Microsoft Sued Over User Editable Toolbar Patent

from the don't-bother-creating-software,-you'll-just-get-sued dept

If you follow the patent world, you know of Gary Odom, who is known as The Patent Hawk. To say he's a big supporter of the patent system would be something of an understatement. He's been known to comment here on occasion, employing the style seen all-too-often among patent system apologists commenting on Techdirt posts: insult repeatedly and broadly, offer no actual points, refuse to actually counter anything we say, provide absolutely no evidence and (for good measure) insult again. However, as reader Jon has pointed out to us, Odom recently received a new patent (he's got a bunch) on tool group manipulations and he's now suing Microsoft for the way its toolbars work in Office 2007.

I won't comment on the patent itself and whether or not its obvious -- read the claims and judge for yourself. However, I will question just what sort of patent system we've created when simply putting a toolbar in your software that can be changed and manipulated by the end user can get you sued for patent infringement. With patents and lawsuits like this flying by every day, it almost seems as if software companies are better off not doing any actual innovation, because it's only likely to get them sued. Have an idea on how to make a toolbar function better? Don't bother unless you're willing to pay a tax. At some point you have just sit back and look at the system as a whole and wonder how we got from the vision of Thomas Jefferson to here.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    Jim, Aug 20th, 2008 @ 10:32am

    Um... hasn't this been available in Office since at least 97 (last version I remember). Customizable toolbars is a pretty braod thing.

     

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      Ronald J Riley (profile), Aug 21st, 2008 @ 5:07am

      Odom has the expertize Mike needs !!!

      "by Michael Masnick from the don't-bother-creating (Know-Nothing with big mouth dept.)" when you can pillage instead dept. attacked Gary Odom, who is known as The Patent Hawk and proceed to whine about how Gary Odom has criticized Michael Masnick over his profound ignorance of the patent system. Mr. Odom is a QUALIFIED patent professional and an inventor. He actually understand both the process of applying for a patent and now has learned the hard way about Microsoft and their apologists (Mike, that's YOU).

      Mike whines some more, saying "He's been known to comment here on occasion, employing the style seen all-too-often among patent system apologists commenting on TechDIRT posts: insult repeatedly and broadly, offer no actual points, refuse to actually counter anything we say, provide absolutely no evidence and (for good measure) insult again". To which I say that Mr. Odom is by no means the person taking Mike to task for spewing endless drivel about two topics, patents and economics while leaving absolutely no doubt about his total lack of competency in those areas.

      Mike says " I won't comment on the patent itself and whether or not its obvious". Well I guess that Mike is finally learning to avoid commenting on at least some of the things he is ignorant about. Of course he goes on to spew nonsense about the patent, demonstrating that he simply does not understand either the patent's coverage or the prior art.

      Mike even invokes the father of the patent system with "At some point you have just sit back and look at the system as a whole and wonder how we got from the vision of Thomas Jefferson to here." I have absolutely no doubt that Jefferson would box Mike's ears for using his name in this manner. Mike constantly commits stupid and misleading stunts like this and then wonders why people disrespect him.

      I have some more advice of you Mike. Your assignment is to study all of Odom's writings because he actually has the expertise you need to be able to comment about patent issues intelligently. Now the only question is are you intelligent enough to take a deep breath and learn about this topic and then man enough to admit just how wrong you have been. I am willing to bet that the answer is NO on both counts.

      Ronald J. Riley,


      Speaking only on my own behalf.
      Affiliations:
      President - www.PIAUSA.org - RJR at PIAUSA.org
      Executive Director - www.InventorEd.org - RJR at InvEd.org
      Senior Fellow - www.patentPolicy.org
      President - Alliance for American Innovation
      Caretaker of Intellectual Property Creators on behalf of deceased founder Paul Heckel
      Washington, DC
      Direct (202) 318-1595 - 9 am to 9 pm EST.

       

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    HFC, Aug 20th, 2008 @ 10:43am

    Nothing new here

    "BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

    As described herein, a tool group becomes a user-manipulable entity unto itself. This accommodates easy reorganization of a toolbar, either by the user, or automatically, to further productivity. Other manipulations, such as allowing a user to wrap a toolbar comprising multiple groups, or merge two toolbars, or selectively hide tools on a group-by-group basis, provide further conveniences to users in having toolbars behave as desired. Another aspect is automatic configuration of tools and groups of tools in a toolbar based upon tool usage frequency."

    This has been done for a long time. Well before his 2005 filing date.

    I'd like to see the images associated with the patent application, but it requires Quicktime installation, and I refuse to install that bloatware.

     

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    Frank, Aug 20th, 2008 @ 10:48am

    Weird

    I wonder how this got through the system seeing as how, unless this guy created his own Windows or some other API's to actually code the toolbars then how can Microsoft not be in the right here? I mean, this guy patents on overtly obvious idea that has been around for over 15 years? This system is so far gone there is no chance for salvation.

     

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    Frank, Aug 20th, 2008 @ 10:48am

    Weird

    I wonder how this got through the system seeing as how, unless this guy created his own Windows or some other API's to actually code the toolbars then how can Microsoft not be in the right here? I mean, this guy patents on overtly obvious idea that has been around for over 15 years? This system is so far gone there is no chance for salvation.

    PS: Photoshop has had this for 10 years...

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 20th, 2008 @ 11:06am

    Gary Odom deserves to be buried in a ditch and forgotten about!

     

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    Roger, Aug 20th, 2008 @ 11:13am

    So Maybe

    Someone should patent the process of patent trolling/hawking and the sue Odom for using the process.

    Just a thought...

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 20th, 2008 @ 11:16am

    He is doing more then Techdirt

    Suits like this are so obviously and rediculously "out a whack" that even the passing layman can see the need for reform. By wasting the courts time with frivilous cases like this, "the Hawk" is doing more to stimulate Patent Reform then pretty much anyone else out there (sorry including even techdirt) . . . we might one day thank him and his rampant greed for actually helping to stimulating change in the very system he abuses.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 20th, 2008 @ 11:18am

    OK, I read his patent application. It sounds like he is describing how to customize the appearence of a Word 2.0 toolbar. The patent was filed in 2005, correct me if I am wrong, but isn't Word 2.0 at least 10 years old? One more example of a patent that should never have been awarded. The Patent office really needs to get a clue and at least look at the application they are probably using everyday before issuing a patent like this.

     

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      mobiGeek, Aug 20th, 2008 @ 12:11pm

      Re:

      Word 2.0 came out somewhere between 1990 and 1992. Word 6.0 for Windows (the sequel to Word 2.0) was released to manufacturing in the fall of 1993.

      Word 6.0 most definitely had a configurable toolbar, with an editor to let you drag-n-drop various toolbar buttons between different toolbars. But I don't know that different toolbars are the same thing as the "groups" that this patent talks about. And, from what I remember, there was no way to "merge" toolbars/toolbar groups.

       

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    MLS, Aug 20th, 2008 @ 11:22am

    Just a couple observations...

    Mr. Odom provides services that include performing searches for prior art. It is doubtful he filed his initial application without having performed such a search.

    Some attorneys on another site have noted that a single reference was cited against this application during prosecution. What they have not done is also look at the original application. During the prosecution of his two applications (he filed one initially, but at a later date was split into two...likely because of a requirement imposed by the USPTO) 12 references were cited as prior art, 9 of them patents and 3 of them printed publications.

    Please note that I am not expressing any opinion on the validity of the patents. I am merely making two observations that may prove helpful.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 20th, 2008 @ 11:24am

    In case anyone wants to tell me to go back and reread the patent and look at the related patent that was filed earlier, I did! The same arguments stand as for this one.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 20th, 2008 @ 11:38am

    To use an internet meme...
    Obvious patent troll is obvious.
    As is any form of a user customizable toolbar.

     

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    Bob, Aug 20th, 2008 @ 11:41am

    I hope...

    ...Microsoft rapes his ass in court.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 20th, 2008 @ 11:41am

    Um, as I read the patent it sounds like the toolbar feature in Windows itself. Wasn't that introduced as part of Windows 95, in 1994?

     

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      ConceptJunkie (profile), Aug 20th, 2008 @ 12:34pm

      Re:

      There was definitely API-level support for toolbars, including the means to allow developers to make functionality that allows users to customize those bars. So now there are patents on using something for what it was designed for?

       

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    Greg, Aug 20th, 2008 @ 11:44am

    3M

    Is the company 3M being sued like this? I remember TV ads for them with a voiceover saying "We don't make a lot of the products you use. We make the products you use better." Which means they modify existing products. I guess it's ok if it's not software.

     

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    johnny, Aug 20th, 2008 @ 12:05pm

    now if he patented...

    "edible" toolbars, then that would be something!!!

     

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      Mark Murphy, Aug 20th, 2008 @ 12:36pm

      Re: now if he patented...

      Whew! I'm not the only person who read "edible" on the first scan of the headline!

      Right?

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 20th, 2008 @ 12:15pm

    So the little program I made on my Commodore 64 back in 1984 that had dynamic menu items is a patent infringement? (it was editable if you edited a small text file - as it pulled the text from that text file).

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Aug 20th, 2008 @ 12:18pm

      Re:

      "(it was editable if you edited a small text file - as it pulled the text from that text file)."

      Hey you stole that from me!

       

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    Keill Randor, Aug 20th, 2008 @ 12:21pm

    Dopus on the Amiga had editable toolbars etc. I'm sure - long time before this too...

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 20th, 2008 @ 12:21pm

    I wanna get a patent

    On changing the order of letters in the alaphabet and grouping them together to create new "logical units" of communication. Then I will sue the patent office when I get my acceptance letter!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 20th, 2008 @ 12:33pm

    Even if it were legit . . .

    Even if this guy did have a legitimate patent and was actually the first person on earth to "think" of users being able to modify toolbars, do we really want that kind of idea patentable? Does having to send out 500 .35 cent checks every time you develop a simple application really good for innovation? I dont see how it can be? Intellectual Property is an oxymoron for a reason.

     

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      Ronald J Riley (profile), Aug 21st, 2008 @ 6:02am

      Re: Even if it were legit . . .

      By law it is legit!

      Microsoft and other members of the Coalition for Patent Fairness (aka. Piracy Coalition) keep learning the hard way to stop their illegitimate use of other patent property rights.

      But then again, like Mike Masnick they think that the patent system should be destroyed so that they can take all the new inventions for their own profit.

      Ronald J. Riley,


      Speaking only on my own behalf.
      Affiliations:
      President - www.PIAUSA.org - RJR at PIAUSA.org
      Executive Director - www.InventorEd.org - RJR at InvEd.org
      Senior Fellow - www.patentPolicy.org
      President - Alliance for American Innovation
      Caretaker of Intellectual Property Creators on behalf of deceased founder Paul Heckel
      Washington, DC
      Direct (202) 318-1595 - 9 am to 9 pm EST.

       

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    Kevin, Aug 20th, 2008 @ 1:26pm

    Toolbar Patent

    I knew I should have gone to Law School. It is obvious they are the only group making any money from software.

     

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    asdf, Aug 20th, 2008 @ 1:35pm

    I'm not patent expert, but isn't one of the terms,that your product can't be obvious to an average person in that field? I'm sure the case is a little more specific than techdirt says, but this stuff is still beyond rediculous.

     

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    Jake, Aug 20th, 2008 @ 2:04pm

    On the other hand, maybe he just hates the 'ribbon' as much as I do.

     

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    Stephan Kinsella (profile), Aug 20th, 2008 @ 10:10pm

    PDF Files of the Patent

    Several places -- e.g. www.Pat2PDF.org. But you can find the PDF of it at PatentFizz.com too. And the cool thing is PatentFizz lets you leave comments, prior art, etc. Note one of the derisive comments on Hawk's blog, which concerns this patent's parent patent:
    How about the PARENT patent? #7,036,087 that issued on 04/25/2006.

    Why didn't you try to assert this one against micro$oft or others? Or did you? Or was it already invalidated? :)

    For the record, here are the issued claims from the parent patent #7,036,087.

    1. Software from at least one computer-readable medium automatically rearranging at least one tool based upon relative usage frequency of tools within a toolbar group.

    2. Software according to claim 1 preventing at least one tool from being rearranged.

    3. Software from at least one computer-readable medium automatically rearranging at least one group of a tools on a toolbar based upon aggregate usage frequency of tools within a tool group compared to another group.

    4. Software according to claim 3 preventing at least one group from being rearranged.

     

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    Ronald J Riley (profile), Aug 21st, 2008 @ 5:22am

    Odom has the expertize Mike needs !!!

    "by Michael Masnick from the don't-bother-creating (Know-Nothing with big mouth dept.)" when you can pillage instead dept. attacked Gary Odom, who is known as The Patent Hawk and proceed to whine about how Gary Odom has criticized Michael Masnick over his profound ignorance of the patent system. Mr. Odom is a QUALIFIED patent professional and an inventor. He actually understand both the process of applying for a patent and now has learned the hard way about Microsoft and their apologists (Mike, that's YOU).

    Mike whines some more, saying "He's been known to comment here on occasion, employing the style seen all-too-often among patent system apologists commenting on TechDIRT posts: insult repeatedly and broadly, offer no actual points, refuse to actually counter anything we say, provide absolutely no evidence and (for good measure) insult again". To which I say that Mr. Odom is by no means the person taking Mike to task for spewing endless drivel about two topics, patents and economics while leaving absolutely no doubt about his total lack of competency in those areas.

    Mike says " I won't comment on the patent itself and whether or not its obvious". Well I guess that Mike is finally learning to avoid commenting on at least some of the things he is ignorant about. Of course he goes on to spew nonsense about the patent, demonstrating that he simply does not understand either the patent's coverage or the prior art.

    Mike even invokes the father of the patent system with "At some point you have just sit back and look at the system as a whole and wonder how we got from the vision of Thomas Jefferson to here." I have absolutely no doubt that Jefferson would box Mike's ears for using his name in this manner. Mike constantly commits stupid and misleading stunts like this and then wonders why people disrespect him.

    I have some more advice of you Mike. Your assignment is to study all of Odom's writings because he actually has the expertise you need to be able to comment about patent issues intelligently. Now the only question is are you intelligent enough to take a deep breath and learn about this topic and then man enough to admit just how wrong you have been. I am willing to bet that the answer is NO on both counts.

    Ronald J. Riley,


    Speaking only on my own behalf.
    Affiliations:
    President - www.PIAUSA.org - RJR at PIAUSA.org
    Executive Director - www.InventorEd.org - RJR at InvEd.org
    Senior Fellow - www.patentPolicy.org
    President - Alliance for American Innovation
    Caretaker of Intellectual Property Creators on behalf of deceased founder Paul Heckel
    Washington, DC
    Direct (202) 318-1595 - 9 am to 9 pm EST.

     

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      mobiGeek, Aug 21st, 2008 @ 8:54am

      Re: Odom has the expertize Mike needs !!!

      Ronald,

      You provide so much verbiage, and not a SINGLE point of retort.

      Well done. You have just insult[ed] repeatedly and broadly, offer no actual points, refuse to actually counter anything we say, provide absolutely no evidence.

      Welcome to the don't-bother-creating (Know-Nothing with big mouth dept.)

       

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    stv, Aug 21st, 2008 @ 5:57am

    stop the shilling!!!

    many of us have frequently provided evidence to counter your lies and distortions, but gave up when it became clear it would be to no avail. Clearly, you are paid by large corporate thieves who are working to destroy our patent system so they can avoid those pesky small entities who are always out innovating them. We noticed how you never provide the views of anyone but the big infringers. Clam up, shill.

     

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      mobiGeek, Aug 21st, 2008 @ 8:51am

      Re: stop the shilling!!!

      Evidence? You have provided some anecdotes of small players that have failed in the marketplace "needed" to litigate to make any kind of money. How is this "evidence"?

      The anti-patent views are NOT those of the "big infringers". There are many of us, especially in the software industry, who start SMALL companies and find ourselves in a rats nest of problems because programs we have developed IN ISOLATION wind up infringing on someone's patent for "configurable mouse speeds" or "blue menus" or "buttons that have different styles when depressed".

      The above patent is an incredibly OBVIOUS extension of software. In fact, the OVERWHELMING number of "advancements" in software are simple enhancements to existing paradigms. There have been extremely few advancements worthy of the term "invention" much less "patent".

       

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    angry dude, Aug 21st, 2008 @ 7:04am

    Mikey is on payroll

    Hey, Mikey

    When did you get your last paycheck from MShit ?

    Or you are getting paid by CPF or BSA ?

    Tell us, Mikey

    The audience wants to know

     

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      mobiGeek, Aug 21st, 2008 @ 11:47am

      Re: Mikey is on payroll

      And this blog helps Microsoft how? Do you think Mike supports Microsoft for their stance on patents?

      Have you seen any articles on this blog that praise the BSA? I certainly have seen the opposite...

      Sorry dude, you strike out again.

       

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      DanC, Aug 21st, 2008 @ 12:11pm

      Re: Mikey is on payroll

      Angry dude uses ad hominem attacks to provide "proof" of his arguments. It saves him from having to provide facts, rationale, or meaningful examples.

       

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        angry dude, Aug 21st, 2008 @ 1:42pm

        Re: Re: Mikey is on payroll

        The ancient wisdom says: follow the money, always follow the money, dude !

        Unfortunately techdirt is a private outfit and the money sources are not transparent to outside observers

        Nevertheless, it is easy to see the slant of Mike's posts:
        on each and every important tech issue, be it patents or H1B visas, he sides with BSA members...

        Mike's writings go against the interests of all tech workers in America

         

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      Mike (profile), Aug 21st, 2008 @ 5:17pm

      Re: Mikey is on payroll

      When did you get your last paycheck from MShit ?

      Never. Never done any work with Microsoft.

      Or you are getting paid by CPF or BSA ?

      I don't know who CPF is. As for BSA, have you not noticed I disagree with them on almost every point? I've discussed, in great detail, how I think they're full of crap with most of what they do. The only time in my life I've spoken to anyone from the BSA it ended badly:

      http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20080514/1350531114.shtml

      Very badly. To suggest that I'm somehow a shill for the BSA seems rather laughable. It's difficult how you can even think that I'm even remotely aligned with that group.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 21st, 2008 @ 2:31pm

    whoa

    I think
    angry dude == stv == mls == Ronald J. Riley == dorpus
    are they all the same person ?

     

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      angry dude, Aug 21st, 2008 @ 5:13pm

      Re: whoa

      Didn't your mom tell you not to take LSD ?

      Switch to something else dude

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Aug 21st, 2008 @ 5:19pm

      Re: whoa

      No, but I believe most other posters with contrary views are Mike Masnick himself.

       

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        Mike (profile), Aug 21st, 2008 @ 5:42pm

        Re: Re: whoa

        No, but I believe most other posters with contrary views are Mike Masnick himself.

        I have no problem putting my name on my comments -- unlike you. You put your name on some comments, but when people start pointing out your logical inconsistencies you start posting anonymously again. Or, you start pretending to be other people. You once even pretended to be me.

        MLS, why not put your name on your comments when you decide to tell lies about me?

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2008 @ 9:29am

          Re: Re: Re: whoa

          Apparently my feeble attempt at humor was not seen as such. Sorry about that.

          BTW, I use Webroot's Window Washer quite regularly to clean out my internet files/cookies/etc., and whenever I do so the techdirt cookie is removed.

           

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      Mike (profile), Aug 21st, 2008 @ 5:57pm

      Re: whoa

      I think
      angry dude == stv == mls == Ronald J. Riley == dorpus
      are they all the same person ?


      Nah, they each have their own distinct personalities -- and they all come from unique IP addresses. Well, MLS goes through phases where he reverts to being an Anonymous Coward or pretending to be others (even me, at times).

      angry dude just throws insults and lies. He never adds anything remotely of value, and if you call him on it, he gets even more insulting. He claims to hold a patent, but never will show us what it is. Actually, he once claimed to own many patents, and then years later, claimed to have just received his first patent. So, his credibility is what it is.

      stv calls me a shill repeatedly, and when confronted with actual evidence, suddenly runs and hides. By his own definition of a shill, he is a much bigger shill than I am. He posted once that a shill was anyone who only took one side on an issue. He seems to fit that to a T.

      MLS is an IP lawyer, and goes through phases where he pretends to be an unbiased "elder wise man" who will correct "errors" here. But he has been caught repeatedly in logical inconsistencies. When he first showed up, he actually did add some useful counterpoints to the conversation. I think he means well, but he hasn't come across folks who disagree with him who actually have evidence behind their positions, so he's not quite sure how to deal with it. Lately, he's reverted to name calling and insults like the others. It's too bad.

      Ronald Riley is a well known "character" convincing independent inventors to give him money in order to protect their interests. Whether or not he actually does so is a pretty open question. He's good at getting press for himself. He's not so good at actually making an argument or presenting evidence however.

      dorpus stays out of patent debates, and prefers to focus on throwing non sequitors and vaguely insulting or threatening comments on random posts. Occasionally he's been known to threaten the lives of famous individuals.

      You also left out Willton, who's a law student who tends to act as a stand-in for MLS at times. Willton also (I believe) means well, though it clearly frustrates him that some of us aren't as bought into the concept of the patent system as he is. He's bet his future livelihood on the patent system, so it's a little understandable that he has some cognitive dissonance when presented with evidence of problems with the system.

      See? They're all different. MLS and Willton both mean well, and at times add value. stv, RJR and angry dude just throw insults and logically impossible claims that are easily proven false.

       

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    stv, Aug 22nd, 2008 @ 9:15am

    stop the shilling!!!

    As corrected...
    many of us have frequently provided evidence to counter your one-sided articles, but gave up when it became clear it would be to no avail. are you paid by large corporate thieves who are working to destroy our patent system so they can avoid those pesky small entities who are always out innovating them? We noticed how you never provide the views of anyone but the big infringers.

     

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      Mike (profile), Aug 22nd, 2008 @ 11:14am

      Re: stop the shilling!!!

      many of us have frequently provided evidence to counter your one-sided articles

      Please point to a single example where you have done so. You have not. Since you started showing up the only thing you have done is yell about me being a shill. I presented evidence to the contrary and it has not stopped you.

      At this point, it's clear that you are willfully lying.

      but gave up when it became clear it would be to no avail

      I am always open to evidence. You have yet to provide any.

      are you paid by large corporate thieves who are working to destroy our patent system so they can avoid those pesky small entities who are always out innovating them?

      Nope. My views are my own entirely. My views on patents actually disagree with most of the companies you speak about. We've pointed this out to you in the past.

      We noticed how you never provide the views of anyone but the big infringers.

      Then you have a serious reading comprehension problem. We attack the big companies for stupid patent antics all the time. My view has nothing to do with "big companies" or "small companies." It has to do with innovation and what's best for it.

      I have explained

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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