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Google, Apple, Microsoft Sued Over File Preview 250

Posted by Soulskill
from the excellent-work,-patent-office dept.
ClaraBow writes with this excerpt from MacWorld: "A small Indiana company has sued tech heavyweights Microsoft, Apple, and Google, claiming that it holds the patent on a common file preview feature used by browsers and operating systems to show users small snapshots of the files before they are opened. ... Cygnus's owner and president Gregory Swartz developed the technology laid out in the patent while working on IT consulting projects, McAndrews said. The company is looking for 'a reasonable royalty' as well as a court injunction preventing further infringement, he said. ... Cygnus applied for its patent (#7346850) in 2001. It covers a 'System and method for iconic software environment management' and was granted by the US Patent and Trademark Office in March of this year."
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Google, Apple, Microsoft Sued Over File Preview

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  • by RockMFR (1022315) on Friday December 26, 2008 @11:52PM (#26239057)
    The patent troll in question, which won't win this suit, is based in Detroit. They are likely completely out of money and have nothing to lose.
  • by fibrewire (1132953) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @12:18AM (#26239199)

    The moment where patent trolls battle it out with large corporations is right around the corner. I feel that this is not only the beginning of a shitstorm, but when it's finished - software patents will be made illogical if not illegal in most countries, and people will realize that it was just a marketing scam that big corporations used to squash the little guys, and then differently designed little guys built to take advantage of an unfair law will take down the big corporations at their own game. Its the way of things, until balance is found. Same with licensing software, same with MPAA and RIAA, and other such BS. No unfair advantage cannot be exploited, which is why free enterprise & the internet kicks ass. Value through innovation will always win. Period.

  • by Kent Recal (714863) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @12:29AM (#26239251)

    Interestingly if this would pass (which I strongly doubt) and MS, Apple etc. were required to remove the previews - then Gnome, KDE would benefit from that.

    It kinda works like this:

    1. Idiot sues Apple
    2. Apple must remove the previews

    1. Idiot sues MS
    2. MS must remove the previews

    1. Idiot sues Gnome Foundation etc.
    2. Gnome, KDE etc. must remove the previews
    3. One day later an unofficial patch pops up somewhere
    4. Two days later that same patch is wrapped up into RPMs, Debs etc. for one-click install
    5. Due to popular demand this patch is continuously maintained

  • Re:Claims (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mpaque (655244) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @12:41AM (#26239315)

    NeXTSTEP 4.0 Alpha; sometimes mis-called Beta on web sites.

    The software featured tabs across the screen bottom for various window types. (We cribbed these for Mac OS 8.5 after the merger, as the tabbed window feature.) The Documents tab was a window which presented icons of documents, each of which could be a preview of the actual document, badged to indicate the associated application.

    This implementation nicely meets all the claims, but predates the patent application by 5 years. I won't bother going through all the details, but Cygnus is boned. Software patent litigation as a business model is so last decade...

  • Re:Two words: (Score:5, Interesting)

    by r7 (409657) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @12:53AM (#26239393)

    It was originally applied for in 1998

    That'd be at least 5 years after Lotus Magellin did it, and IMO, did it better than anything MS or Apple does today.

    Lotus dropped Magellin when Windows 3 came along, so most of today's techs don't know about it, but it is still
    surprising their legal research overlooked it.

  • Re:Two words: (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mysidia (191772) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @01:13AM (#26239531)

    Just because they spent hundreds of millions of dollars to try to seize ownership from the public domain of a concept for which there is ample prior art, doesn't mean the two words are wrong.

    Or rather... that they hope to get hundreds of millions of dollars.

    Excuse me while I go get my patent on the concept of an online hypertext-based page that permits viewers from the public to preview comments before appending them.

  • Re:Two words: (Score:2, Interesting)

    by BuddyJesus (835123) <forceoftheschmo@gmai l . c om> on Saturday December 27, 2008 @01:24AM (#26239575) Homepage Journal
    Right, because the solution to a ridiculously expensive problem is another problem that is equally ridiculously expensive and far more likely to result in hazardous filings.
  • by Kent Recal (714863) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @01:29AM (#26239599)

    Step 3, 4 and 5 do not involve Canonical, Debian or any other distro.
    The DEBs and RPMs could be hosted anywhere and if they sue the hosters then the packages will just move to bittorrent and p2p.

    That's the beauty of OSS at work here. You cannot effectively ban a piece of software that many people find useful.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 27, 2008 @02:09AM (#26239773)

    Our office had a schoolbus-sized Xerox docutech machine for
    producing on-demand, printed, bound documents. In 1989. Documents
    were stored on disk in the machine and printed using a touch-screen
    with icons consisting of thumbnail images of the documents contained
    in the machine. The patent claims appear to be describing this
    system.

    Just guessing, but I'll bet Xerox has a mountain of patents covering
    this sort of thing.

  • by tobiasly (524456) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @02:34AM (#26239871) Homepage
    Not only that... check out the screen mockup [arstechnica.com] from the patent! Those are obviously representations of the MS Paint and Excel UIs, as well as shitty MS clipart... can't they sue them for copyright infringement in their patent claim??
  • by absoluteflatness (913952) <absoluteflatness@ g m a i l . c om> on Saturday December 27, 2008 @02:39AM (#26239891)

    One would think that if you posted a Wikipedia link, you'd at least have had time to read the first sentence of the article: "Fair use is a doctrine in United States copyright law..."

    Anyway, patent trolls rarely go after free software projects because they lack the money to dole out a big settlement. The various media standards and many other fairly standard features of Linux distros are patent-encumbered up the wazoo. Some projects actually have some fear of litigation and disable features or distribute source-only (FreeType's bytecode interpreter comes to mind), but that's fairly rare.

  • Re:Two words: (Score:5, Interesting)

    by lysergic.acid (845423) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @03:17AM (#26240027) Homepage

    you're missing the point. these non-inventions should never have been granted in the first place. that is what needs to be reformed about the current system.

    things like file previews are currently patentable, and it's within the patent holder's rights to sue. whether you think it's contrary to the intent of the system or not, it's how the system works. right now the USPTO is wasting millions of dollars of tax payers' money each year by granting patents on trivial/obvious software features, which inevitably leads to frivolous lawsuits by patent trolls--who often win.

    just look at the case between Creative and Apple [theappleblog.com] regarding file menus. the only thing that's different this time is that the defendants have much more legal muscle than the claimant (which is a separate problem with the legal system). so even if Cygnus loses this suit, that doesn't mean that when a corporate juggernaut like Apple/Microsoft file similar claims of patent infringement that they will lose.

  • Re:Claims (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 27, 2008 @04:16AM (#26240223)

    NeXTstep 4.0 Alpha was only ever released under NDA to select developers. Unless Cygnus developers were in the select group, they could not have seen the prior art.

    If they could not have seen the prior art, it doesn't invalidate their patent.

  • Creating Unity (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pingveno (708857) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @04:27AM (#26240257)

    There's a least one benefit to patent trolls like these guys. They unify companies that normally are fierce competitors. Or, as Psycho Dave from Kuro5hin describe another group:

    "...what common ground does pretty much every person regardless of their political or religious beliefs have? They all hate the Westboro Baptist Church."

  • by absoluteflatness (913952) <absoluteflatness@ g m a i l . c om> on Saturday December 27, 2008 @04:49AM (#26240333)

    An AC already covered this somewhat, but patents are meant to combat more than just others making money off of the patented invention.

    Licensing is by far the most common route, but you can completely block the use of the invention by others for the duration of the patent if you so choose. Drug companies often choose this option, so you'll still have to wait a few more years for generic Viagra to hit the market.

    Staying in the software realm, say you hold some software patent, and you actually make and sell a product using it. Now, Microsoft or Apple starts giving away a product that does essentially the same thing. The rights conferred to you by the patent still allow you to stop them from distributing the product, or force them to license the technology, despite the fact that they're not actually making any money off of it.

  • If only (Score:4, Interesting)

    by symbolset (646467) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @06:08AM (#26240575) Journal

    If only we could find a way to abolish these Copyright and Patent issues we might have progress, which is what copyrights and patents are supposed to provide.

  • by digitalchinky (650880) <dtchky@gmail.com> on Saturday December 27, 2008 @06:43AM (#26240649)

    I'm Australian, I now live in Asia (not Japan), have done for a lot of years so I can safely call bullshit on the skilled labour thing. You can buy quality research, manufacturing, and brains anywhere in the world. You may wish to pull your head out of your own anal passage good man. The rest of the world actually can build some pretty shit hot stuff, all on their own.

    Don't get me wrong, like I said, I'm from the west and I'm as fucking smart as all hell (It's a joke! I'm not really that smart, bottom two percent, tops), but enough with the arrogance already, the state of the art doesn't just exist in the 'west', it's everywhere.

    You really think the American worker is value for money? Here's a clue for you, good value for money is a bunch of low paid men and women (sometimes children) working the sewing machines and industrial fires for 12 hours a day 6 days a week, all for the lofty sum of $150 USD a month. On the backs of all this one can then sell those wares and gain quite a few orders of magnitude back in pure profit. In comparison the American worker is high maintenance and very expensive from an economic perspective.

  • Re:Wait a minute... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TheRaven64 (641858) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @06:52AM (#26240689) Journal
    My thoughts exactly. I wonder if RedHat would be justified in a trademark lawsuit - sounds like a pretty clear case of passing off to me...
  • Re:Two words: (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 27, 2008 @08:09AM (#26240877)
    Well then the law is too expensive. Can we revolution now?
  • Re:Two words: (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jmyers (208878) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @08:59AM (#26241023)

    This reminds me of the Lotus vs Quattro Pro and SCO professional lawsuit http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0CEFD7113EF930A35754C0A966958260 [nytimes.com].

    Lotus sued and won over keystroke commands. Quattro and SCO Pro could both emulate Lotus 123 keystrokes and had to be taken off the market. At the time many people were moving from Lotus 123 to Quattro Pro, I thought it would be the next big thing. SCO Professional was great because it was a Lotus 123 clone that ran on Unix and worked great on dumb terminals (or telnet).

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