Stupid Patent Of The Month: Microsoft's Design Patent On A Slider

from the if-only-it-had-rounded-corners dept

For the first time ever, this month’s Stupid Patent of the Month is being awarded to a design patent. Microsoft recently sued Corel for, among other things, infringing its patent on a slider, D554,140, claiming that Corel Home Office has infringed Microsoft’s design.

The design patent, as detailed by Microsoft in its complaint, is titled “User Interface for a Portion of a Display Screen” and entitles Microsoft to own this:

More specifically, Microsoft claims to own this design of a slider.

Design patents aren’t like the utility patents that most people think of when they think of patents. Unlike utility patents, which are meant for new and useful inventions, design patents are meant for new, non-functional, ornamental aspects of articles. They have only one claim, little to no written description, and usually a series of images detailing what exactly is being claimed. (A note about design patents: solid lines are used to show what is claimed; broken or dotted lines show the unclaimed “environment related to the design” or define the boundary of the design.)

As Professor Sarah Burstein points out on her fantastic Tumblr, design patents are often issued on a small part of a product, and often for things that seem unoriginal, not ornamental, or just ridiculous.

Microsoft’s patent claims against Corel are unsurprising in light of how much money is potentially at stake. If Corel is found to infringe even one of Microsoft’s design patents through even the smallest part of Corel Home Office, current Federal Circuit law entitles Microsoft to all of Corel’s profits for the entire product. Not the profits that can be attributed to the design. Not the value that the design adds to a product. All of the profit from Corel Home Office.

The well-known Apple v. Samsung dispute addressed the issue of whether an infringer should be required to pay all of its profits for infringing a design patent that applies only to a portion of a product. Samsung had asked the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit to reject this reading, but the court disagreed in a May, 2015 opinion.

Samsung has now asked the Supreme Court to weigh in. In its petition for certiorari, Samsung points out the absurd results of this rule. For example, Samsung explains that under the Federal Circuit’s ruling, “profits on an entire car?or even an eighteen-wheel tractor trailer?must be awarded based on an undetachable infringing cup-holder.” In addition, given that many products will include multiple ornamental features that could be covered by design patents, this raises the possibility that a company could get hit for multiple judgments for all its profits.

That sounds pretty crazy to us. But that’s exactly what might happen if Microsoft prevails against Corel. Putting aside whether Microsoft’s design was actually new and not obvious in 2006 (when Microsoft filed its application), whether Microsoft needed the patent incentive in order to come up with this design, and whether it is even desirable to grant a company a government-backed monopoly on a graphical slider (we don’t think so, that’s why this is a stupid patent), the scope of damages for design patent infringement has the potential to become a powerful tool to shut down legitimate competition based on the mere threat of a lawsuit.

Reposted from the Electronic Frontier Foundation





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Companies: corel, microsoft

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Comments on “Stupid Patent Of The Month: Microsoft's Design Patent On A Slider”

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23 Comments
Roger Strong (profile) says:

I'm not sure I agree with you a hundred percent on your policework there, Lou.

Yes, it’s a stupid patent. Especially considering that everyone including Microsoft was using sliders for a decade before they filed their patent application.

Still, that’s only one minor detail of the lawsuit. As a whole, it’s about Corel Office mimicking the **ENTIRE** user interface of Microsoft Office.

Even that minor detail – the slider – is not mentioned merely because Corel used one. It’s because they used the same slider design, in the same position in the UI, for the same page zoom function as Microsoft Office.

Or to put it another way…

> “profits on an entire car—or even an eighteen-wheel tractor trailer—must be awarded based on an undetachable infringing cup-holder.”

The lawsuit is about someone copying the design of the entire car, bumper to bumper, curve for curve. Whereas this story focuses only on the infringing cup-holder.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: I'm not sure I agree with you a hundred percent on your policework there, Lou.

Well sure. But if Isuzu started selling cars that looked identical to Bugatti Veyron – and selling them AS “Looks just like a Veyron!” – Bugatti’s legal team would each have a Stimulating Personal Moment before filing suit.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: I'm not sure I agree with you a hundred percent on your policework there, Lou.

Bugatti’s legal team would each have a Stimulating Personal Moment before filing suit.

That is quite likely, but they would have – to my knowledge – only the slimmest of trademark cases. I doubt they could win except by straight up bullying a smaller adversary into submission.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: I'm not sure I agree with you a hundred percent on your policework there, Lou.

The lawsuit is about someone copying the design of the entire car, bumper to bumper, curve for curve.

Thankfully, that’s not actually illegal!

Actually it is:
1) Copying the design of the entire car is copyright infringement.
2) copyright infringement is theft
3) theft of an entire vehicle is Grand Theft Auto
4) Grand Theft Auto is a video game, and thus copyrighted.
5) See (1)…

Anonymous Coward says:

In the case of Samsung vs Apple I hate Apple for being IP aggressors and resist buying their products for that. But now if I buy Samsung I am actually supporting Apple regardless because then Apple can, without doing anything, steal money from Samsung via our corrupt legal system.

It’s not like Apple even came up with most of the ideas they patented or that patents are even necessary to come up with said ideas. They are a natural result of technological progress. Many of the patents have prior/existing art and/or patents, many of these ideas are obvious, and many of them are probably ideas Apple stole from others and got patents on. It’s just that Apple was the first to get patents and now they are suing everyone because, instead of focusing on innovating like their competitors they focused on patent acquisition. Now other products are worse off because of them, more expensive and they still keep stealing from others.

What are we supposed to do to fix this broken legal system. This harms consumers and even makes it impossible to boycott companies that steal from others since all those companies have to do to respond to our boycotts is by simply steal from their competitors.

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