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Has Microsoft Patented A Successor To Clippy?

Remember Microsoft's Clippy, the annoying animated assistant featured in Office, until it was retired in 2004? Like most people, I found Clippy variously unnerving, obnoxious, and superfluous. Which, when you think of it, is no small feat for a nonexistent icon. It's been the subject of much speculation whether Clippy would ever return. Would he re-emerge as a s
Remember Microsoft's Clippy, the annoying animated assistant featured in Office, until it was retired in 2004? Like most people, I found Clippy variously unnerving, obnoxious, and superfluous. Which, when you think of it, is no small feat for a nonexistent icon. It's been the subject of much speculation whether Clippy would ever return. Would he re-emerge as a staple, perhaps, or as some other antediluvian -- but anthropomorphized -- item of office detritus?Knowing Microsoft's tendencies, I'd always assumed the software company would indeed come up with another disingenuously doofy icon, and promote it like it was the greatest thing since, well,. . .

That hasn't come to pass. However, a search through the U.S. Patent Office's online archives turns up a bunch of interesting design patents. Some -- perhaps most -- are clearly related to design work done in support of Windows Vista. For example, D536,659 is a design patent for the upper-right-hand corner treatment used in Vista.



Vista Aero Stuff. Microsoft U.S. Design Patent D536,659
(click on image to enlarge).

However, many of the other patents are for funky icons which could clearly have applications as Clippy-like educational user aids. That includes these four: an exclamation-point-like treatment; an envelope and star combo; a drinking glass with some unidentifiable "stuff" in it; and a box.



Funky Exclamation Point. Microsoft U.S. Design Patent D536,344
(click on image to enlarge).



Envelope & Star. Microsoft U.S. Design Patent D536,001
(click on image to enlarge).



Bottoms Up. Microsoft U.S. Design Patent D536,002
(click on image to enlarge).



Hard Drive In A Box? Microsoft U.S. Design Patent D536,003
(click on image to enlarge).

The most iconic of the Microsoft design patents is that of an animated eye:



'The Eye.' Microsoft U.S. Design Patent D536,343
(click on image to enlarge).

My favorite of the Microsoft patents is a seemingly useless icon I call the "faceless couple."



Faceless Couple. Microsoft U.S. Design Patent D536,346
(click on image to enlarge).

Microsoft Design Patent 436,345 I've dubbed -- He's like Spongebob, only not so much.



Vista 'Bob'? Microsoft U.S. Design Patent D536,345
(click on image to enlarge).

Further investigation leaves one with the impression that the folks in Redmond—perhaps taking a page from the days when they wanted to get all the rights to the English word "windows"—seem to be putting in for design patents on just about every conceivable object. In that vein, check out this icon of a digital camcorder:



Picture This. Microsoft U.S. Design Patent D536,663
(click on image to enlarge).

Which, if any, of these incarnations will inherit Clippy's mantle? Who knows? Probably only this guy:



'The Eye,' Again. (Note how the iris is in a different position than in the previous picture, indicating that this icon probably revolves.) Microsoft U.S. Design Patent D536,343
(click on image to enlarge).