Apple, Microsoft, and Google sued over File Preview

Thu, Dec 25, 2008

Analysis, Legal, News

If you’re gonna go, go strong.  That appears to be the strategy of Cygnus Systems, an Arizona company who on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against Apple, Microsoft, and Google.  A trifecta of sorts.

The lawsuit alleges that the above-named companies all have products that implement a file preview feature, which allows users to preview the contents of a document via a snapshot without actually opening the file itself.  More specifically, Cygnus Systems alleges that the following products infringe on its patent: Vista, Internet Explorer, OS X Leopard, the iPhone, and Google’s Chrome browser.

The patent at issue is titled “System and Method for Iconic Software Environment Management”, was issued on March 18, 2008, and was initially filed in 2001 .  According to the complaint, the patent

“relates to methods of and systems for accessing one or more computer files via a graphical icon, wherein the graphical icon includes an image of a selected portion or portions of the one or more computer files.”

Cygnus Systems thus alleges that Vista’s file preview features, and Leopards file preview features in the Finder and Coverflow violate this patent.  Cygnus also alleges that Apple’s infringement extends to the iPhone’s main menu, and the iPhones Safari browser.  And oh yes, Google’s Chrome web browser also uses an “iconic file preview”.  But this could just be the beginning.  Attorney’s for the plaintiff have stated that they’re also looking into possible infringement by a host of other companies.

So does Cygnus Systems have a case?

Well, it’s hard to assess the validity of Cygnus’s claims because their complaint is only 4 pages long, and consists entirely of Cygnus asserting its patent ownership, and quickly accusing Apple, Microsoft, and Google of violating it.  Strangely, that’s the entire complaint.  And to add another quirk to the mix, the complaint seems to contain a glaring and serious typo, which doesn’t seem like a good start when you’re starting legal proceedings against 3 Tech heavyweights.

I imagine in their zeal to file this lawsuit before Christmas, the lawyer must have forgotten to add Apple to their request for judgment, and instead put Microsoft twice.  You would think that a four page complaint would give you plenty of time to proof-read!

In any event, Cygnus Systems is looking for compensation from the infringement, a permanent injunction for the offending products, and royalty payments.  Par for the course.  It’s becoming increasingly clear that the patent system is in dire need of reform as patents are routinely granted for ideas, and not for the actual and original implementations of those ideas, which goes against the entire notion of the Patent system in the first place.

The original patent can be viewed over here.


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2 Comments For This Post

  1. Ron Says:

    When the late physicist Richard Feynman told a story once. When they was leaving Los Alamos, some government officials asked the physicists what all ideas they could think of for uses of nuclear power. Feynman said a couple of things including propulsion for a jet or a rocket. Years later, some people started trying to contact him to get him to help them design a nuclear-powered jet. They were persistent, and eventually in annoyance he asked why they kept asking him of all people. It turned out the government had patented all of these ideas, and he was listed as the author of a patent on a nuclear powered jet. They figured he must therefore be the expert to ask. It was a silly episode, but even back then, they were patenting ideas.

    I think this sort of thing would be okay so long as the faceless person granting these moronic patents could be called onto the carpet in some way. Obviously, you wouldn’t want to go to far, because then every single patent case would include a lawsuit against some poor sap in the patent office. But really obvious patents that shouldn’t have been granted… it would be nice to know that the guy who granted it got in some kind of trouble later.

  2. Ron Says:

    Sorry for the typos. The first “when” should have been edited out. And in the second paragraph, it should have been “too far”.

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