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Google, Apple, Microsoft Sued Over File Preview 250

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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  • Two words: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GrahamCox ( 741991 ) on Friday December 26, 2008 @11:27PM (#26238885) Homepage
    Two words: prior art.

    And plenty of it. We had live preview icons in an app in 1989.
  • Re:Two words: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 26, 2008 @11:33PM (#26238927)

    What you dismiss so glibly in two words is actually hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars worth of highly technical legal arguments.

  • by roman_mir ( 125474 ) on Friday December 26, 2008 @11:44PM (#26238985) Homepage Journal

    Economy (not just US economy, but especially US) is in deep f.cking shit. This is a symptom. You see, very little is actually produced in the US at this point, but more regulations, lawsuits, patents, various copyrighted materials like movies/music are still made there (I live in Canada, we are not far away from this problem here also, except that our movies/music sucks even more.)

    When there is nothing to produce except for more laws/regulations, meaningless, useless, obvious patents and lawsuits, and also the greenback, at this point you have to ask yourself a question: how is this economy, that borrows so much from the rest of the world and then buys the products from the rest of the world going to pay the freaking debt? What is it, 10 trillion in debt at least?

    Anyway, I read TFPatent [patentstorm.us] and thought to myself: holy shit. In 1998 I worked on a system for a purchase basket for a promotions company and I had to display thumbnails on the HTML page too.

    In fact various stores and also porn sites would be great at showing prior art to this BS patent.

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

    by ralphdaugherty ( 225648 ) <ralph@ee.net> on Friday December 26, 2008 @11:54PM (#26239063) Homepage

    It's going to be expensive to fight these patents one by one that were rubberstamped for years. We need to throw out all software patents and return to copyright protection like we had.


  • Re:Two words: (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 27, 2008 @12:15AM (#26239177)

    Two good things that would prevent cases like this from wasting people's time:

    1. Patent reform.
    2. Loser pays.

    Patent reform only works if unfair cases are being brought to court, argued, and won in a way that is contrary to the intent of the system. It is premature to say that this suit is anything more than a paper tiger. Bring up the patent on the Patent Application Information Retrieval [uspto.gov] system. Look at the rejections, amendments, and arguments. Significant changes were made to the patent claims, gutting much of their scope. The company bringing these suits is delusional if they think they have a case that can settle for anything more than nuisance tribute, especially from such high profile veterans of more balanced legal battles. What kind of patent reform would keep someone from trying to enforce a weak and narrow patent? Would they be less likely to try to enforce it if it was even weaker and narrower? Should we only allow patents that are strong and broad? Should it matter that many patent applicants only want very narrow patents, and many dont' really care if they would have much valuable in litigation?

    As for loser pays...what makes you think that is such a good idea? Record companies use the threat of attorney fees to press defendants into early settlements. Would it be alright for Google or Microsoft to sue smaller companies, or individuals, based on flimsy patent claims, but win because their potential attorneys fees could be astronomical...perhaps significantly more than any reasonable royalty for the patent? How about if they faced smaller companies with strong patents and potentially good cases, but those smaller companies decided not to try to enforce their rights because of the possibility of being bankrupted if the suits failed?

    There are advocates of loser-pay [manhattan-institute.org], but loser-pay skeptics [timesonline.co.uk] seem to be well-versed in the pros and cons of loser-pay systems. While loser-pay could have a positive effect on the American legal system, it is by no means a common-sense no-brainer.

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

    by Schemat1c ( 464768 ) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @12:37AM (#26239291) Homepage

    Weight of money does not necessarily add credance to a particular viewpoint.

    You're from Earth right?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 27, 2008 @12:51AM (#26239375)
    While the Slashdot crowd is content to read only the title of a patent and then make wild pronouncements, patent attorneys generally read the whole patent document.
  • by JTorres176 ( 842422 ) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @01:00AM (#26239457) Homepage

    And then immediately lawsuits are pressed against Canonical, Debian, Novell, and anyone else who allows patented material to be added to their distributions.

    Free software still has to follow the law.

  • Troll (Score:2, Insightful)

    by wshwe ( 687657 ) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @01:15AM (#26239537)

    Just another greedy patent troll!

  • Re:Two words: (Score:1, Insightful)

    by larry bagina ( 561269 ) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @01:21AM (#26239567) Journal

    If MicroSoft, or Apple, or anyone else snuck into this company's office and stole their files or source code, I think most of us would call that wrong. If Apple saw a screenshot or description of their software and decided to implement similar functionality, it might still be wrong, but it's not so black and white. But if MicroSoft engineers are sitting around thinking up new ways to waste CPU cycles and independently come up with the same idea, maybe it wasn't so obvious after all.

    If this company can prove that someone stole their ideas, then by all means they should be compensated. If they lost revenue, then let them be compensated. But the only revenue they could have lost is the revenue from licensing the patent, which is to say, they haven't lost any revenue because Apple or Microsoft are implementing this functionality.

  • Re:Two words: (Score:4, Insightful)

    by catwh0re ( 540371 ) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @01:24AM (#26239577)
    It's a gift for the lawyers really... who is dumb enough to go against three litigiously-experienced heavy weights with a frivolous patent lawsuit.
  • by Darkk ( 1296127 ) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @02:38AM (#26239887)

    As the judge gleams over his PC and noticed it too uses the preview thumbnails feature and started to realize...holy crap...if I pass judgment then how the hell am I gonna find my pictures?!?!

    What bothers me tho as more and more of these silly lawsuits crop up it will stifle innovation. Eventually it will choke open source software as they lack funds to fight this. Apple and Microsoft have deep pockets so they will survive, just we will end up paying for it later.

    I just hope I can continue to use Ubuntu without worry.

  • by MrZaius ( 321037 ) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @02:55AM (#26239949) Homepage

    Quite - Of all the news sites not to make the distinction....

  • by nbates ( 1049990 ) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @03:23AM (#26240057)

    Hi... I'm the asshole who posted the comment about the four horsemen.

    Let me give you an example of why I think patents are not necessary for innovation in software:

    http://brainstorm.ubuntu.com/ [ubuntu.com]

    When it comes to software, ideas are cheap and abundant. Patents make sense when they represent something that is difficult to come up with (a diesel engine for example) and that may involve years of R&D.

    But if you read that list, you'll see that ideas (even good ones) cost almost nothing, and have no value on its own. People is willing to give the ideas for free for many reasons: Because they can benefit by having the idea implemented, because of personal pride, because of a sense of community.

    So for example, a patent troll (person A) would patent a good but almost obvious idea like "Autoname screenshots to have date and time for hour, instead of just 'screenshot'". And then if he is successful he would sit on the patent and wait until person B comes up with the same idea in a context were person B can actually implement it. And then sue. That's holding back innovation, not encouraging.

    On the other hand, you have that the idea is so simple and cheap that people is willing to give it for free: http://brainstorm.ubuntu.com/idea/16850/ [ubuntu.com]

  • by pammon ( 831694 ) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @04:08AM (#26240195)

    It would be a big mistake for a company like this to produce any products. These companies exist only to license out IP they buy or otherwise "invent," and to sue non-licensees for patent infringement. If they were to produce a product, they would make themselves vulnerable to a countersuit.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 27, 2008 @04:24AM (#26240249)

    this has nothing to do with the economy's state right now. not only has stupid shit like this been going on for a long time, slashdot has been pointing out how stupid it is for as long as I've been on here (going on 10 years.)

  • by JohnBailey ( 1092697 ) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @05:16AM (#26240405)

    And then immediately lawsuits are pressed against Canonical, Debian, Novell, and anyone else who allows patented material to be added to their distributions.

    Which would be immediately laughed out of court. They would only have a case if the distro was offering the software themselves. Anybody can set up a repository anywhere in the world. Just like anybody can offer a Windows based DVD ripper. So why have the MPAA not sued Microsoft? The same reason. They can only control what they offer themselves. If Microsoft included a DVD ripper in Windows 7, then the MPAA might have a case.

    Free software still has to follow the law.

    Absolutely... So what law are they breaking?

  • by Sebastian Reichelt ( 1241416 ) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @05:55AM (#26240521)

    Sorry to burst your bubble, but actually, if they are successful, it works more like this:

    1. Idiot sues Apple
    2. Apple pays money

    1. Idiot sues MS
    2. MS pays money

    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. One month later it becomes apparent that nobody except a few techies uses that patch, and people start to blame "Linux" for lacking an essential feature

Thus spake the master programmer: "Time for you to leave." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"