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Electronic Frontier Foundation Microsoft Patents

Microsoft Patents a Slider, Earning EFF's "Stupid Patent of the Month" Award (arstechnica.com) 127

An anonymous reader writes with news that the EFF has given Microsoft a dubious award this month for their slider patent. According to Ars: "The Electronic Frontier Foundation's 'Stupid Patent of the Month' for December isn't owned by a sketchy shell company, but rather the Microsoft Corporation. The selection, published yesterday, is the first time the EFF has picked a design patent as the SPOTM. The blog post seeks to highlight some of the problems with those lesser-known cousins to standard 'utility' patents, especially the damages that can result. The chosen patent (PDF), numbered D554,140, would seem to be one of those things that's so simple it raises some basic philosophical questions about the patent system. That's because it's just a slider, in the bottom-right corner of a window, with a plus sign at one end and a minus sign at the other. That's it.
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Microsoft Patents a Slider, Earning EFF's "Stupid Patent of the Month" Award

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  • Gasp (Score:5, Insightful)

    by stabiesoft ( 733417 ) on Tuesday December 29, 2015 @08:52PM (#51205933) Homepage

    I am ashamed to be american sometimes, but proud not to use microsoft for anything.

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Well, Microsoft *is* the company that invented the slider. Sure, it seems simple *now*. But before they invented it, everyone just thought it was a given that they would have to type numbers into text boxes.

      Microsoft changed the world with this new technology, and you are free-riding on their hard work whether you are using their products or not.

      You are basically a thief, really.

      • Re:Gasp (Score:5, Informative)

        by ClickOnThis ( 137803 ) on Tuesday December 29, 2015 @09:33PM (#51206109) Journal

        Well, Microsoft *is* the company that invented the slider.

        No. Xerox got there before Microsoft. [wikipedia.org] Note the sliders in the sample Xerox Star display.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          That isn't how design patents work. Designs are on the ornamental portion, not the FUNCTION. Finding an existing slider that looks different is irrelevant.

          • You missed the point. So did your up-moderator.

            The GGP AC claimed that Microsoft invented the slider. They didn't.

            • So did those downloading a joke. Good god.

              On the other hand, I worked on a car radio integrating an ancient Windows CE version and the Microsoft guy laughably tried to tell us how a "radio button" was supposed to work.

            • by sudon't ( 580652 )

              That is correct. White Castle has been making sliders since 1921. Apparently they neglected to patent it, though, as there is a copycat operation in the South called Crystal's.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I think potentiometers [wikipedia.org] (analog sliders) pre-date Microsoft by a bit.

        Quick, everyone start patenting virtualize implementations of existing patented devices! You're missing out on a gold mine when we all live in virtual worlds and you didn't bother patenting the virtual velcro or memory foam.

        • Sorry, implementation of a virtual device that simulates the appearance and functionality of a real-world physical device has been patented already.

          Also, pretty much everything already existing but just adding "using a computer" and "over the internet" also has been patented.

        • I think potentiometers (analog sliders) pre-date Microsoft by a bit.

          Medieval slide trumpet predates the potentiometer .

          • Medieval slide trumpet predates the potentiometer.

            Medieval Slide Trumpet? I know they opened for Pink Floyd in '76 but I didn't think they went back that far.

          • by joemck ( 809949 )

            But taking any existing analog thing and sticking "ON A COMPUTER" on the end is an instant patent if it nobody's done it yet.

      • Re:Gasp (Score:5, Informative)

        by mikael ( 484 ) on Tuesday December 29, 2015 @11:58PM (#51206593)

        The patent dates from 2007. X-windows was around from 1984 and had sliders. How else could they scroll along windows. The Athena widget set was around at this time:

        http://www.efalk.org/Widgets/#... [efalk.org]

        Technically it was the same "scrollbar" that was used to scroll windows as was used to implement a color palette index editor.

    • What do you feel during the gaps?

    • Sadly not all of my games run on Linux. That is, however, the only thing I do on Windows outside of work, and when I am working on it at work it is always fixing it or installing it.
  • So? It's a design. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    This isn't like utility patents. This doesn't cover all sliders with + and - at the ends. It covers us elements that subjectively look like this.

    Coca Cola is the famous example of a design pattern for a glass bottle with a twist. It's not a real problem. It's not utility patents.

  • by LynnwoodRooster ( 966895 ) on Tuesday December 29, 2015 @08:58PM (#51205971) Journal

    A design patent covers the look ONLY - the ornamental design. For the MS patent, change the center pointer to a diamond, or to a rounded (rather than pointy) design and you're in the clear. They are EXTREMELY easy to get around, and interpreted VERY narrowly. Basically any change to the look and you're in the clear.

    Design patents tend to be sops to engineers/designers as a way to "pad their resumes", or as ways to simply increase the number-patents-issued list of companies. It's so much more impressive to say you got 138 patents versus saying you got 1 - but if the 1 is a utility patent, and the 138 are design patents, the actual IP-use (restriction of competiton) value is most likely in favor of the singular utility patent.

    • by cfalcon ( 779563 )

      Probably should mod parent up. There are still too damned many patents, but a design patent that covers a specific type of slider, with specific look and feel, that you would reasonably never accidentally stumble upon as a designer, nor require as a user, is not the most egregious thing going on in the ludicrous universe of patents.

    • It would seem that to two large mobile phone vendors design patents are a very big deal.

    • by adrn01 ( 103810 )
      OK, so patent a series of sliders, with all the basic geometric shapes plus variations as the slider, and you can prevent ANYONE from ever using a slider again. How broken is that??
      • Good luck covering every possible combination. Simply changing the shape of the "+" sign would get you around a design patent. A design patent is actually more restrictive of "creator" rights than a copyright. Imagine if you wrote a unique song and somehow got a design patent on it. Then I can create the exact same song, but because I use an acoustic guitar rather than your electric guitar - I'm in the clear. Design patents are EXTREMELY narrow in scope - any change at all and you're around the scope o
  • There should not be any patentable user interface designs. Suppose Ford patented the steering wheel? Then everyone other than Ford who makes cars would be trying to reinvent the control scheme, and then the drivers would be stumped when they sit in that car.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by tipo159 ( 1151047 )

      Suppose Ford patented the steering wheel?

      Then he would have had to deal with prior art claims. The steering wheel was pioneered by Panhard et Levassor.

    • by Dragonslicer ( 991472 ) on Tuesday December 29, 2015 @09:09PM (#51206007)

      There should not be any patentable user interface designs. Suppose Ford patented the steering wheel? Then everyone other than Ford who makes cars would be trying to reinvent the control scheme, and then the drivers would be stumped when they sit in that car.

      Design patents don't work that way. You might want to go read up on them.

  • Jokes on you, Microsoft. My browser's bottom-right slider doesn't have a plus or minus on it.
    • I was going to say, the two browsers I have with a slider in the bottom-right corner (Presto-based Opera and Vivaldi) have no + and - signs. Neither Chrome, current Opera, nor Firefox has such a thing.
  • by iliketrash ( 624051 ) on Tuesday December 29, 2015 @09:27PM (#51206089)

    The OP apparently does not understand the difference between a design patent and a utility patent. He/She should learn this before calling this design patent stupid or whatever other inappropriate language was used. Utility patents describe a function; design patents describe only the appearance.

  • Design patents-- (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sillivalley ( 411349 ) <sillivalley.comcast@net> on Tuesday December 29, 2015 @09:31PM (#51206103)
    --cover the ornamental, nonfunctional aspects of a design. Think fins on a car, or the flare of the fenders -- again, ornamental and nonfunctional. There's a set of early design patents on the patterns produced by one manufacturer's water fountains.

    Design patents on icons and UI elements go back twenty years or more. Early on they were sort of an arms-race among companies with GUIs (disclosure: I'm a patent attorney and filed quite a few design patents for icons over a period of a few years).

    Seeing how they cover, once again, ornamental and nonfunctional aspects of a design, getting sued on a UI design patent practically means someone has done something really stupid, like copying the elements of someone's UI design.

    Come on, draw your own slider! Use squares instead of circles at the ends! Do something original! Or be ready to argue that the aspects of the element you copied are functional, and not ornamental.

    I"m not a fan of patent litigation, but to get nailed on design patents usually means it's pretty close copying.
    • Then why is there such a thing as design patents at all?

      I mean, ever single time they've been explained to me, they seem much better served by copyright. Why do they get a patent instead of a copyright that's likely to last [retroactively applied ever increasing amounts of time]?
      • Copyright does last a very long time, so I don't think most people -want- objects to be copyright protected rather than patent.

        The four classes are:

        Utility patent: the functional implementation of a functional thing, a machine. Does not cover artistic / decorative elements.

        Design patent: Cosmetic design elements of a functional thing. Covers only non-functional decorative / artistic choices.

        Copyright: Artistic works which have no functional purpose, things which are only viewed/heard, not used (other than f

      • by mikael ( 484 )

        They were practical for designers of physical machinery like custom gear teeth for mechanical wristwatches, car dashboards and just about anything industrial and mechanical. A particular shape of gear tooth can avoid excessive wear and tear, improve accuracy and avoid jamming. It's more than a copyright. All of those required months of R&D to test and prove an improvement. If someone hadn't already invented the parrot-beak gear tooth for improved timing, then it seemed fair to allow a design patent. A c

      • Then why is there such a thing as design patents at all?

        I mean, ever single time they've been explained to me, they seem much better served by copyright. Why do they get a patent instead of a copyright that's likely to last [retroactively applied ever increasing amounts of time]?

        Copyright only protects you if your competitor actually copies your design - as in, buys one of your products, looks at the feature, and makes an exact copy of it. If they happen to come up with it on their own, it's not copyright infringement, even if it's identical. If you were a hermit in a hut in the woods and you type out Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone from your own imagination, it's not copyright infringement, even if every single word is the same. So, copyright infringement requires proof of a

    • by jeti ( 105266 )
      Done something stupid like provided a consistent UI? You're supposed to do that. Companies like Microsoft encourage you to follow their guidelines and keep the look of your software consistent to theirs. And now MS turns around and sues another company for writing software consistent to their platform. Creating software has become an incalculable risk because of patent attorneys.
    • Seeing how [design patents] cover, once again, ornamental and nonfunctional aspects of a design, getting sued on a UI design patent practically means someone has done something really stupid, like copying the elements of someone's UI design.

      All GUI interfaces are functional, copying someone else's GUI serves the function of having more easily recognized controls and saving on training time/learning curve.

      Come on, draw your own slider! Use squares instead of circles at the ends! Do something original!

      Hell no! We don't need any more GUI "experts" reinventing what the design interface looks like. Anything but original!

  • I do believe White Castle has prior art on that one.

  • It seems there's roughly 10 silly or trivial patents for every good one. Unless something drastic changes to fix that, the patent system is net drain on progress.

    Most innovations come about via working on a specific product, not R&D for R&D's sake. Thus, most new ideas would happen anyhow.

    As far as the idea that patents make ideas public, a private firm(s) can catalog ideas from existing products or submitters if there's really a market for such. They'd probably do it cheaper than the gov't also.

  • Oh my god, Microsoft just never stops innovating, do they?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      This looks more a case of EFF and especially the submitter not understanding the difference between design and functions patents.

  • If you have to go back 8 years to find a design patent to even claim to be egregious, things must be going pretty well.

  • Little greasy hamburgers are safe. I have it on good authority that this is just some arcane GUI widget with the same name.

  • by dpbsmith ( 263124 ) on Tuesday December 29, 2015 @10:21PM (#51206319) Homepage

    This is what a design patent is like:

    "Be it known that I, AUGUESTE BARTHOLDI, of Paris, in the Republic of France, have originated and produced a Design of a Monumental Statue, representing 'Liberty enlightening the world....'

    The statue is that of a female figure standing erect upon a pedestal or block, the body being thrown slightly over to the left, so as to gravitate upon the left leg, the whole figure being thus in equilibrium, and symmetrically arranged with respect to a perpendicular line or axis passing through the ead and left foot... The right arm is thrown up and stretched out, with a flamboyant torch grasped in the hand.... The head, with its classical, yet severe and calm. features, is surmounted by a crown or diadem, from which radiate divergingly seven rays, tapering from'the crown, and representing a halo."

    That protected Bartholdi against anyone making copies of the Statue of Liberty for fourteen years.

    • This is what a design patent is like:

      "Be it known that I, AUGUESTE BARTHOLDI, of Paris, in the Republic of France, have originated and produced a Design of a Monumental Statue, representing 'Liberty enlightening the world....'

      The statue is that of a female figure standing erect upon a pedestal or block, the body being thrown slightly over to the left, so as to gravitate upon the left leg, the whole figure being thus in equilibrium, and symmetrically arranged with respect to a perpendicular line or axis passing through the ead and left foot... The right arm is thrown up and stretched out, with a flamboyant torch grasped in the hand.... The head, with its classical, yet severe and calm. features, is surmounted by a crown or diadem, from which radiate divergingly seven rays, tapering from'the crown, and representing a halo."

      That protected Bartholdi against anyone making copies of the Statue of Liberty for fourteen years.

      Not quite - that's (part of) the description, which has no legal weight on its own but is merely to be used in interpreting the patent claim. There's also a sketch of the Statue of Liberty illustrating the description. Your last sentence is correct - it protects against anyone making exact copies of the Statue of Liberty, but doesn't protect against other statues of Liberty, such as, for example, this one [virginia.edu].

  • The Patent application (publication) is three pages in total. That is incredibly short.

    It also has (for now) only one claim, not a list of claims of various scope.

    It also lacks a list Examples or Embodiments, which are the structure that support a Patent when contested or claimed in Court.

    Last, the Figure shown on the front page looks very, very Mac-like. As if they are trying to get Patent coverage for a Design which already exist(ed) on the drawing boards of a competing firm.

    Note that this was filed i

    • The Patent application (publication) is three pages in total. That is incredibly short.

      It also has (for now) only one claim, not a list of claims of various scope.

      It also lacks a list Examples or Embodiments, which are the structure that support a Patent when contested or claimed in Court.

      This is a design patent [uspto.gov]. It only has one claim because design patents are only allowed to have one claim. It is incredibly short because only the figures matter, and the description is mostly irrelevant. There aren't multiple embodiments, because the embodiment shown in the figures is the only embodiment claimed, by definition.

      Last, the Figure shown on the front page looks very, very Mac-like. As if they are trying to get Patent coverage for a Design which already exist(ed) on the drawing boards of a competing firm.

      Note that this was filed in 2006 or 2007 (I won't waste the seconds to check). Mac OS X Finder does indeed feature this exact type of magnification slider in the bottom-right of any Finder window, although I forget when the element was introduced.

      I'm on a Mac right now and no, there is not "this exact type of magnification slider". There's this slider [imgur.com] (from the last version - on the current, the central 'knob' is solid and fla

      • I only know what my patent attorney tells me.

        I will likely be initiating an interference proceeding.

        Oh well, back to my 30 patents, of which a family of 20 is being heavily and overtly infringed.

        • I only know what my patent attorney tells me.

          I will likely be initiating an interference proceeding.

          Oh well, back to my 30 patents, of which a family of 20 is being heavily and overtly infringed.

          Well, far be it from me to recommend against entering into a proceeding that could cost anywhere between $20k-$200k, without a guarantee of getting a patent at the end of it. Good luck to you. I'll go back to the 3000 patents on my docket and the 8 associates I oversee.

          • I only know what my patent attorney tells me.

            I will likely be initiating an interference proceeding.

            Oh well, back to my 30 patents, of which a family of 20 is being heavily and overtly infringed.

            Well, far be it from me to recommend against entering into a proceeding that could cost anywhere between $20k-$200k, without a guarantee of getting a patent at the end of it. Good luck to you. I'll go back to the 3000 patents on my docket and the 8 associates I oversee.

            WOW! You are a true super-hero. But unlike real superheroes, you leave digital footprints all over the place.

            So, Mr. Jeffrey Dixon, of HINSHAW Law, do you feel proud now of your prowess, and your 'management' of eight assistants? You are r

            • Jeffrey Dixon, of HINSHAW Law, do you feel proud now of your prowess, and your 'management' of eight assistants? You are really powerful. I should fear you. Boo-gah boo-gah!.

              I know your boss, personally. So, really just shut the f*ck up about being a gigantic patent stud, when all you really do is put into text the ideas of actual inventors, geniuses, professors, etc.

              Feel proud that you are able to reduce descriptions of brilliant ideas into legalese. That is a monkey-talent that not every person can learn.

              As for having brilliant ideas. . . Well, you have none; otherwise you would be an inventor/scientist/etc. — You are simply a scribe – one who serves at the leisure of your intellectual superiors.

              Yes, I see you looked me up on LinkedIn. You deserve a medal for that. Or at least a certificate!

              Lol, nope. Wrong guy. Sorry, Mr. Dixon, for drawing the ire of Sir Holo of Slashdot, Lord of the Inept Googling.

              • Lol, nope. Wrong guy. Sorry, Mr. Dixon, for drawing the ire of Sir Holo of Slashdot, Lord of the Inept Googling.

                Thanks for taking my bait, @Theaetetus. Mr. Dixon would not have wasted his time. :-P

                You, however, remain a mere scribe.

    • Your post is a perfect example showing why most slashdotters (and most columnists) should not spout off about the quality of patents or patent applications. Your comment above confirms that you are completely ignorant on the topic of patents and yet you feel confident to offer your uninformed opinion to the world. There is a reason patent attorneys get paid so much -- because the subject matter is difficult and complicated.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    i'm actually one of seven people worldwide that own the "offending" corel home office.

    what to do.. what to do..

    i think i'll just send microsoft this piece of shit software so corel can reduce the "damages" by 14.3 percent.

  • Slider, n. [urbandictionary.com] A bowel movement that slides right out and is caused by eating greasy food. Originally, a derogatory term attributed to White Castle hamburgers. Now, the term is unwittingly embraced as mini-hamburgers on menus at White Castle, Chili's, Applebee's, TGI Friday's, Red Robin, etc.

  • I had sliders in some BASIC screen code I wrote back in the 1970s, and Bill Gates owes me a heck of a lot of money now.

    • Also, I should point out we coded sliders into various military code, way before Bill Gates was even coding. He owes some of the first women software designers a HECK of a lot of money too.

      Yes it had + and - symbols on the range. This means, since it was military code, that essentially sliders are PUBLIC DOMAIN.

      No, you're not cleared to read the code. That's not my problem.

  • Microsoft is weak. Regardless of all the billions of dollars they have and their dominance in the software they've released, they obviously feel threatened to patent and then sue over a tiny little slider in an app.

    To the folks at Redmond:
    Keep it up Microsoft. While you nickle and dime customers with outrageous licensing practices and then add telemetry on top of it, and while you extort as much money from the broken patent system as possible, your actions do not go unnoticed. Your actions are indicativ

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