It takes sheer genius to pull off something as simple and breathtaking as this. Microsoft has managed to patent the practice of scrolling a specific amount of matter on your computer, regardless of the current view settings through the Page Up/Page Down keys. Bemused? Join the rest of the world which is wondering how such an absurdly simple action got a patent when a similar function is available on other applications.
The Acrobat Reader does something similar. So does the Mozilla Suite and Mozilla Firefox, among others. Press the Page Down or Page Up keys and presto, you’re going to scroll a fixed amount of document space. I seem to remember that the clunky Remingtons of my youth had the same keys that performed a rudimentary function of moving the page up and down. The more efficient Canon Typestars and Brother electronic machines that replaced the portable typewriters such as the Facits and Olivettis — so sleek and so sought after in the 1970s — were not bereft of such functions either. Admittedly, it was not performed as sophisticatedly as today’s high-speed, jazzed-up computers do, but from the 1980s certainly, the page scroll function as we know it today did exist in some form.
Yet, the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), which granted Microsoft the patent on August 19, was convinced that the claim had merits because it simplifies matters for users who do not wish to press multiple keys. It describes the ‘invention’ thus: “A method and system in a document viewer for scrolling a substantially exact increment in a document, such as one page, regardless of whether the zoom is such that all or one page is currently being viewed. In one implementation, pressing a Page Down or Page Up keyboard key/button allows a user to begin at any starting vertical location within a page, and navigate to that same location on the next or previous page. For example, if a user is viewing a page starting in a viewing area from the middle of that page and ending at the bottom, a Page Down command will cause the next page to be shown in the viewing area starting at the middle of the next page and ending at the bottom of the next page.
Whoa! Whatever happened to ‘prior art’ and ‘obviousness’, the two tests on which innovation is measured? If something exists already, or is patently obvious, patents are not supposed to be granted. But then you can also argue that the claim filed on March 4, 2005, by Timothy D Sellers, Heather L Grantham and Joshua A Dersch on behalf of Microsoft was for a method of implementation and not an all-encompassing idea.
The nerds are completely hysterical over the latest patent (No. 7, 415,666) to join Microsoft’s legion of 10,000-odd patents. Read the posts on the blogs popular with this community and you are struck by the utter disbelief and rage that has greeted the latest Microsoft coup. Most of them are hopping mad that something as obvious as the incremental page view has been granted a patent although it was amusing to discover that many were under the illusion that the Page Down/Page Up keys had been patented! Absurd, pathetic, ridiculous and unbelievable are the words most commonly used in the blog posts to describe the news which has made the software universe hopping mad.
All the same, they believe that the Microsoft patent will go unchallenged for the simple reason that developers of earlier proprietary software are unlikely to disclose enough of their pagination algorithms to prove their case. As one blogger observed rather tartly: “No reputable-enough publisher or publication is likely to ever document the behaviour of something so absurdly simple as, say, Acrobat’s Page Down action in enough detail to invalidate the MS patent; it would rightly be considered a waste of paper.”
One is not so sure that this is the calculation of the Redmond-based goliath which also boasts such things as mouse scroll wheels and double clicking in its vast array of patents. But Steve Ballmer and company have a good reason to exult: They may not have been the first with the page view idea but they were certainly the first to streamline it and patent it. Thus, Patent No. 7, 415,666 will provide more grist to the mill of the software giant which is seldom at rest on patent issues. Last Wednesday, it had reason to rejoice once again when a court in Washington allowed them to collect $20 million from Immersion, a company that makes touch sensors for interacting with computer applications and games, to settle a patent claim. With 10,000 patents in its armoury, the Microsoft arsenal is a pretty deadly one to contend with.
Does one blame the company or America’s patent system for such monstrosities?
6 months ago