Cygnus systems patents desktop icons, sues Microsoft, Apple and Google

Cygnus Systems of Michigan patented thumbnail icons and is suing Microsoft, Apple, and Google. From Ars:
The patent in question is US 7,346,850, called "System and method for iconic software environment management." Its abstract describes "a method and system for storing, navigating, and accessing files within an operating system through the use of a graphical thumbnail representing the video display of the active document within the active application." In other words, Cygnus' patent describes features similar to those of Windows Explorer and Apple's Finder.
Cygnus Systems filed for its patent in 2001, which was awarded in March 2008. Macworld's commenters are unearthing the abundant prior art. You know, just in case Microsoft and Apple would rather spend years defending themselves in court at unimaginable expense, rather than just pay the troll off. Microsoft, Apple, Google sued over icon software patent [Ars Technica]

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11 Responses to Cygnus systems patents desktop icons, sues Microsoft, Apple and Google

  1. Baldhead says:

    reminds me of the Blackberry incident, although at the very least that patent came before someone else invented the product. But the basics of it is the same- patenting something without actually coming up with a working product first shouldn’t be legal.

    And if it should, I demand patent rights on rocket boots!

  2. aTanguay says:

    I grew up in this area and I can tell you… Wow, Goddard Road in Taylor, Michigan… that tech corridor includes a 7-Eleven, a putt-putt golf course that closed down in the late 80’s, and the ass end of a Super-K. Good stuff Cygnus.

  3. zuzu says:

    Not to be confused with John Gilmore’s Cygnus Solutions which was bought out by Red Hat.

    Thinking it was the former at first, I thought this was some sort of political statement about the ridiculousness of (software) patents, rather than mere petty trolling.

    However, the fact that it’s cheaper to feed the trolls than to receive arbitration by the government kinda proves that the legal system is broken. Juxtapose this with Dispute Resolution Organizations (DRO) (aka private arbitration).

  4. Anonymous says:

    Cygnus is a joke. I don’t think anyone there even has a degree. Wouldn’t recommend them to anyone.

  5. Teresa Nielsen Hayden / Moderator says:

    Gee gosh, if I’d thought to apply for a patent on icons when I first started designing them, I’d have a prior claim that predates Cygnus Systems’ patent by more than a decade. This is a complete perversion of the patent system.

    I don’t think Microsoft and Apple should let this one go. There are way too many unpatented systems and mechanisms in the computing world. Who holds the patent on ASCII?

    Zuzu, the legal system is bent in some places, but it’s not broken. The people who want you to think it’s broken are thoroughly bad guys.

  6. bex says:

    looks to me like the USA patents office is giving out patents like candy again. What happened for checking about prior use. Thumbnails where in use in icons prior to 2001 ff sake

  7. zuzu says:

    Prior art goes back at least to Xerox PARC in 1974. (Where Apple “stole” their Macintosh ideas from.)

    Zuzu, the legal system is bent in some places, but it’s not broken. The people who want you to think it’s broken are thoroughly bad guys.

    At best it’s slow and expensive. At worst it’s arbitrary and institutionally prejudiced. And in the chewy middle it’s politically captured.

    I’m not amenable to “kill all the lawyers“, but they do seem to be the few winners in the whole wretched system.

  8. jjasper says:

    Any system with rules will have people trying to manipulate the rules to rip other people off, be it a capitalist system, a communist one, or anarchists.

    We could fix the legal system if we didn’t have an institution of people who benefit form it being broken in charge, an enough wisdom to know what a fixed system would look like. Right now, we’re 0 for 2. We’ve got crooks in charge, and we’re not wise enough to fix the system even if we didn’t.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Isn’t there a way this can be thrown out of court, with a reversal of fees back to Cygnus? Seems like this is what should be happening more and more often. How would that bit of justice abuse more legitimate possible complaints however?

  10. OM says:

    …Lessee, Cygnus did nothing insofar as the R&D behind icons is concerned, and they file a patent. Fox did nothing to advance the filming of Watchmen, and now they’re going for as much of the profit as they can from Warners. With this kind of copywrong going on, can I patent air and water? At least I can make the latter, or at least process it into another form.

  11. dculberson says:

    It might be worth noting that they patented the concept of thumbnails of files used as icons, something that wasn’t common before Windows XP or so. Not icons in general, but like the thumbnails of photos in a folder used as icons. It’s still a bulls**t patent to be sure, but not quite as bad as patenting “icons.”

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