Mobile // Mobile Applications
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12/26/2008
11:27 PM
Dave Methvin
Dave Methvin
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Let's Stop This Patent Trolling

It seems like every few months, some obscure company is awarded a patent for some relatively mundane idea, then turns around and sues the companies that have been using it. This time, the incredible and seemingly patentable innovation is icons that update based on document or window content.

It seems like every few months, some obscure company is awarded a patent for some relatively mundane idea, then turns around and sues the companies that have been using it. This time, the incredible and seemingly patentable innovation is icons that update based on document or window content.You've probably seen thumbnail icons in use in Vista's task switcher or the Google Chrome tab view. Cygnus, the winner in the patent lottery for this feature, is suing Microsoft, Google, and Apple for their infringement on this never-before-imagined innovation.

In five minutes of searching, I found this mention in a book that Windows 98 offered an option to use image thumbnails in Explorer. Cygnus originally filed their patent on June 12, 1998, but Windows 98 was already in beta at that point -- I was testing it at that time -- and by that time Microsoft probably had the feature implemented. And I wonder, where did Microsoft get the idea for the feature? Was it really a totally original idea, or did it have some earlier example it was following?

In the end, it's likely that this patent won't stand up to scrutiny. By deciding to go after three big and well-funded companies, Cygnus has almost guaranteed nothing but legal fees and empty coffers in this go-round. It's a shame that companies can exploit the patent system to prevent advances in software.

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