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10.14.18

Federal Circuit Doubles Down on User Interface Patents, Helps Microsoft-Connected Patent Trolls Curtail the Prime Competitor of Microsoft Office

Posted in Google, Microsoft, OIN, Patents at 8:29 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Dan Bricklin
Dan Bricklin, photographed by Betsy Devine at a blogger brunch in Boston’s Chinatown 2/25/2007. Licence: CC BY 2.5

Summary: Patent trolls that are connected to Microsoft continue to sue Microsoft rivals using old patents; this time, for a change, even the Federal Circuit lets them get away with it

THE Federal Circuit (CAFC) with its current Chief Judge (Prost) is rather different from what it used to be. Perhaps it learned to accept that reversals by SCOTUS must end, not by means of changing SCOTUS itself but by getting rid of corrupt judges like Rader (he actually got caught).

Today’s CAFC is supportive of Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) inter partes reviews (IPRs) and typically affirms PTAB’s decisions — a topic we shall write about separately in view of newer/latest determinations. 35 U.S.C. § 101 at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has enabled both PTAB and CAFC to rule out patents quite promptly, without having to engage in a lengthy process like search and assessment of prior art.

“Back in 1992,” Patently-O recalled for those who forgot, “Borland Software invented a tabbed spreadsheet for its Quattro Pro that was then copied by Excel, Google Sheets, and others. Today, the Federal Circuit finally found the patent claims enforceable (or at least patent eligible).”

Microsoft copied everyone, but nowadays it is suing everyone, including Corel.

Found initially via [1, 2, 3] was this article/blog post titled “Tabbed Spreadsheet — Patent Eligible”. It’s what Patently-O covered along/after the above tweet:

D.Delaware Judge Stark dismissed DET’s case on the pleadings — holding that the Borland/DET spreadsheet-tab patent claims were directed to abstract ideas. On appeal, the Federal Circuit has partially reversed — finding that some of the claims are directed toward “specific improved method for navigating through complex three-dimensional electronic spreadsheets” and thus are patent eligible. The decision here is authored by Judge STOLL and joined by Judges REYNA and BRYSON.

The patents at issue here basically cover the use of tabs in a spreadsheet document. You might be thinking – “WHAT I’VE BEEN USING TABS FOR 25 YEARS” — at least that is what I was thinking. The thing is that DET’s patents were invented by folks at Borland Software — baker of Quattro Pro — and claim priority back to 1992. BOOM! Microsoft came out with its tabbed version of Excel in 1993 following Borland’s release. Back then I used Quattro Pro – and tabs were awesome. The case here is against Google for its tabbed sheets.

As you’ll see below, the claims include a “notebook tab” — and that feature seems to be the key for patent eligibility. This aspect of the decision makes it fairly questionable.

I’ll note that this case may well fit into the IP case-books as a companion to the 1996 Supreme Court case on spreadsheet menu copyright. Lotus Dev. Corp. v. Borland Int’l, Inc., 516 U.S. 233 (1996).

“CAFC only exists to be reversed by SCOTUS,” Carlo Piana wrote about it (he became famous for his Samba lawyering).

Benjamin Henrion said: “Despite Alice, CAFC just founds “tabs in a spreadsheet” to be patent eligible. Software patents are back, specialized patent courts are dangerous, biased, populated by the patent establishment, and don’t want to listen http://www.cafc.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/opinions-orders/17-1135.Opinion.10-9-2018.pdf …”

“It’s actually not so unusual for CAFC,” I told Henrion, “as not too long ago they said OK to other GUI patents; not exactly the same as algorithms/callback functions…”

We wrote about this as recently as January. To Piana I said: “That was true when Rader, the corrupt man, was in charge. His successor is OK and CAFC improved…” (under Prost)

Paul Redmond Michel was also pretty bad (he still is), but unlike Rader he was not corrupt.

Since the above alludes to spreadsheets, noteworthy is also coverage about Microsoft’s ‘proxy’ Acacia. These patent trolls of Microsoft continue to sue Microsoft’s rivals using dubious software patents. To quote Law 360:

The Federal Circuit on Tuesday reversed a lower court’s invalidation of three patents asserted against Google LLC by a unit of patent licensing company Acacia Research Corp.

So a unit of a patent troll of Microsoft (Acacia Research Corp.) sued Google, Microsoft’s main rival in this sector. Patently-O revisited the subject, citing/mentioning Dan Bricklin (the so-called father of spreadsheets):

This week’s decision in DET v. GOOGLE focuses on patent eligibility of a muti-sheet spreadsheet displayed with notebook tabs. The case is reminiscent of a 2014 Patently-O post by Howard Skaist written in the still roiling wake of Alice and Mayo. In his post, Skaist considered ways that the inventor of VisiCalc (Dan Bricklin) might have claimed the computerized spreadsheet he first created in 1979.

[...]

In some pre-Bilski writing, Dan Bricklin explained why he didn’t actually try to patent the spreadsheet.

After Alice these patents would be null and void anyway. Microsoft insists that it wants "truce" (as recently as days ago), but here we have a Microsoft-connected troll attacking another OIN member, Google. OIN has no way/mechanism for dealing with intermediaries.

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