stoakley; Richard W. (Seattle, WA); Kurtz; James B. (Bellevue, WA); Springfield; James F. (Woodinville, WA); Green; Todd J. (Seattle, WA); Andrew; Suzan M. (Seattle, WA); Mann; Justin (Lake Forest, WA)

    Kinda lets you know where your $300 bucks [compusa.com] that they charge for Windows XP goes.

    BTW, my grandpa had the same idea when he'd keep his roofing nails in one coffee can, and his finish nails in another coffee can. I wonder if I can get a patent for that.

    Method and system for clustering and grouping construction nails...

  • I suppose it's time? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by peacefinder (469349) * <alan@dewitt.gmail@com> on Thursday July 01, 2004 @09:33PM (#9588309) Journal
    I suppose it's time for some civil disobedience.

    When it came to civil rights, people had to be willing to go to jail, willing to pack the prisons, to bring decency to the law.

    Now, perhaps, it's time to be willing to go to civil court to bring sanity to the law. Maybe it's time to simply ignore patents on which there is known prior art. It's certainly not going to be an easy decision to make, to risk lengthy and expensive court proceedings. But maybe letting the owners of ridiculous patents stuff the courts with enforcement cases is an appropriate way to prod Congress to action.
  • by SuperKendall (25149) * on Thursday July 01, 2004 @09:38PM (#9588346)
    The is the FIRST feature I turn off on any XP computer I encounter. I cannot think of a single more annoying feature than hiding all of the windows I really have under one thing, where I have to spend an inordinate amount of time reaching the icon, waiting for the list to appear, then hunting through the list.
  • by TastyWords (640141) on Thursday July 01, 2004 @09:40PM (#9588360)
    ...one of my .sigs used to say, "One day, we'll find Microsoft has patented the alphabet and we'll find ourselves paying royalties every time we sit down at the keyboard."

    Now I'm waiting to see if it's a prophesy.
  • This isn't obvious (Score:3, Insightful)

    by thedillybar (677116) on Thursday July 01, 2004 @09:40PM (#9588362)
    This is not obvious stuff. If there is prior art, then there is reason to bitch. I haven't seen proof of such, and I don't think everyone should be jumping on the "I hate Microsoft" bandwagon until they see prior art.

    Sure it may seem obvious now...but the first time you saw it, you probably said "oh, that's weird". Even if you had thought of it years before, not everyone did. And they still had a right to patent it since you didn't, and you didn't implement it.

    • by mcrbids (148650) on Thursday July 01, 2004 @10:09PM (#9588547) Journal
      Even if you had thought of it years before, not everyone did. And they still had a right to patent it since you didn't, and you didn't implement it.

      Perhaps you should take a look at what is supposed to be patentable before you warm up your fingers. [nolo.com]

      Two aspects of patent - it must be NOVEL, and it must be NON-OBVIOUS.

      You figure this as both "NOVEL" and "NON-OBVIOUS"?

      Neither do I, and that's why the complaining.
    • BeOS tracker (Score:3, Insightful)

      by csirac (574795)
      If this poster [slashdot.org] is correct, BeOS had this feature in 1999.
    • by Flower (31351)
      Why isn't it obvious? One of the flaws with a taskbar is that if you have too many applications running your taskbar becomes nothing more than a non-descript button bar. There's only so many ways you can resolve this problem. Tooltips, autosizing the taskbar so the buttons are descriptive again and *gasp* grouping the buttons to free up real estate.

      I haven't seen a grouping yet that was particuliarly innovative. How about grouping by interrealtion? I group an Excel spreasheet together a Word document beca

    • by Wolfbone (668810)
      Not obvious? You cannot be serious; not only is it obvious but I've seen it at least once before (KDE???). Yet the worst thing about it is not it's obviousness or whether there's any prior art but that it's the kind of thing I can imagine a highly configurable desktop or window manager might allow a user to figure out how to do by him/herself.

      It's the kind of thing that I can imagine the developers of said configurable desktop might not actually have explicitly programmed into it in the first place. I can
    • by Macadamizer (194404) on Friday July 02, 2004 @03:00AM (#9589927)
      The problem everyone is hav ing here is that "obvious" doesn't mean "obivous". Sure, maybe it seems obvious to a user, but obvious in the context of patentability has a very specific definition:

      From the Manual of Patent Examining Procedure, section 706.02(j):

      "To establish a prima facie case of obviousness, three basic criteria must be met. First, there must be some suggestion or motivation, either in the references themselves or in the knowledge generally available to one of ordinary skill in the art, to modify the reference or to combine reference teachings. Second, there must be a reasonable expectation of success. Finally, the prior art reference (or references when combined) must teach or suggest all the claim limitations. The teaching or suggestion to make the claimed combination and the reasonable expectation of success must both be found in the prior art and not based on applicant's disclosure. In re Vaeck, 947 F.2d 488, 20 USPQ2d 1438 (Fed. Cir. 1991). See MPEP 2143 - 2143.03 for decisions pertinent to each of these criteria."

      The basic notion is that there must be some prior art, or combination of prior art, that "teaches" EACH AND EVERY claim element in the later patent -- PLUS there has to be a "motivation" to combine them. Just because there is prior art, or because something seems "obvious" to a user, doesn't mean that it meets the LEGAL definition of "obvious" relevant to the USPTO.

      Just thought I would mention that...
  • About patents (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 01, 2004 @09:58PM (#9588479)
    It always helps to actually read the claims:
    Claim 1 simply says that if for example you have a button for a word file x.doc (handled by winword.exe) and the system receives a request to create a button for y.doc it will figure out that x.doc and y.doc are both handled by winword.exe and place the button for y.doc adjacent to the x.doc button. That's all there is to it!

    Couple corrections to other postings
    - you do not claim prior art (it's not yours, is it) you disclose your knolwedge of prior art; that helps the examiner figure out the diffs
    - the mentioned threshold talks about available space; not how much time has passed

    Lastly, the innovation seems to be in the method for deciding how to arrange the buttons (claim 1)
    all other claims are based on that method. Claims 2 & 3 (grouping) are novel when implemented using the method of claim 1.

    By definition if the patent has been granted, than there is no prior art that is the same as the invention. To the extent that another system achieves a similar objective, it must be using a diffenrent method.

  • by Scaz7 (179078) on Thursday July 01, 2004 @10:19PM (#9588617) Homepage
    I think all this patenting is actually a bad move on m$'s behalf..

    Think about it, if they keep patenting little stupid things like this as an attempt to cripple and slow down alternate desktops such as X from advancing in the market place then this in the long run is probably a bad move,

    As it's already been proved many times that if you make something not possible for someone they will work out a compromise and at least 70% of the time come up with something better and more efficient.

    Obviously the desktop war is far from over but the industry needs innovation (Even if it has to be forced into it)
  • by Blackbird_Highway (756085) on Thursday July 01, 2004 @10:22PM (#9588633)
    Apparently this patent was wordsmithed by a thirteen year old girl: "displays a group button that contains the like application files and removes the like taskbar buttons from the taskbar"
  • preemptive strikes ? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jdkane (588293) on Thursday July 01, 2004 @10:38PM (#9588715)
    Is there a way to take preemptive action against patents for which prior art exits [slashdot.org]? Or do we have to wait for one of these seemingly foolish patents to go to court someday?

    If it hasn't been done already, somebody in the OSS community (Red Hat?, IBM?) should set up a fund that is devoted to obtaining patents and putting them under a free license or something. Maybe sales of a popular software product (or portion of sales of services from OSS software) could be funnelled into the fund.

  • by moojin (124799) on Thursday July 01, 2004 @10:49PM (#9588777)
    a patent for tabbed browsing in internet explorer. hey, wait a minute...
  • by character_assassin (773327) on Thursday July 01, 2004 @11:04PM (#9588855)
    You have to wonder exactly what Microsoft's IP department was thinking when they decided to file this patent. Are they really going to go after open source projects with "taskbar grouping?" The negative PR cost alone would seriously outweigh any damages they'd get, not to mention the absurdity of trying to sue an OSS project. More likely, they're filing it so that no one else can file it and then sue Microsoft (e.g. Sun). Which is why patent laws should be changed to allow anything patentable to be "officially" placed in the public domain.
  • by rexguo (555504) on Friday July 02, 2004 @12:08AM (#9589203) Homepage
    How about patenting the BSOD? I'm sure there's no prior art involved...
  • PJ is right (Score:3, Interesting)

    by fiori (45848) on Friday July 02, 2004 @12:09AM (#9589212) Homepage
    PJ (from Groklaw) is right in predicting that Microsoft is gathering ammunition (re patents) to take on the Linux distributions. At the moment it seems to be the only manner in which they will be able to hold onto the desktop market in the long term.
  • by Tjp($)pjT (266360) on Friday July 02, 2004 @12:23AM (#9589278)
    OpenLook did this with one of the default installed window managers on Sun 386i installs. That's in the 1980s. That does not eliminate the novel and non-obvious actions based on timings. Many patents are aggregations of non-patentable concepts or separately patented items. Look at any patent for some automotive device and you'll see lots of follow-on patents. It not like the basic idea of an automatic transmission would be granted a new patent (well maybe given the current USPTO :) but certainly one could use a novel fliud and valving setup (say an automatic transmission for extreme environments that uses molten tin for a combination lubricant and working fluid) and that would be patentable. In fact the above probably was patentable by anyone before just now, and I have a year to file in the US for it... Although from what I hear a combination of the BeOS tracker and tweak UI could achieve the results in 1999 prior to the MS filing date. So maybe there is a case if one were to care enough to wage the battle. Personally I like the Mac OS X dock behavior of listing the windows in a pop-up along with some common functions. It keeps me from bouncing around the display so much once you get ysed to it.
  • by Dwonis (52652) * on Friday July 02, 2004 @12:51AM (#9589433)
    Someone please explain to me how having hundreds of patents on ridiculously simple things like these is benefiting consumers? That is the point of the patent system, isn't it?
  • by viking_kiwi (45300) on Friday July 02, 2004 @01:39AM (#9589637) Homepage
    Emacs has exactly this sort of feature in its buffer selection menu. If you have a large number of buffers open, it will group them by mode in a menu for buffer selection (so for example, all c-code buffers are grouped for one submenu, all text buffers in a separate submenu, all python buffers, all TeX buffers etc)

    On the other hand if only a few buffers are open, then you are presented with a single list.

    You can even customize the behaviour to determine the point at which this splitting will take place.

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