Microsoft’s and Apple’s GUI Patents (e.g. “Start Menu” and “Dock“) Show Why the USPTO is Seen as a Farce
Summary: Some new examples and a new discussion about Microsoft and Apple “innovations” that were not
MICROSOFT MAY HAVE a patent (or more) on “Start menus”/”task bars”, but Microsoft never came up with these ideas which are merely inspirations and aggregations of existing ideas (well, maybe Clippy was Microsoft’s idea, but it wasn't that good). Just about anything in Windows’ graphical user interface is in some way ‘borrowed’ from another operating system, but that’s not the picture people are getting if they grow up only seeing Windows around them and one day come across something different which looks “just like Windows” (rather than the other way around). It’s worth mentioning right now because this OpenSUSE site is currently contributing to the false perception that Microsoft was the first.
“Just about anything in Windows’ graphical user interface is in some way ‘borrowed’ from another operating system…”“Start me up” said an old motto/song, but Microsoft did not start up a so-called ‘start menu’. It merely repackaged what already existed. The same goes for Apple’s ‘dock’; many people love to call/label everything resembling it a copy/clone of Apple rather that acknowledge that Apple was merely copying some ideas which already existed and were implemented, e.g. by Sun for reflections. That’s just why the patent system has become so tactless and out of touch.
Over at Planet Fedora we found this new rant about what software patents do to computer scientists.
There is a whole mess in here with patents, and this is related to why patents may be unethical for science. In a machine patent, the science isn’t necessarily being patented; it’s the results of the science that is. Any science that leads up to the machine patent should be open and visible for reproducing and verifying.
But a software patent is a slippery thing. The patent may cover the science as well as the product of the science, in that both can be in the code. There is an ethical dilemma for any scientist when they patent the science. They are putting a price tag and control on reproducing and verifying the science. Without verification, the science is invalid.
In case you are wondering if this is just semantics and word choices, it is. Perhaps all of the people who call themselves computer scientists, shouldn’t? I presume the word has meaning for them, as it does for the rest of us, and I expect them to act accordingly.
Being a scientist has a specific meaning that spans a long part of written history. How long? Several hundred to several thousand years, depending on what you are measuring. It is clear that the scientific method has been followed since at least the Middle Ages. It predates copyright and patent law by at least several centuries, if not nearly a full millenium.
Disregard and disdain towards the patent system seems to be increasing. It gets worse even from within, based on Alex Stack who complains about lack of transparency:
USPTO Data: CIPO [Canadian Intellectual Property Office]?
Those of you who know me well know that in the past I have harped on patent office statistics like pendency and backlogs. I think they are important – central, critical even – to understanding how patent law functions in a country.
As Wayne says in the comments (there is only one): “Probably in the 22nd century. And it will probably be the 23rd century before it works properly.”
Here again is an example of embargoes/sanctions being used as a weapon thanks to the USPTO:
The latest skirmish in a giant patent fight over flash memory chips in MP3 players, cell phones, digital cameras and tablet computers got a green light to proceed from the International Trade Commission.
The ITC is one of the worst possible things that can happen to innovation [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]. It helps demonstrate that the USPTO is imperialistic in the sense that it goes overseas to impose and enforce its controversial views. █