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Fallout From Japanese Patent On Help Icon 372

Posted by timothy
from the interesting-times dept.
MeridianOnTheLake writes "The Tokyo District Court has ordered the destruction of Ichitaro, a software product that is the only serious competitor in Japan to Microsoft Word, and has been on sale since 1985. The ruling is based on the claim of a competitor, Matsushita, that the use of a help icon to invoke a help function infinges on one of their patents. "We are a global enterprise and we are just following international practice to enforce our IP rights," Kitadeya (Matsushita) said." Here's more on the story, as covered by Bloomberg and The Japan Times.
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Fallout From Japanese Patent On Help Icon

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  • Obvious Question (Score:3, Informative)

    by fembots (753724) on Monday February 07, 2005 @03:40AM (#11594672) Homepage
    How about Microsoft? Is it too big to sue?

    A surprising thing is Justsystem shares fell 3 yen, or 0.5 percent, to 600 yesterday - As if nothing happened?
  • by Mr2001 (90979) on Monday February 07, 2005 @03:42AM (#11594678) Homepage Journal
    Matsushita declined to say whether it thinks any other software vendors may be infringing its patent.

    Gee, do you think there might be any other software out there that uses a help icon? *cough* *coughwindowsmacoswordexcelaccesspowerpointwordper fect--* *sputter* *choke*
    • It's a shame (Score:5, Insightful)

      by RoLi (141856) on Monday February 07, 2005 @06:19AM (#11595099)
      3 news stories and none of them explains what the patent really is about.

      Does anybody know?

      • Re:It's a shame (Score:5, Informative)

        by patio11 (857072) on Monday February 07, 2005 @12:20PM (#11597185)
        http://japan.cnet.com/news/biz/story/0,2000050156, 20080442,00.htm [cnet.com]

        I'll translate about as much as I can without getting into copyright trouble. The patent includes clicking on one icon displayed somewhere on your console, which attaches a special graphic to your mouse cursor. You then click on another icon or function on your console, and it brings up context-sensitive help. This is specifically distinguished from using context-sensitive help by pressing one special key or icon which is in a constant place, and also from each function embedding an explanation of what it does through other means which do not change the state of the mouse cursor.

        The meat of the story is paragraphy #3, although the three screenshots on the front page are understandable even if you don't read Japanese. Due to quirkiness with derivative works law in Japan, tranlating their captions exactly could potentially lead to a lot of trouble. Suffice it to say that the first screenshot shows the offending icon, the second shows the mouse cursor changing as a result of clicking the icon, and the third shows the result of a second click on a generic interface function (an explanation pops up).

        • Re:It's a shame (Score:4, Informative)

          by Ark42 (522144) <{ten.erawtfossuehprom} {ta} {todhsals}> on Monday February 07, 2005 @01:22PM (#11597887) Homepage
          Um, Windows 95, and maybe earlier, have this feature, as part of the OS.

          http://ark42.com/freeimage/ShiftF1help.gif [ark42.com]
  • by Kymermosst (33885) on Monday February 07, 2005 @03:44AM (#11594681) Journal
    If only someone would sue Microsoft for Clippy, we could finally be rid of the biggest annoyance in Microsoft Office.

    • by jd (1658) <imipak&yahoo,com> on Monday February 07, 2005 @03:47AM (#11594703) Homepage Journal
      Clippy may be liable under EPA guidelines, as it certainly pollutes desktops.
    • by Maestro4k (707634) on Monday February 07, 2005 @04:57AM (#11594902) Journal
      If only someone would sue Microsoft for Clippy, we could finally be rid of the biggest annoyance in Microsoft Office.
      • Personally I think the biggest annoyance by far in Microsoft Office is it's inability to open older versions of it's own .doc format properly, and the fact that Microsoft seems to make sure the current version of the .doc format won't work in older versions nearly every release. Meanwhile you have Wordperfect's .wpd format that hasn't changed since version 6 and works just fine.
      • It's pretty sad when software can't even handle it's own proprietary format properly.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 07, 2005 @06:29AM (#11595120)
      I actually hold the patent for Clippy but I'm too ashamed to sue anybody.
    • "Clippy" is gone.
      There should never be a need for you to see it ever again.
      I haven't actually seen it in years.

      In fact, the only place I ever hear about it anymore is here on Slashdot, where the merest mention of it seems to garner endless chuckles and mod points.
      Can't we just let the damned, detestable, yet mercifully short-lived abomination fade into obscurity with his ill-conceived yet now mostly forgotten friends "MS Bob" and "MS SQL Server"?

      Dead horse, meet stick.

      Thanks for your kind consideration.
      • by afidel (530433) on Monday February 07, 2005 @09:52AM (#11595828)
        As someone who does a LOT of PC support in addition to my main role as a sysadmin and network designer let me tell you that Clippy (and his often more annoying brothers and sisters) are still alive and well even in Office 2003. YOU may not see them because you or your sysadmin uninstalled him or deactivated him but I can assure you that he's still out there and kicking. Oh yeah and in case you haven't noticed MS SQL Server has a bigger piece of the paid database market then ever. SQL Server 2000 is actually pretty good and from what I've seen of the Beta SQL2005 is going to be even better. It might not be Oracle or DB2 but it's pretty darn good, and it's even affordable =)
    • NO!

      Microsoft didn't take clippy far enough. He should have been intergrated in the OS itself. Users would have to ask clippy for permission to run any applications.

      blink-blink

      "It appears your trying to run an open source program. I know your not a commie so I'll just go ahead and remove that for you."

  • by Dancin_Santa (265275) <DancinSanta@gmail.com> on Monday February 07, 2005 @03:44AM (#11594682) Journal
    If Ichitaro would have just used the standard Microsoft (that's the software platform they target) context-sensitive help, none of this would be an issue.

    Instead, they hired on an ex-Matsushita employee and he went on to use the Matsushita patented method for the help system. So they sued, as is their right.

    This is not a problem with the patent system. However what it does bring up is "How much knowledge can you take away from your previous employer, even if all that knowledge is just in your head?" As we gain ground in technology, such to the point that Johnny Bnemonic-style memory expansion is possible, how can patent holders and companies owning "trade secret" IP be protected from information pirates?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      ...how can patent holders and companies owning "trade secret" IP be protected from information pirates?
      They can't.

      That is why this is a problem with the patent system.

    • More to the point, as more and more of the things in the world become patented how are we to protect the people from the patent holders.
      • by Brandybuck (704397) on Monday February 07, 2005 @03:59AM (#11594750) Homepage Journal
        I hate to be the one to defend software patents, because I really despise them, but in this case, as in most others, it's the infringing company that's getting hurt, and not "the people".

        p.s. Of course, the people are getting hurt indirectly, as they are thus deprived of a choice in the marketplace.
        • by Maestro4k (707634) on Monday February 07, 2005 @04:59AM (#11594907) Journal
          I hate to be the one to defend software patents, because I really despise them, but in this case, as in most others, it's the infringing company that's getting hurt, and not "the people".

          p.s. Of course, the people are getting hurt indirectly, as they are thus deprived of a choice in the marketplace.

          • So ultimately software patents screw over the public no matter what. While Matsushita may be in the right here, software patents are what created the mess and the public still loses. Just even more proof that software patents are bad ideas.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      If Ichitaro would have just used the standard Microsoft (that's the software platform they target) context-sensitive help, none of this would be an issue.

      It seems a little too convenient that the company being sued is Microsoft's only serious competitor.

      Does anyone else smell the hand of Bill Gates, or is it just me?
    • by jd (1658) <imipak&yahoo,com> on Monday February 07, 2005 @04:05AM (#11594760) Homepage Journal
      IIRC, it depends a lot on how obvious the method is (you're not supposed to be able to patent things that are trivial), whether the solution is in the public domain (you can't patent public knowledge) and when the patent was filed with respect to the alledged copy.


      It also depends some on the reason why the patent infringement is coming up now. For example, since the company affected is a competitor to Microsoft, did Microsoft pay Matsushita to launch the lawsuit? IANAL, but there may be a case for appeal, if it turns out that the lawsuit was in bad faith, and/or is an attempt by Microsoft to gain further control of the Japanese office market by paying Matsushita to eliminate the only serious competitor.


      In general, the courts tend to frown on being used subversively as the "enforcers" of a protection racket.


      I'm not saying that this is what is happening. What I am saying is that there are enough suspicious circumstances to warrant a closer look at this, and that the Japanese courts might be persuadable that this isn't as innocent as it appears.


      As for the "what you know" problem - since any work "could" be tainted by any prior experience, it would be impossible for any technical person to be re-hired within the lifetime of any patent they may have come into contact with. AT&T argued a similar line, against the BSDers, arguing that since they'd come into contact with AT&T proprietary knowledge, they were tainted and therefore so was any/all their subsequent work.


      This is one reason I don't agree with the existing concept of IP. Nobody could ever have more than one job, and once they quit/leave/get sacked, they could NEVER be re-employed. IMHO, that is not protecting anybody and is clearly excessive.


      Therefore, it should not be possible to "taint" work with IP, merely by being exposed to it. There has to be a far more material breach, and one which isn't protected against IP claims in some other way (such as being obvious, public domain, etc).

      • by shanen (462549) on Monday February 07, 2005 @05:14AM (#11594941) Homepage Journal
        Gee, the whole topic makes me nostalgic. I was a pretty heavy user of Ichitaro many years ago. I think I started with Version 3, and I definitely remembering having Version 6 on a machine around 1995. However Word was already becoming pretty dominant in the market by then, and I really don't think they would care enough about JustSystems as competition to get involved in this. I think it's just sort of law of the jungle stuff ("jyaku niku kyo shoku" (weak meat strong eat) in Japanese), and probably with some revenge for seasoning. The guy in my office says they're going to appeal, so it's not yet over--but almost.

        Not sure if anyone interested in the trivia, but here's a bit just in case... The old Ichitaro actually had a lot of elements copied from ancient WordStar, but the interface got pretty much tortured to death when they were trying to add a Windows-style menu system. I'm pretty sure some versions had both interfaces. They had originally been almost completely dominant in the software word processor market, but that was back when NEC had the lock on proprietary Japanese hardware. Their foundation was their Japanese input system, which was still better than Microsoft's for many years. That was called ATOK, and was also sold separately for use as an IME replacement. They tried to expand into integrated office suites about the same time Lotus was getting beaten out of that market. Later on they tried to become an ISP with a system called JustNet, but I think they eventually sold it to someone else. (But I did see a few of their boxes in a large computer store just this weekend, when I was visiting Akihabara.)

    • by brunos (629303) on Monday February 07, 2005 @04:10AM (#11594778)
      You are forgetting that if you patent something, it is not a trade secret anymore. You don't need Bnemonic style memory: all you need to do is read the patent, which is your legal right. How would you otherwise know what you are not allowed to copy?
      Software patents are just ridiculous.
    • how can patent holders and companies owning "trade secret" IP be protected from information pirates?

      Patents are not trade secrets. The fact that someone moved between companies doesn't make the patent claim any more valid.

      Furthermore, the ossified Japanese economy needs to encourage mobility of workers, in particular, high-tech workers. The kind of exchange of knowledge and ideas that brings is essential to a high-tech economy. Even if your argument were valid that this has to do with employees moving
    • by Simon Brooke (45012) * <stillyet@googlemail.com> on Monday February 07, 2005 @05:45AM (#11595022) Homepage Journal
      This is not a problem with the patent system.

      This is a problem with the patent system, for two reasons:

      1. A patent should not be granted unless the idea being patented is not obvious. Having a standardised icon to invoke help is obvious.
      2. A patent should not be granted unless the idea being patented is novel. I don't know when the alleged Matsushita patent was granted, but I was using an icon (a bitmap representation of a question mark, but hey - it may not be pretty but it's an icon) in 1986, and I know I wasn't the first - I'm pretty sure the Xerox STAR office software had a similar system, because that's where I think I filched it from.
      • This is a problem with the patent system, for two reasons:

        You missed the third reason, which trumps the other two:

        3. A patent should not be granted unless doing so promotes the progress of science or the useful arts.

        That concept is codified as supreme law in the USA, but is a good idea for all nations. It's easy to argue that patents on user interface ideas can almost never benefit progress.

        After all, patents are meant as an enticement for inventors to disclose their inventions to the world, instead o
    • by Viceice (462967) on Monday February 07, 2005 @09:11AM (#11595591)
      Thats why I strongly believe that abstract ideas and concepts should NOT be patentable.

      Allowing a method to do something be patentable is absolutely stupid. Can you imagine if the doctor who developed organ transplant surgery patented all his findings and demanded huge royalties each time a transplant was carried out?

  • by Anonymous Coward
    this world has gone absolutely fucking insane.

    I'm seriously considering moving to the wilderness. If there's any of that left.
  • zerg (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Lord Omlette (124579) on Monday February 07, 2005 @03:46AM (#11594692) Homepage
    Open Source the offending software, then let them try to take down SourceForge!
  • by ChipMonk (711367) on Monday February 07, 2005 @03:46AM (#11594694) Journal
    This is all the more reason to order the destruction of software patents.

    Also from TFA: Does the Japanese patent system have no concept of "prior art"? The patent in question was granted in 1998, but the products in "violation" has been on the market since 1985 and 1987.
    • by stephenisu (580105) on Monday February 07, 2005 @03:50AM (#11594716)
      Were the infringing features added before 1998?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      The patent in question was granted in 1998, but the products in "violation" has been on the market since 1985 and 1987.

      The patent was applied for before 1985, it was only awarded in 1998. I'm not sure with the U.S., but in Japan the patent process is notoriously slow, that "Patent Applied" is mentioned on all new items. It seems to work pretty well as a deterant, as no one wants their ass sued off once the patent IS awarded.

      That said, Just System WAS insisting that the exact same keyboard function wh
    • I'm sure there is an example, so could anyone provide one where a software patent was indeed a good thing for an inovative feature?
      • by Anonymous Writer (746272) on Monday February 07, 2005 @08:51AM (#11595508)

        could anyone provide one where a software patent was indeed a good thing for an inovative feature?

        I think the case of spreadsheets [wikipedia.org], which set precedence for software patents, is a good example of what you're asking. I imagine that software ought to have some of the same qualities of inventing physical things. If an inventor has spent an inordinate amount of time creating something innovative then he or she should be able to reap rewards from it and not have someone come along and rip off their plans and sell it themselves. Inventors should have the option of making a living solely from inventing, otherwise there would be a significant lack of development of technology.

        However, many of the software patents that are being introduced that produce such a backlash are such trivial and unimaginative ideas. They actually don't improve technology, but rather hinder its progress, which is the exact opposite of what the whole patent system is meant to achieve. It's supposed to provide incentive for people to innovate, not create bureaucratic obstacles for them.

        And there is also the fact that software in it's very essence is different from physical objects. Software can be quickly distributed from just a single copy, while physical inventions have to be manufactured one by one. Software evolves much faster, and subjecting the development of ideas for software to the same slow bureaucratic rules that apply to physical objects can hinder the overall efficiency of the development of software. But whatever the case, people have to be able to focus on creating ideas to improve technology as their main occupation for making a living, and patents are supposed to allow them to do that.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 07, 2005 @03:46AM (#11594696)
    This is relatively old news in Japan, and the makers of Ichitaro (Just System) have appealed to a higher court. Until a final ruling is made, Ichitaro will be on sale as usual. The court refused to make a preliminary injunction against the Ichitaro software, which Matsushita had requested.

    That said, the patent itself isn't regarding a Help Icon. It is the function where you first click on the help icon/button, and then on the particular function you need help with.

    In court, Just System insisted that the Matsushita Patent was for a help ICON, which is usuall an item on the desktop, much like a file or folder, whereas the Just System Ichitaro used a button. The second point was that the "help" key on a keyboard already performed said function, and taking the keyboard to a GUI analogy did not require any insight, but was rather an obvious move as more and more keyboard functions were moved to the GUI.

    The lower court found that the "icon" was used loosely and would be found to include the buttons-with-pictures as found in Ichitaro. As for the keyboard-to-gui concept, the court found that it would take more than obvious insight to make the leap, thus it was a valid invention.

    Quite obviously, Matsushita was quite pleased that the court bought their story, while Just System was quite pissed off. By appealing to a higher court though, they did not need to immediately follow the ruling.

    Whether you think this was fair game or not, keep in mind that this is pretty much what Microsoft did too with Win95 and IE. Keep the court case going long enough that the Win95/IE bundle was no longer relevant.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I forgot to mention.... Matsushita DID offer Just System the right to purchase a patent license to continue using the help feature. The price I am not aware of, but Just System pretty much told Matsushita to shove it.
    • by pario (675744)
      I really don't think Ichitaro would disappear from the market anytime soon. Ichitaro used to dominate the word processor market back in the days of MS-DOS, just like Word Perfect did in the United States, and still remains a very important player. Major companies and a number of government branches still rely heavily on Ichitaro because it can produce documents in forms that are specific to the Japanese corporate and governmental culture, which is not possible with Microsoft Word. Just System is a major sof
    • it's called "Help On Context".

      You click an icon, the cursor changes to question mark, then you click something else of interest.

      A browser appears with whatever relevant information happens to be on hand for that particular item.

      Of all the help systems, I like this one the best. Beats looking through indexes, of things you may or may not actually know about, to maybe sort of find the information of interest. (Assuming it exists in the first place.)

    • Sounds like what they had in all those Sierra games, Space Quest, Police Quest, etc.
    • by Decameron81 (628548) on Monday February 07, 2005 @05:40AM (#11595013)
      That said, the patent itself isn't regarding a Help Icon. It is the function where you first click on the help icon/button, and then on the particular function you need help with.

      In court, Just System insisted that the Matsushita Patent was for a help ICON, which is usuall an item on the desktop, much like a file or folder, whereas the Just System Ichitaro used a button. The second point was that the "help" key on a keyboard already performed said function, and taking the keyboard to a GUI analogy did not require any insight, but was rather an obvious move as more and more keyboard functions were moved to the GUI.


      This is yet another demonstration of how important patents are in the world of computer software. They are here for a reason and that is to protect those companies that spend their money on research and development. Surely Matsushita spent a lot of their resources in developing this advanced help technology and deserve a lot more than seeing some other company make unauthorized use of it. It doesn't matter wether Just System wrote from scratch their own implementation because they are plainly copying an IDEA, which surely is a great loss for whoever came up with it.

      We should also thank patents because they help make courts throughout the world a better place. When we spend our time fighting for our rights to make exclusive use of certain icons and functions we do not have the time to commit serious crimes. An even further step could be to bring to court more trivial matters like unauthorized clicking of buttons by end users.

      Patents also teach us about the importance of being selfish. Don't get me wrong: usually being selfish is seen as a bad thing; but to some extent you have to worry about yourself as well. I really appreciate it that our governments are starting to realize how important it is to have full control over anything you might have ever thought.

      Ideas need to be protected.
  • by ianmalcm (591345) on Monday February 07, 2005 @03:47AM (#11594702)
    Proof that the US patent and court systems arent alone in their noncompetitive lunacy.

    Hopefully Nintendo does not sue /. for use of that Linux penguin icon, which is an obvious ripoff of Super Mario 64's snow level character.

  • by stephenisu (580105) on Monday February 07, 2005 @03:48AM (#11594704)
    In the enclosed envelope is a map of all Japanese Patent Offices.
    They told me to tell you that your mother is a dishonorable dirty woman.

    attatchment [jpomap.png]
  • Those bastards probably stole Clippy, too. Not that I ever tolerated Clippy's presence on the screen. In fact I hated him with a passion. But it's the principle of the the thing. Can't have Clippy ravaged and transmuted into a multitude of Japanese variants. He's the American Satan, not some overseas, sandal-wearing, fish-monger.
  • Even more filler? (Score:4, Informative)

    by rafael_es_son (669255) <rafael AT human-assisted DOT info> on Monday February 07, 2005 @03:55AM (#11594731) Homepage

    By gosh the summary's innacuracy is comparable to Microsoft marketing propaganda. The article does not state clearly "that the use of a help icon" was the cause of the dispute. It does say

    The dispute centered on the way that a help function works in the Ichitaro and Hanako software. The way the software presents information violates Matsushita patent number 2,803,236, which was registered with the Japanese patent office in 1998, according to Matsushita.

    The Gnome pics, now this? filler for nerds, stuff that doesn't happen?

    • by X (1235)
      Here here! I wish at least those summarizing the article would bother to read it!

      Heck, the "ordered the destruction" bit was pretty misleading as well. The product wasn't ordered destroyed, just existing stocks of the product. The company still has the product, and I'm sure if they win an appeal or if they change their product's help system, they can put the product back on the shelves.
    • Re:Even more filler? (Score:4, Informative)

      by MeridianOnTheLake (691931) on Monday February 07, 2005 @05:53AM (#11595040)
      The English-language article wasn't as detailed as the Japanese reports. You know how you can hit shift-F1 in MS products and you get the arrow with a question mark which you then use to get help on a subsequent element on the screen... well this is the same except that you can click an icon as an alternative to shift-F1. There are some screen shots at the bottom of this Japanese-language article: http://japan.cnet.com/news/biz/story/0,2000050156, 20080442,00.htm [cnet.com]
  • Destroyed? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Kris_J (10111) * on Monday February 07, 2005 @03:55AM (#11594739) Journal
    Good to see we're still finding reasons to destroy content just like the warmer moments of various regimes throughout time. What a waste.
  • The Japanese (Score:2, Insightful)

    by classh_2005 (855543)
    The Japanese are known for their ability to copy an idea and then "make it better", in their own unique style (e.g. the VCR, automobile, etc.). Let's hope they can break away from that paradigm when it comes to patent law. From the sound of this article though, it looks like that might give the U.S. a run for it's money in regards to IP fascism. *sigh*
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Wow, thanks! While we're are it, Blacks have a good sense of rhythm. Indians smell like curry. Filipinos wear flashy clothes.
  • Hmm, couldn't they try something like this: open a subsidiary in the EU, sell them the software for a penny, and let the subsidiary sell the software internationally over the web, but advertize heavily in Japan? Do Japanese software patents apply to goods legally purchased overseas?
  • Follow the Money.... (Score:5, Informative)

    by cliffiecee (136220) on Monday February 07, 2005 @04:16AM (#11594796) Homepage Journal
    Just a moment of googling "kitadeya microsoft" and bingo [panasonic.co.jp]. Here's a snip:

    "Matsushita Electric, in close cooperation with Microsoft, will develop a high-performance personal computer suited to the advanced image-processing demands of the 21st century," said Dr. Yoshitomi Nagaoka, vice president of Matsushita Electric's AVC Company..."



    Who stands to profit if this software is knocked off the market?
    • "Matsushita Electric, in close cooperation with Microsoft, will develop a high-performance personal computer suited to the advanced image-processing demands of the 21st century," said Dr. Yoshitomi Nagaoka, vice president of Matsushita Electric's AVC Company..."

      Ah, yeah. You found proof that a large (perhaps the largest) electronics manufacturer on the planet is doing something together with the largest software manufacturer on the planet.

      Quite something. Who'd have thought?
  • Did it have to be "fallout"?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 07, 2005 @04:29AM (#11594831)
    Tokyo tokkyo kyoka-kyoku kyou kyuukyo kyoka kyakka.

    Translation: The Tokyo patent office hurriedly rejected the permission today.
    • by kahei (466208)


      The above gibberish is not a parody of Japanese. It is an actual Japanese tonguetwister.

      Tokyo -- Tokyo
      tokkyo -- patent
      kyoka-kyoku -- 'permissions office'
      kyou -- today
      kyuukyo -- hurriedly
      kyoka -- permission
      kyakka -- rejection

  • "We are a global enterprise and we are just following international practice to enforce our IP rights"

    And somebody just criticized my opposition to IP laws because "the rest of the world has adopted the American model"...like that meant something...

    Well, here you go...

  • by jeti (105266) on Monday February 07, 2005 @04:37AM (#11594852) Homepage
    The short description of the patent sounds very much like the help system that appeared in several incarnations on MacOS.
    AFAIK the bubble help gave context sensitive information on GUI elements after activating it with a button.
    Apparently MacOS 7 came out two years before the patent was filed. Here's a screenshot [emuunlim.com] of MacOS 7 with the help icon and a copyright notice.
  • by davejenkins (99111) <slashdot@dave[ ]kins.com ['jen' in gap]> on Monday February 07, 2005 @04:43AM (#11594862) Homepage
    I hate to say it, but this really is a minimal event for the overall market-- no one I know has used Ichitaro for years. MSWord is fully entrenched here, and will be for the forseeable future.

    In regards to Open Source alternatives such as OpenOffice, they are sorley lacking in Kanji conversion, dictionaries, and layout flexibility. I know that Turbo and Others put effort into this, but progress is slow...
    • by nagora (177841) on Monday February 07, 2005 @05:07AM (#11594928)
      is really is a minimal event for the overall market

      Being allowed to successfully sue over a help icon is not a minimal event. Bad judgements like these are used as precedents in later cases regardless of the importance of the initial trial. Many a bad law has been formed on the basis of a neighbour's hedge.

      TWW

    • by Simon Brooke (45012) * <stillyet@googlemail.com> on Monday February 07, 2005 @05:57AM (#11595046) Homepage Journal
      I hate to say it, but this really is a minimal event for the overall market-- no one I know has used Ichitaro for years. MSWord is fully entrenched here, and will be for the forseeable future.

      The issue is not Ichitaro. The issue is being able to develop software without having to look over your shoulder at the big corporations with their patent portfolios all the time. If decisions like this are allowed to stand, then small businesses cannot create software - because if anything they produce is any good, they will be sued out of existence by corporations with portfolios they can't match.

      It's my view that software patents should not be allowed at all. But if they are going to be allowed the bar for non-obviousness and novelty has to be very high indeed.

  • Matsushita Electric Industrial? Any large sums of money being placed from a certain MSFT?

    Micorosft suddenly 'licensed' thier help patent to fund thier lawers?

    I say, if the shit hits the fan, the company shoudl open source the software to GNU, and then .jp people can download the software sans help icon for free, and kick the bastard competition in the nuts, with steel toe caps.

    The the company can run support and customisation for all users who now have the free version.

    Then when the other company goes b
  • by tod_miller (792541) on Monday February 07, 2005 @05:16AM (#11594948) Journal
    Matsushita, which sells its products under the Panasonic brand

    I certainly won't be buying anything Panasonic for a long while. I hope that by making it a public disgrace for a company to endanger 78% of the installed office environments in Japan (think what loss of productivity would occur if they spread enough FUD to make those people buy thier product, and install it, and learn it?).

    Japan has a very honourable work ethic in terms of employee/employer relations, they value the company, so the political fall out over this may yet to come.

  • if the 78% figure of the article is accurate, they are not just a competitor of Microsoft. they f*cking own them.
  • by serutan (259622) <snoopdoug&geekazon,com> on Monday February 07, 2005 @05:21AM (#11594964) Homepage
    We'll be seeing more and more of these, as the great Land Rush of IP patents continues. Equating intangibles with property is like creating a whole new world, ready to be staked out and fenced off like the American West in the 1800s. Eventually, creating something new and innovative without a battery of lawyers or a big corporation behind you will be as quaint a notion as walking out into the wilderness and setting up a farm.
    • bah (Score:3, Insightful)

      Eventually they will go too far and the whole thing will collapse, and we will again be able to do what we want.

      And as things are going, too far might not be very farther.
  • Erm (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jb.hl.com (782137)
    Can we please know when the patent was applied for, so we can see if there's any prior art?

    I would have thought that in 1985 Apple would have already had a help icon on their Macs...
  • by iamacat (583406) on Monday February 07, 2005 @05:32AM (#11594989)
    When the most popular word processor can be shut down because of a help icon, it's obvious that any innovators in US and Japan will be sued into oblivion by no-longer innovative companies that wish to maintain status quo. Other countries that don't recognize software patents will write superior, cheaper programs and non-software US businesses will eventually lobby their way into buying them despite patent violations. Remember the thing about outsourcing and foreign sweatshops?

    Time to sell AMZN and MSFT. They are protecting themselves to death.
  • Screenshots (Score:3, Interesting)

    by randalx (659791) on Monday February 07, 2005 @05:35AM (#11595002)
    The dispute centered on the way that a help function works in the Ichitaro and Hanako software. The way the software presents information violates Matsushita patent number 2,803,236...

    Can anybody get a screenshot of what exactly they are arguing over since it's not just an icon?
  • by Foo2rama (755806) on Monday February 07, 2005 @05:38AM (#11595008) Homepage Journal
    What are Japanese patent laws? And what is the actual patent? No one knows either of these things. Japanese law may not have the "Non-obviousness" or "inventive step" clauses that America does. 2nd if it is an issue of an icon being used to access help a simple fine and software patch to remove the icon and change the access to help to something other then a button/icon.

    The Microsoft/Matshusita link is tenuous, what computer hardware/software company has not worked with Microsoft at some point on a collaboritive project? Sony? IBM? DELL? Compaq/HP? Using the logic that was put forth earlier anyone Apple sues could be construed as being motivated from M$...

    Lets see if anyone can get some real info on this. Instead of conjucture from a few short news blurbs that contradict each other.
  • by fireman sam (662213) on Monday February 07, 2005 @06:44AM (#11595169) Homepage Journal
    The "icon" used was in fact the ISO or SI (or whatever) standard glyph for "information". You know the one, the white lower case 'i' on a blue background. It isn't help, it is information. Therefore it isn't a help button.

  • *destruction*? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by delmoi (26744) on Monday February 07, 2005 @01:58PM (#11598361) Homepage
    All they have to do is take out the help icon and replace it with a menuitem. I'd hardly call that "destruction" (unless they meant the destruction of inventory).

    I hardly think a company would really give up a product like this, most people arn't as lazy as CmdrTaco (who took downhis JavaInvaders game rather then change the name to JInvaders or something to avoid infringing Sun's trademark.)

...when fits of creativity run strong, more than one programmer or writer has been known to abandon the desktop for the more spacious floor. - Fred Brooks, Jr.

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