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Apple Sued For Using Tabs In OS X Tiger 435

Posted by kdawson
from the trolls-on-the-march dept.
rizzo320 writes "AppleInsider is reporting that an Illinois-based company and its Nevada partner have filed a lawsuit against Apple Inc., alleging that Mac OS X 10.4 'Tiger' infringes an interface patent relating to the OS's nearly universal use of tabs. The suit was filed in the patent troll's and forum shopper's favorite venue: Marshall, TX. The patent in question is 5072412, which was originally issued to Xerox in 1987, but is now owned or licensed to IP Innovation LLC and its parent Technology Licensing Corporation. 'Category dividers triggered by Spotlight searches, as well as page tabs in the Safari web browser, bear the closest similarity to the now 20-year-old description' of the patent, according to the article. IP Innovation is requesting damages in excess of $20 million and an injunction against future sales and distribution of Mac OS X 10.4. Software patent reform can't come soon enough!"
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Apple Sued For Using Tabs In OS X Tiger

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  • Re:Mozilla? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @04:09AM (#18851967)
    Apple's got money.
  • Re:Mozilla? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tibike77 (611880) <tibikegamez@ y a h o o .com> on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @04:23AM (#18852023) Journal
    Why not against IE7/Microsoft ?
    They certainly got more cash :)
  • Birth of GUI (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fozzmeister (160968) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @04:27AM (#18852049) Homepage
    It's gotta be said that Xerox is responsible for most of the GUI's we see nowadays, and if anyone has a right to tabs or anything else in that area, they do, they did a hell of a lot of innovation. But the terms for patents in IT are far too long, and it is kinda unfair that Apple is singled out as well.
  • Re:Mozilla? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tezbobobo (879983) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @04:30AM (#18852073) Homepage Journal
    They've got too much money (for lawyers).
  • Biased Summary (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @04:37AM (#18852125)
    Im as much for patent reform as the next guy, but can we please have story summaries that state the NEWS ONLY?

    Leave the comments ("patent troll", etc) for the, uh, comments.
  • by the_womble (580291) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @04:40AM (#18852139) Homepage Journal

    People bitch about software patents, but in reality they are not that different from any other patents.

    The only reason you are right about that, is because patents are horribly broken in lots of fields - pharmaceuticals, for example.


    They often do not work anything like as well as they are supposed to in advancing technology, and they do a lot to impose extra costs and barriers to entry.


    People on Slashdot dislike software patents in particular, partly because they are particularly bad, and partly because that is what they know most about. There is also very good evidence that software patents do not work because software only recently became patentable. Technology did not advance any faster after this, therefore software patents do not work. We do not have as solid evidence on other types of patents.


    See my past Slashdot comments and my blog for more.

  • Cashcows (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tibike77 (611880) <tibikegamez@ y a h o o .com> on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @04:53AM (#18852225) Journal
    IANAL, so let me rephrase that in layman's terms.

    The patent basically looks like it covers anthing resembling a modern user interface.
    The patent more specifically stresses mechanics like the Opera/IE/Mozilla browser tabs, spreadsheet "workbooks", the Windows taskbar, you name it.
    So, in other words, just about any software on the market today.
    Well, that's what I seemed to gather from the passing glance I gate the patent text. So I might be wrong. Please correct me if that's the case.

    Assuming I'm right, this is a "blanket patent" that can be sicced on anybody they chose to.
    One would expect them to go after several small companies at once, with several lesser damage claims, companies that might not afford to pay a lawyer.

    Instead, they go after a rather large company (again, correct me if I'm wrong, but Apple is a pretty big company), and claim a relatively unimpressive sum (20+ mil).
    I could only suppose again that damage claims must be related to number of users that the product was sold to (or somesuch).
    Still, going after Microsoft and claiming damage for... heh... EVERYTHING Windows and Windows-based Microsoft ever made and sold, now that would be a huge sum we're talking about.
    Claiming Apple wouldn't have the money to go into court for this is pretty ridiculous... well, unless, maybe they're counting on Apple settling out of court for such a paltry sum ?

    I can only hope they get smashed in court, and smashed good.
  • Re:Mozilla? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Savage-Rabbit (308260) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @04:56AM (#18852247)

    So... Why did they suddenly decide to go after Apple now when Mozilla has been in, urm, flagrant violation of this supposed patent for much longer than Apple?
    Apple's got money.
    Apple also has a high profile and a loyal customer following that borders on being a fan-base which ensures that this will be publicized by every Apple centric website and patent abolishment preaching nerd site on the net. This in turn will ensure that the main stream media will eventually pick up on it and bring it to the attention of the target audience which is the rest of the Software industry thus ensuring they get their FUD into the widest possible circulation completely free of charge.

    And that concludes my conspiracy theory...
  • Re:Cashcows (Score:5, Insightful)

    by arivanov (12034) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @05:04AM (#18852289) Homepage
    No.

    The mechanism which you describe is used in the porn, ad, etc industries where the small guys have positive cash flow and something can be collected out of them. That is not valid for most small guys in the software industry. Further to this, there are not that many small guys that do stuff that do anything new and UI related. Most just reuse what is supplied to them in the latest SDK and do not do anything new.

    As far as the claim size, it is aimed to make Apple seriously consider settling.

    If they settle there is enough war chest to pay for a couple of legal daisycutters to be dropped on some small guys (if you find any to drop it in the first place, no small commercial UI companies left around). There will also enough money to lob one big bunkerbuster at Redmond and fight a properly sized claim.
  • Re:Birth of GUI (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bursch-X (458146) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @05:11AM (#18852331)
    This is complete bullshit, when Apple visited Xerox and got their inspiration, Xerox merely had a bunch of demos, not even a complete system yet (that came later). Things like doubleclicking, click and drag, pull-down menus, the desktop metaphor, copy and paste are all inventions that happened at Apple not at Xerox.

    Xerox came up with an implementation of a new way to interface with computers, that had been talked about since quite a while, Apple made it into a usable system and came up with most of the way we interact with computers nowadays.
  • by Senjutsu (614542) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @05:14AM (#18852349)
    Fortunately, you mean. Having a useless title bar consume one of the four extremely valuable screen edges and parking the menu under it is one of the most horrendously stupid violations of Fitts' law in the history of user interfaces.
  • by ricree (969643) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @05:16AM (#18852361)
    It seems to me that venue shopping is the thing that needs to go here. The idea that it is possible to pick and choose who gets to decide on the lawsuit based upon how easy it will be to win simply boggles the mind.
  • Re:Birth of GUI (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pomo monster (873962) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @05:16AM (#18852365)
    Let me reprise a comment of mine from several months previous:

    Ford didn't invent the assembly line. The Wright brothers didn't invent the airplane. Wanamaker didn't invent the department store. Edison didn't invent the light bulb.

    All these people derived inspiration from their contemporaries. All they did was "steal" ideas from others and make them better.

    Steve Jobs' saying, that "real artists ship," is right on the money. Production, after all, has a more lasting impact than theory and prototype.
  • Re:Mozilla? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @05:36AM (#18852461) Homepage Journal
    Whoa, wait a minute. You think the "framers of the Constitution" set up the current system of trademarks, copyrights and patent law?

    Do you also think the "framers" are responsible for the current IRS tax law?

    Career bureaucrats and smarmy politicians have corrupted much of our legal system beyond all recognition by the sainted "framers".
  • by Firethorn (177587) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @05:49AM (#18852527) Homepage Journal
    To put it another way, this is like being able to patent the gasoline engine.

    If it transforms gasoline into motive force, it's in violation of the patent. You could build a gasoline powered steam engine and it'd be infringing. The patent could have been for a 2 stroke, then a company comes along and starts mareting a rotary engine and the patent holder sues.

    Tabs have been used to assist in organizing and finding specific parts of paper-based information for ages. Desktops, filing cabinets, trash cans and many other objects have made appearances in GUIs, so why not tabs?
  • by JonathanBoyd (644397) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @06:01AM (#18852589) Homepage

    I used to use a computer with, IIRC, 18 monitors. I can't imagine what a pain in the rear end that would have been if it were running OSX.

    If they designed OS X around having 18 monitors available, the experience for the majority of users, who have onlye 1 monitor, would be a lot worse. Quite a few people do use 2 or even 3 though, so it's a valid criticism in those cases. IIRC, there are keyboard shortcuts to access the menu, so you could try those.

  • Re:Cashcows (Score:3, Insightful)

    by asninn (1071320) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @06:09AM (#18852629)
    That may indeed be what they're counting on - the equivalent of the RIAA's "a settlement will be cheaper than a drawn-out court case" strategy. And add to that the fact that a precedent (Apple paying for the right to use this "patent") is valuable for them (obviously) *and* Apple (since it will make it more likely that Apple's competitors will be sued and lose money, too), and I wouldn't be surprised at all if this was settled out of court after a while "for an undisclosed sum" (which, given the mutual benefits, would probably be very small - significantly smaller than even the 20 million they're asking for now).
  • by mr_matticus (928346) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @06:23AM (#18852707)
    That's not strictly true. Patents protect methods. Whether that method involves a series of gears, a paintbrush's movement on canvas, or some lines of code isn't really relevant, generally.

    Saying it's not patentable is a false conclusion based on hindsight. If someone put a computer in front of you with a text-based interface, you wouldn't immediately look at it and say "tabs!" That's the answer! Obviously, you wouldn't even immediately create the idea of a GUI. A basic graphical interface was possible long before it was actually implemented. In 1981, I wouldn't have been able to find a single reason to identify a tab patent as obvious. Just because an idea is simple doesn't mean it's not patentable. Adding flush rivets to planes is a very simple idea, but it took a tremendous amount of engineering and trial-and-error in manufacturing processes. The end result is patentable because they figured out how to make it happen. The method itself is a trade secret (just as the source code for implementing a software feature can be). You'll note that most patents say "a method where..." or something similar and the patent describes the results. This is why.

    Organizing information to display in tabs is a method. At one time, it was novel and non-obvious. There was no reason to reject a patent for it ("I should have thought of that!" isn't one) in 1981. The problem is that software patents last too long (things which were groundbreaking even just 5 years ago are old news), and infringement suits have become a method for profiteering. In 2007, tabs and scroll bars are old hat. Patent infringement suits should have to be defended from day one. If you wait 15 years to sue (at which time, 99% of the industry has gradually adopted that method), you're profiteering. There is no legitimate excuse. If you have been defended your patent since the beginning, that's an entirely different story.

    I don't have a problem with patents being granted for novel innovations. I do feel that the USPTO should insist on a uniform licensing model, though, and that patents should need to be defended as the holder becomes aware of the problem, not several years later when the fruit is ripe, so to speak. I also believe that once your idea has propagated to the point where no one can even pinpoint the source, it's too late to sue. It's the difference between holding a patent on a gasoline engine in 1800 and trying to sue for one in 2007.
  • Re:Patent expired? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mbone (558574) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @06:29AM (#18852731)
    Patents do expire in 20 years. You can sue for past enfringement after it expires, but not on-going infringement.

    My guess is, this is one last attempt to make something from a vanishing asset, before it disappears completely later this year.
  • Re:Marshall, TX (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bbn (172659) <baldur.norddahl@gmail.com> on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @06:31AM (#18852739)
    Maybe you should be entitled to a jury of peers. Even in tech cases. Meaning a jury of engineers and not a jury of joe stupid.
  • Re:Cashcows (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kripkenstein (913150) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @06:42AM (#18852815) Homepage
    You've got the right idea. Yes, they can sue any modern desktop or web browser. Their strategy appears to be to get a small settlement (only several million) from Apple, who might prefer that to a lawsuit that might cost just as much (and in which they might lose). Then, given that settlement, they can go after bigger fish, like, say, Microsoft, and demand much larger sums of money, while saying that the industry (i.e. Apple, a prominent member in that industry) has already acknowledged their patent as being valid. Not that they need the industry's seal of approval, but it can be of help.
  • Re:Mozilla? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FellowConspirator (882908) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @07:13AM (#18853079)
    The original framers of the Constitution did not imagine patent trolls at all. At that time, one needed to demonstrate a working prototype of the invention. That prototype was also referred to to remove ambiguity as to what was being patented.

    Not true any more.

    I'd point out that the patent was filed for more than 20 years ago, but not granted until 1991.

    I'd also point out that the patent implies an implementation much different than how such things are implemented today. The idea is not subject to patent, only the implementation -- which is demonstrably different.
  • Re:Cashcows (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wellingj (1030460) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @07:18AM (#18853137)
    Wow, so it's like what MS is trying to do to Linux right now.

    1.Set a stupid precedence with some unknowing schmuck(s) of a company who knows nothing of the common good.
    2.Apply precedence ad nauseam, creating more FUD than anything real.
    ....
    3.Profit!

    I find the state of business quite sad. There are too many companies who try to get away with dubious deeds just to make a buck.
  • by Cyclops (1852) <rms.1407@org> on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @07:20AM (#18853161) Homepage
    We don't need a Software Patent reform, we need it to have a quite sudden early retirement.

    If you have a nice glass broken in two halves, you can consider glueing it together again.

    If it's broken in thousands of miniscule pieces... you simple throw it away.

    Software Patents are like glass broken in thousands of dangerous miniscule shards that if ingested only hurt the industry by the inside.

    Retire it. Now!
  • by Morgaine (4316) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @07:29AM (#18853231)
    Patents provide the low-hanging fruit in this area, but the actual problem goes much deeper.

    As we all know here, software patents are wholly inappropriate in software, as they undermine the very basis of computing. But as long as companies are free to engage lawyers to litigate as a business plan, no amount of patent reform will fix this issue, because lawyers can literally create a case out of nothing. And they do so regularly, as we've seen in hundreds of examples recently.

    The problem lies in part with lawyers (basically for being pricks without any moral standing, and happily taking money for their services regardless of purpose), and in part with judges and the judicial system as a whole, for not applying massive penalties to lawyers who use law merely to underpin a company business plan. Judges need to see through the purpose of a suit, and stomp heavily on lawsuits being used purely as a means of financial gain. The reason we've got into this mess is largely because lawyers benefit from all litigation, and judges have no interest in stopping that.

    A complete ban on software patents would at least place that low-hanging fruit out of reach, but it won't solve the greater problem faced by corporate America, which is that it is at the mercy of a huge tier of parasites wearing suits, whose whole idea of worthwhile activity is to prevent worthwhile activity by others. Lawsuits are being used as an anti-competitive weapon by every man and his dog now, and that's the key problem here.
  • Re:Cashcows (Score:3, Insightful)

    by AndersOSU (873247) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @07:41AM (#18853333)
    Settling out of court doesn't set a precedence, so there would be no benefit for apple to cave unless they think they are going to lose and can get away paying less.
  • Re:Cashcows (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Gr8Apes (679165) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @08:08AM (#18853669)
    Let's see - Excel existed prior to 87 (85) on the Mac. Was it tabbed then? If so - prior art right there.

    Also, isn't the patent out of date? it's been 20 years, or pretty close to it.
  • Re:Mozilla? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by siriuskase (679431) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @08:20AM (#18853847) Homepage Journal
    Shouldn't they have gone after Apple back in the 80's when Jobs was "inspired" by the work at Xerox Parc? Why haven't they sued Apple for using a mouse? Shouldn't patent suits happen before an innovation becomes the de facto industry standard interface?

    or maybe Disney is getting ready to sue everyone over the mouse
  • by mr_matticus (928346) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @08:21AM (#18853859)

    That shouldn't be allowed. The orignal meaning of the word patent is open (as in patently obvious).
    Actually, "patently obvious" and "patent" come from "letters patent" which itself comes from Latin, but that's neither here nor there. The openness refers to the opening of the design at the expiration of the period, not to the clarity and precision of the filing itself. A patent has never been expected to provide enough information to produce the result--only enough information to describe it sufficiently for identification.

    For the reasons I stated above, allowing a partially secret patent is a contradiction in terms
    Only from a poor understanding. Trade secret trumps patent in IP poker.

    You should not be allowed to patent "a means of producing mechanical energy from gasoline. It's got metal bits in it, and that's all I'm saying." But you should be allowed to patent a specific implementation, e.g. the four stroke internal combustion engine. That would not prevent someone else inventing another means to the same end, e.g. a turbine.
    Start from the beginning. "A means of producing mechanical energy from a combustible fuel source" absolutely was patentable (not by 1850, though). The external combustion engine was patentable when created; the internal combustion engine was patentable, too. From there, someone could come up with the idea of the piston engine to drive a rotating shaft attached to a wheel. Another person could come up with the idea of a turbine. Yet another could come up with the rotary engine. Using these engines to drive a fan blade (propeller) instead of a wheel would be novel, and then using a series of fan blades to compress air, or using that propeller to generate direct lift would branch out from there. This process continues, and the original patents lapse as innovation compresses them into a mass of "basic principles."

    Each of these innovations builds from the previous in a new way. But each of them also was non-obvious when it was invented. The wheel seems utterly obvious to all of us alive today, but it obviously wasn't when it was invented (or it would have been invented sooner). Absurdly simple things like four-stroke engines or counter-sinking screws or using a visual desktop metaphor weren't always so.
  • Re:Cashcows (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Heymdall (1025640) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @08:22AM (#18853871)
    Very good post. I'm just not quite sure Windows taskbar would fit into definition since the patent specificaly claims: "while still giving a spatial frame of reference and the same general interface during the switch." And program windows are not all of the same size and style. Wanna search for more tabs? MS Office has been using them for many years in their options dialogs...
  • Re:Mozilla? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CrudPuppy (33870) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @08:25AM (#18853911) Homepage
    how about for prior art they drag in a filing cabinet from the 60's and show the tabs on top of each folder that separates things by category *grin*
  • Biased Edit? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ohearn (969704) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @08:27AM (#18853933)
    I know this will probably kill karma, but here goes.

    "IP Innovation is requesting damages in excess of $20 million and an injunction against future sales and distribution of Mac OS X 10.4. Software patent reform can't come soon enough!"

    I really have to wonder if the article summary would have just cheered wildly and forgotten about patent reform for a few minutes if it had been MS they were suing, or if all the fans of Apple and MS bashers would have taken a break to still support the bigger issue on this one.
  • by hey! (33014) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @08:59AM (#18854429) Homepage Journal
    Well, if you remember the early days of GUIs, (the 1980s) there were lots of attempts to create highly literal representations of familiar and useful real world objects: trapezoidal desktops that sat on top of file drawers to represent that the surface in question was, indeed a desktop; tabbed notebooks with spiral "bindings" to represent the fact that this was, indeed, a notebook.

    Nobody patented these things because it was the obvious way to make a GUI. It was also the wrong way.

    Very quickly, the interfaces became streamlined, losing literal aspects of the metaphor. Desktops became rectangular and filled the entire screen, maximizing the user's work space. Notebooks lost the spiral bindings but kept the tabs, leaving more room for notebook contents.

    This process is also obvious: remove elements from the metaphor that perform no function other than to carry the metaphor to the user. This process is forced by constraints (users only have so much screen real estate and designers are always fighting that limitation). It works because the functional elements of the metaphor are sufficient to carry message of its usage to the users: the fact that things can be placed on the desktop is all the user need to know; the fact that clicking on a tab selects a different page carries the meaning of the tab to the user.

    It is not the originality of the "inventor" which created tabs, it was an inevitable historical process of literalism and erosion of irrelevant detail; the same process that created alphabets from pictograms.

  • by jez9999 (618189) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @09:31AM (#18854863) Homepage Journal
    The GIMP uses several windows to contain an interface what is, semantically, one interface. That makes it totally unintuative and ugly, and I have no idea why they've not redesigned the interface yet. Do you?
  • Obviously not. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by porcupine8 (816071) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @10:32AM (#18855757) Journal
    In a murder case, you're trying to prove that you're not a murderer. And they already get juries of not-murderers. Duh.

    I can see it now - "Your Honor, I'd like to request a jury made up of my fellow serial killers." "Is that a guilty plea I hear?"

  • by wafflemonger (515122) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @08:29PM (#18864205)
    The part I don't understand is that the patent has expired. Software pattents expire 14 years after they are granted http://www.clemson.edu/research/ottSite/ottStart_I ntelectPatents.htm#Duration [clemson.edu]. That is in 1991 according to the link that was provided in the summary. So I guess that they can sue for any infrigement before 2005. After that there is no protection on the idea. Going after the current version of OSX seems dumb because it is not covered by the patent.

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