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Apple Sued For Using Tabs In OS X Tiger 435

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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  • by nagora ( 177841 ) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @05:26AM (#18852039)
    People bitch about software patents, but in reality they are not that different from any other patents.

    Or, to put it another way, you have no idea what you're talking about. Software patents are totally different from normal patents because they protect ideas instead of implimentations. This is inevitable since software is almost always translated from a source language, which is often a trade secret. If software patents were the same as normal ones it would be the details of this source code which is protected (as it is by copyright law already). Allowing patents on software extends the protection to any implimentation in any language and often with any algorithm. This is vastly more protection than a normal patent which covers only one, clearly defined, method and effectively allows a software patent to lock up an entire idea or concept.

    Additionally, this patent covers something which is as old as the hills. Tabs for organising pages are almost as old as paper itself. Putting that onto a computer simulation of paper is not something that should be patentable at all.


  • by pammon ( 831694 ) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @05:27AM (#18852051)
    Tabbed UI, Apple Lisa, circa 1980. Screenshots [folklore.org], story [folklore.org].
  • Re:Patent expired? (Score:4, Informative)

    by drphil ( 320469 ) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @05:49AM (#18852197)
    This patent issued in 10 Dec 1991. At that time in the US, a patent was in force 17 years after issue - so that patent becomes public domain in Dec 2008 giving it another 20 months. Since then, when the US changed its rules a few years ago to get closer to the practice in the rest of the world, new patents are now in force for 20 years from the date of application.
  • Re:Marshall, TX (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @05:52AM (#18852219)
    Because of the judges (especially T John Ward and Leonard Davis) sets quick trial dates and short discovery deadlines. This saves lawyer spendings and results in quicker cases. Also the local jurors in the area seem to rule in favour of plaintiff more often than not in patent cases.

    See Texas IP rocket docket [law.com].
  • Re:Marshall, TX (Score:5, Informative)

    by Lars T. ( 470328 ) <.moc.liamelgoog. .ta. .regearT.sraL.> on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @06:00AM (#18852269) Journal

    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.
    The judge T. John Ward has a reputation for pushing through a speedy trial (which also means less time to find prior art), and to usually side with the patent holder. http://www.technologyreview.com/InfoTech/wtr_16280 ,300,p1.html [technologyreview.com]

    "Juries in East Texas, unlike those in Houston, Dallas or Austin, are much less likely to have a member with any technical training or education, which exacerbates the problem from the defense perspective, but makes East Texas federal courts an attractive venue for would-be plaintiffs, who know that the jury will, instead, gravitate toward softer or superficial issues that are difficult to predict." http://www.wsgr.com/news/PDFs/09202004_patentpirat es.pdf [wsgr.com]

  • Re:Marshall, TX (Score:3, Informative)

    by Senjutsu ( 614542 ) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @06:06AM (#18852299)
    In particular, Ward has a reputation as being extremely willing to hand out injunctions on very flimsy grounds. This helps the patent troller put significant pressure on the defending company to settle with them.
  • The C.Y.A. clause (Score:1, Informative)

    by noobishness ( 1048406 ) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @06:12AM (#18852337)
    From the USPTO document:

    Although the invention has been described in relation to various implementations, together with modifications, variations and extensions thereof, other implementations, modifications, variations and extensions are within the scope of the invention. The invention is therefore not limited by the description contained herein or by the drawings, but only by the claims.
    In other words, we've described what we think we're patenting, but it could be so much more! Please, dear USPTO, please give us a patent on anything that could ever possibly have any type of navigation structure! Next up for an infringement lawsuit: tabbed file folders!
  • Re:Mozilla? (Score:5, Informative)

    by dorkygeek ( 898295 ) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @07:05AM (#18852609) Journal


  • Re:Patent expired? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Dausha ( 546002 ) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @07:26AM (#18852721) Homepage
    Patent coverage is effective on date of filing; but only actionable after the patent is issued. That is, if you file in 1987, you have to wait until the patent is issued (1991) until you can start enforcing it---even against those who started using the patented idea in 1990. But, the patent coverage runs for 20 years from filing date (even then).[1] The patent was filed in March, 1987, which means the patent should have expired by now.

    What we appear to have here is a patent troll who waited until the last minute to file, hoping to grab as much infringing money as possible. However, the doctrine of laches prevents this sort of behavior. Laches means that you cannot sit on your rights and constructively encourage infringement only to later sue. Think of it as entrapment or inducement.

    More importantly, this idea has been mainstream for years. Visual Basic (et al.) allow for this sort of tabbing behavior. The question is whether M$ is licensed, or whether the troll has been sitting on his rights. Beyond that, we can't know all of the ins and outs of the case at this point.

    [1]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patent [wikipedia.org]
  • Re:Patent expired? (Score:5, Informative)

    by ajakk ( 29927 ) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @07:54AM (#18852909) Homepage

    Patent coverage is effective on date of filing; but only actionable after the patent is issued. That is, if you file in 1987, you have to wait until the patent is issued (1991) until you can start enforcing it---even against those who started using the patented idea in 1990. But, the patent coverage runs for 20 years from filing date (even then).[1] The patent was filed in March, 1987, which means the patent should have expired by now.
    You are wrong. Because a patentee has no rights prior to the issuance of a patent, patent damages are not generally available prior to issuance. This was recently changed with the availability of patent publication in the United States. Now, a patentee can get damages back to the date the patent was published, if the claim found to be infringing is substantially identical to a published claim.

    Also, as the previous poster noted, the term of United States patents [wikipedia.org] changed after this patent was granted. For patents in force before 1995, the patent lasts the greater of 20 years after filing or 17 years after grant. Thus, this patent is in force until 2008.

  • Re:Cashcows (Score:5, Informative)

    by jj13 ( 974374 ) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @08:00AM (#18852969)
    Apparently there is some "prior art" (IANAL) from about 1985, from apple of all places! If anyone has ever used a really old mac, they'll know about the Switcher program that allowed programs to switch in and out of memory, effectively allowing the system to "multitask" (it could switch between already started programs, but only one could use the system at any time). Even better, I'm pretty sure the switcher had a scrolling effect applied to programs as they were switched into and out of memory, giving a "spacial relationship" between the "views" you were navigating. Since they would have internal documentation regarding the development and use of this technology (and maybe even some UI patents of their own), this might be a slap in the face to any kind of settlement.
  • Re:Opera next? (Score:4, Informative)

    by bryhhh ( 317224 ) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @08:25AM (#18853191)
    What? Firefox has always had tabs, The very first release (back in the days when it was known as Phoenix) had this feature built in (i.e. not a plugin).

    http://tech.cybernetnews.com/2006/07/26/cybernotes -a-look-back-at-firefox-phoenix-01/ [cybernetnews.com]
  • Re:Patent expired? (Score:4, Informative)

    by ajakk ( 29927 ) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @09:21AM (#18853855) Homepage
    There are multiple dates that matter in patent law:
    • conception - the day someone came up with the invention
    • reduction to pracice - the day someone figured out how to fully make the invention (after functional testing, etc)
    • filing date - the actual day the patent application was filed
    • publication date - the day the patent application is published (usually about 1 and 1/2 years after filing)
    • grant date - the day when the patent comes into effect
    Damages are only available back until the publication date at the earliest, and that is only if the patent claims didn't change during the time between publication and grant. Prior art has to be known either more than one year before filing, or before conception.
  • Re:Mozilla? (Score:5, Informative)

    by mrchaotica ( 681592 ) * on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @09:57AM (#18854411)

    back in the 80's when Jobs was "inspired" by the work at Xerox Parc?

    No, Bill Gates was "inspired"... Jobs actually licensed the technology.

  • Re:Opera next? (Score:3, Informative)

    by cgenman ( 325138 ) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @10:39AM (#18854993) Homepage
    I think what the grandparent poster meant was that Mozilla didn't have tabs until long after Opera tried them... ironically, Opera was from their beginning a variant of tab-based, using the very old-school MDI interface style.

  • Re:Birth of GUI (Score:3, Informative)

    by Krater76 ( 810350 ) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @02:39PM (#18859119) Journal
    The Wright brothers didn't invent the airplane

    I'm going to have to disagree with you on that one. Maybe the Wright Brothers didn't come up with the idea of flying or the first airplane but they made the first airplane that actually flew. Therefore they invented flying.

All science is either physics or stamp collecting. -- Ernest Rutherford