Microsoft has capped off a bumper year of epic patent stupidity all round with an award from the EFF for claiming ownership of a simple slider bar design.
The design patent ... Some of Redmond's finest work apparently
Graphical slider bars like this – used for setting audio volume, fill color, or the zoom scale of a document – have been around since the dawn of the mouse because it's obviously the most efficient way of adjustment. But in 2007 Microsoft was granted design patent D554,140 [PDF], giving it rights to the concept.
On December 18, Microsoft cited the design patent, along with eight others, in a lawsuit against Corel (remember them?) for copying the design style of Redmond's Office suite in the Canadian firm's Home Office software.
"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," said Vera Ranieri, staff attorney at the EFF.
Microsoft lawyers aren't stupid – the slider patent is the least of the nine cited in the case. The real focus of the legal challenge is on copying the design of the Microsoft Office ribbon bar. Corel's customers had the choice of a "Microsoft Office Mode" when setting up the software, and as a result Redmond wants all of the profits from the software as damages for patent infringement.
Other patents cited in the case include tabbed groupings of menu functions, the use of Help windows overlaying a document, writing arithmetic functions in Excel, and panel and text sizes in the Home Office interface. And, of course, the slider patent.
"Corel has thus deliberately capitalized on the ready familiarity and rich functionality of the Microsoft interfaces and has taken advantage of Microsoft's years of effort and hundreds of millions of dollars of investment in those interfaces," the lawsuit reads [PDF].
"Microsoft has warned Corel on multiple occasions regarding its blatant copying of the Microsoft interfaces. Despite those warnings, Corel has continued its infringement unabated. Corel's own actions are thus directly responsible for this lawsuit."
In addition to damages, Microsoft is asking that all its legal fees be paid off by Corel as part of any settlement. The lawsuit is still ongoing, and Microsoft has requested a jury trial in the Northern District of California. ®