Sunday, June 06, 2004

Absurd Patents

Wired reports that Microsoft has been awarded patents on "double clicking" and holding down a button on Palm PCs

A patent recently obtained by Microsoft for its Palm-sized PC product line is raising concerns among intellectual property experts who say it could be used to demand licensing fees from other mobile-device makers.

The patent, issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on April 27, covers what Microsoft calls a "time-based hardware button for application launch." Microsoft said the technology was developed for use in handheld computers, such as its Palm-size PC, which use buttons to open files and start programs.

But the wording of the patent is drawing fire from some critics of the patent office, who view it as another example of how companies are obtaining patents that are either overly broad or apply to technologies already widely in use.

"What was the patent office thinking?" wondered Brandon Shalton, founder of Fight the Patent, a site that protests questionable patents. "I'm just kind of amazed that this patent was filed so late and was approved. It's a double-click. It was novel and unique 10 to 15 years ago."

Microsoft filed for the patent in July of 2002, but its application includes content from an earlier filing, made in 1999, which was subsequently abandoned.
Moreover, Bernstein said, it's possible that Microsoft will never attempt to enforce its patent. Instead, the company may merely use the patent defensively to ward off suits from holders of similar intellectual property claims.

Of course, Bernstein could also envision the software company taking a different approach.

"If Microsoft were to become more aggressive in its Pocket PC business, I could see them asserting this patent offensively," he said.


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