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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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  • Mozilla? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ironix (165274) <steffen AT norgren DOT ca> on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @04:08AM (#18851959) Homepage
    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?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @04:09AM (#18851971)
    Seriously, I tried to read the patent text, but I didn't even get halfway through and my head is still spinning. Can anyone give an English translation of it?
  • Marshall, TX (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sharp-bang (311928) <sharp...bang...slashdot@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @04:18AM (#18852013) Homepage
    So why is Marshall, Texas such a great venue for patent extortion? The city's web [marshall-chamber.com] pages [marshalltexas.net] don't seem to have an answer, but it does seem to be a nice place.

    One wonders if this boils down to a single judge, who might appreciate a free MacBook.
  • Re:Mozilla? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Macthorpe (960048) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @04:41AM (#18852141) Journal
    I think this response has merit.

    Apple have lost several high-profile patent cases in the last year or two. They'll probably hit Apple first and see if it works, then use the decision against anyone else they feel is infringing. It'll be harder for MS to throw money at it if one judge has already decided that tabbing infringes.
  • by dwater (72834) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @05:22AM (#18852377)
    No, I mean unfortunately.

    Fine, if you have only one window. In any case, if you do just use one window, you don't have to have the window border there.

    Unfortunately, I use many windows, and when I use an Apple computer, I can have only one window visible, and still the menu is for the wrong application - not such a problem if I'm using a mouse and realise, but if I use keyboard accelerators, then I can get into all sorts of trouble before I realise it's not the correct application.

    When it *is* the correct menu for the window I want, and I'm, say, using a window on the second monitor, I have to move the mouse all the way to the other monitor just to use the menu.

    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.

    It's oft claimed that it's easier to get to a menu when it's at the edge of the screen. That's true, though it is almost always further away (unless you only use one full screen window), and strangely enough, everything else on the screen requires precision mouse movements and because of that, I've become quite good at it - I don't need that kind of help, thanks!

    It's brain dead, plain and simple.

    (YMMV)
  • Reap what you sow.. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by delire (809063) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @05:23AM (#18852391)
    Worth mentioning that Adobe has a similar patent [espacenet.com] (ironically presented in a webpage that breaches both the aforementioned patent and this patent):

    Abstract of EP0689133 A method for displaying on a computer screen multiple sets of information needed on a recurring basis, comprising the steps of: (1) Establishing an area on the computer screen in which the multiple sets of information are to be displayed, the established area having a maximum size which is substantially less than the entire area of the screen. (2) Providing within the established area a plurality of selection indicators, one for each of the multiple sets of information. (3) Selecting one of the multiple sets of information for display within the established area by pointing to one of the selection indicators within the established area, whereby the selected set of information will be substituted within the established area for the set of information previously being displayed therein. A selected set of information may also be moved out of the selected area by pointing to its selection indicator and dragging it away.
    Anyway, you reap what you sow. Apple is a member of the Business Software Alliance, one of the heaviest lobbyists [ffii.org] in favour of software patents (and their synchronisation with the cannabilistic US model) here in the EU.
  • by jotaeleemeese (303437) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @05:29AM (#18852419) Homepage Journal
    It will not be until

    a) Big companies are hurt badly by ludicrous patent claims.
    b) They buy, I mean, lobby politicians to kill software patents in the US

    that we will have something resembling sanity.

    Companies can use copyright to protect what is theirs and shoulder the fact that other people will copy their good ideas, that would benefit everybody.
  • Re:Ironic (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mr_matticus (928346) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @05:51AM (#18852535)
    The thing is that "four wheeled vehicle with engine" at one time would have been truly novel and patentable. As technologies progress, they're supposed to be compressed and the initial patents lapse and society goes on.

    The problem with software patents is that software moves a lot more quickly than most kinds of manufacturing and design; it is also more likely with software that good ideas will be emulated across the board as users begin to expect it--to the point that it becomes standardized. The steering wheel, after all, is not the only possible navigation interface for a car. However, car users have come to expect it.

    Other companies are supposed to license the really good ideas and adopt and improve upon them. You get to a mature system in which US car manufacturers all hold a number of patents, and all license patents from each other. No one gets saddled with dramatically higher or lower costs, and the companies all continue to innovate.

    The big difference with software is that lots of companies don't want to license patents from each other, and innovation/evolution has occurred so fast that it's quite difficult to keep up. In 1981, a tabbed visual interface would have been groundbreaking. In 2007, filing that same patent would be absurd. The USPTO would be served quite well to implement mandatory licensing of software patents; patent owners could continue to reap the legitimate benefits of patents, while having each company pay a "bulk licensing fee" would prevent these infringement suits as a profiteering business model. It would lessen pressure on the courts and leave room for actual patent infringement suits to be heard LESS than two years after filing.
  • by shmlco (594907) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @06:08AM (#18852623) Homepage
    From my perspective Fitts' law worked well when the screen size was 9". In today's world of multiple monitors and 30" screens (and even multiple 30" screens), I'd have to say the premise is outdated, as that menu bar is often a long ways away from the currently active window.

    Further, while hitting the menu may be faster when it's on the edge, once you've done so you now need to travel the same distance back to your work area, which ISN'T on an edge.

    All in all, I'd say today's interfaces need in-place, contextual application menus. Personally, I'd modify the system so the very first item in any right-click popup menu is a flyout containing the main application menus. Make it an option if need be, but I think it would make multiple/large screens easier to use.

    I'd also automatically clone the menubar on any multiple monitor setup.
  • by aplusjimages (939458) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @06:51AM (#18852893) Journal
    Like when you buy a house you get title insurance just in case all the lawyers missed some old title to your house somewhere. Is there a patent insurance that protects the company from the person who patented the idea?
  • by Beolach (518512) <<moc.onuj> <ta> <hcaloeb>> on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @07:11AM (#18853063) Homepage Journal

    Patents in general are ridiculous. They hold back the advancement of humankind at the expense of ensuring financial security.
    I wouldn't say they're ridiculous in general. There are good (IMO) reasons [wikipedia.org] to have patents. The thing is, as I understand it, patents were originally intended specifically to promote "the advancement of humanckind." Say I invent the proverbial "better mousetrap" - I build my new invention, and now my house is 100% mouse-free. But without a patent system, I'm not interested or able in selling my better mousetrap to the general public: after all, my design is pretty simple, and the general public could easily build their own just by looking at one of mine. So there's little to no incentive for me to tell anyone how my better mousetrap works - in fact, if I did want to try to market it, there'd be incentive to obfuscate it. So I keep my better mousetrap secret, and eventually I die. Now, since no one else knows how to build my better mousetrap (or even that it ever existed), where's the benefit to humankind?

    Now, if there is a patent system, then I can file a patent for my better mousetrap, and receive legal protection for the exclusive right to market it, for a limited time, and in exchange for disclosing the details of how my better mousetrap works to the general public. So now it's a win-win situation - I as the inventor get rewarded, and the general public gets the benefits of my invention.

    There are, of course, many problems w/ our current patent system, and I would definitely like to see major reform; but I don't think patents are ridiculous.
  • Re:Ironic (Score:3, Interesting)

    by marcosdumay (620877) <marcosdumay&gmail,com> on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @07:11AM (#18853065) Homepage Journal

    The patent of a "four weeled vehicle with engine" would be denied, just because it doesn't explain what sort of verhicle it is. The (very insightfull) gear that transmit power from the engine to a pair of weels while permiting them to have different velocities (and made a 4 weeled vehicle possible) was patented, and rightly so.

    See, generic patent that applies to anything at the horizon despite the actual technology used -> denied. Specific patent that applies to well defined piece of technology -> granted. That's the way it was, and that is what doesn't happen with software patents.

    And, by the way, everybody was after a four weeled vehicle by that time, but nobody had the means of building one. What do you think would happen if somebody was able to patent a "four weeled vehicle with engine" before the diferential gear was created? Do you think it would be developed?

  • Not your peer (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @07:12AM (#18853067)
    that's your competition.

    Your peers are those working in your area. Since the only legitimate business of "Murderer" is actually "Soldier", your peers would be "other soldiers". I would call that trial by soldier court a court in a martial theme. Or, simply a court martial.

    Maybe I should patent that idea..?
  • by ajakk (29927) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @07:12AM (#18853069) Homepage
    You can get patent insurance, but these days it tends to be very expensive and have lots of loopholes. One the main reasons it can be expensive is because one of the largest costs companies want to offset is the cost of getting around an injunction. However, that can be very expensive, and very hard to determine.
  • by lord_mike (567148) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @07:23AM (#18853179)
    Shouldn't have it expired by now?

    Thanks,

    Mike
  • Re:Ironic (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mr_matticus (928346) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @07:25AM (#18853193)

    The patent of a "four weeled vehicle with engine" would be denied, just because it doesn't explain what sort of verhicle it is.
    Sure it does. It's a motorized carriage. If you're the first one with the foresight to use an engine to generate rotational force to drive wheels, you've got yourself a patent. Something can only be obvious after someone has thought of it.

    Specific patent that applies to well defined piece of technology -> granted. That's the way it was, and that is what doesn't happen with software patents.
    I'd say a "personal computer" is a fairly well-defined and sufficiently narrow innovation space. If you're an aeronautics engineer, you would think that patents that apply to aircraft generally are too broad, but that's not the case. There are lots more software titles than there are brands of pencils or models of cars, to be sure. But even if you think about your example, the differential, you'd realize that it applies to countless kinds of products with axles of some kind, from conveyor belts to dune buggies to space probes. Anything at the horizon, indeed.

    What do you think would happen if somebody was able to patent a "four weeled vehicle with engine" before the diferential gear was created? Do you think it would be developed?
    Absolutely. The guy who invented the differential and the guy who invented the motorized carriage with turning problems would have gotten together. The differential guy can't just sell his gear--he'd need a product for it. The carriage guy benefits from an improved product. Bam. Patents at work.
  • Re:Patent expired? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by hazydave (96747) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @08:01AM (#18853581)
    As many have pointed out, the patent was applied for in 1987, but only granted in 1991... thus, its in effect for 17 years from the date it was granted... that's the system prior to 1995.

    However, it should be painfully obvious this is the illegal sort of submarine patent. Usually, companies used to attempt the legal sort -- they'd apply, they'd try to drag the process along as slowly as possible, counting on the 17 years they'd get once the patent was granted, the extra time before the patent is granted would hopefully get that patent into common use... particularly when the patent, such as this one, was so frickin' obvious that people re-created it continuously. The 1995 changes were designed to stop this as much as possible.

    But tabbed interfaces have been around for quite some time. There were tabbed interfaces in AmigaOS programs... I can't swear they showed up before 1987 (AmigaOS 1.x), but this was the latest thing in the early 1990s. I know I've seen computer Rolodex-type programs using a tabbed interface (since that's basically the metaphore), very likely before 1987, though I can't think of the specific example. But obviously, this has been used in Windows and many other programs since then. They ought to lose enforcement rights on this patent due to the fact it hasn't been enforced for the last 15+ years.
  • Re:Patent expired? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by CrankyOldBastard (945508) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @08:08AM (#18853673)
    I'm pretty sure that Alan Kay invented the tabs concept at Xerox PARC when he invented Smalltalk (and the GUI) sometime in the 1970's.
  • Re:Cashcows (Score:3, Interesting)

    by squiggleslash (241428) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @08:34AM (#18854021) Homepage Journal
    Windows 1.0 (possibly later versions, I didn't have a lot of exposure to Windows versions 2.x and 3.0) had a "database" app called "Card file", IIRC, that worked in the way you're describing.
  • Hypercard (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Paradise Pete (33184) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @08:56AM (#18854395) Journal
    The patent was filed in March of 1987. Apple released Hypercard [wikipedia.org] in 1986.

    HyperCard is based on the concept of a "stack" of virtual "cards". Cards hold data, just as they would in a rolodex.

    Look at all the tabs [weather-dimensions.com] in this screenshot.

  • by autophile (640621) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @09:05AM (#18854519)

    Say I invent the proverbial "better mousetrap" - I build my new invention, and now my house is 100% mouse-free. But without a patent system, I'm not interested or able in selling my better mousetrap to the general public: after all, my design is pretty simple, and the general public could easily build their own just by looking at one of mine.

    I think there's a fallacy buried in here. You are implicitly assuming that one and only one person is capable of that particular "a-ha!" moment. The reality is that while the billions of humans on the whole may not have come up with your particular idea at the exact same moment as you did, the chances are very high that someone else will +/- a few years. Or in the software world, within a few months. When it's time to railroad, people railroad.

    Bringing it back to software, sit a hundred good developers in front of a dev environment, and ask them to solve a problem, you will get 90% of them developing any solution at all, and there will be three or four different solutions. That means that on average, 25 or 30 people will have come up with the same idea.

    --Rob

  • by azrider (918631) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @09:32AM (#18854881)

    I can't see how prior art could be difficult.
    Let me take a stab at this (having been through it before). The current (and past method) of handling patents in the USA has been that methods and means as well as prior art are required to be disclosed fully when filing the patent application. This is why you see the words "Patent Pending". The basis for this is to prevent someone (in the USA) from inadvertently violating your patent while going through the process. Once a patent is granted, there is a rush to get international patents (except in those countries with reciprocal patent agreements.
    "Prior Art" is specifically meant to disclose what previous patents were used in the development of your invention. This is due to a recognition that, in most cases, your idea was an (non obvious) extension of someone else's work (possible in an entirely unrelated field.
    In other words, as soon as the patent is published (again according to rules in the USA - not all countries), the full nature (with the exception of "Trade Secrets" - think Coca-Cola) is made available to prevent someone else from copying your idea. The purpose is not to prevent someone from inventing a "better mousetrap", it is to prevent them from inventing the same mousetrap.
    That said, the current case is a perversion of the process, since the companies who are suing did not even try to invent and/or sell a mousetrap in the first place.
  • Re:Cashcows (Score:4, Interesting)

    by arivanov (12034) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @09:32AM (#18854893) Homepage
    The porn industry is the favourite target of web interface patent trolls. Nearly every web interface patent troll in the last 5+ years has gone after web porn companies as the first target.

    The primary reason is exactly this:Wait.. there are patents in the porn industry? The rest of the web does not take the case seriously and laughs it off until the troll has collected a sufficient war chest to go after bigger guys. At the same time nearly any web business method, antipiracy or ui patent is applicable so you have plenty of targets to chose from.

  • Re:Cashcows (Score:3, Interesting)

    by squiggleslash (241428) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @09:56AM (#18855235) Homepage Journal
    Windows 1.0 was previewed around 1983, and released in 1985. Supposedly this patent was initially filed in 1987 and granted in 1991. So MSFT would almost certainly prevail in any patent lawsuit covering Cardfile.
  • Re:Cashcows (Score:3, Interesting)

    by avronius (689343) * on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @10:57AM (#18856195) Homepage Journal
    Cloning from wikipedia:

    In 1986, Apple released the Mac Plus which came standard with 1MiB of RAM. This amount of memory was sufficient to support some form of multitasking, which was first implemented by Andy Hertzfeld in his Switcher program released in April 1985. Switcher worked by designating a number of fixed "slots" in memory, into which applications could be loaded. The user could then switch between these applications by clicking a small button on the top of the menu bar. The current application would horizontally slide out of view, and the next one would slide in. Despite its awkwardness, this approach did fit well with the existing system's memory management scheme, and applications needed no special programming to work with Switcher. This early work on Switcher led to the development of MultiFinder by Apple system software engineers Erich Ringewald and Phil Goldman.
    Also sounds like prior art, n'est pas?

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