Large multinational software companies like Apple, Microsoft, and Google, rarely – if ever – initiate patent infringement lawsuits against other software companies, probably because they themselves infringe on lots of patents too. However, they do get sued themselves by smaller companies. Even though the Christian part of the world is all about forgiveness and love and pink ponies during the holidays (or, at least, they ought to be), Apple, Google, and Microsoft have been struck by a patent infringement lawsuit started by Cygnus Systems.
The patent in question is a patent on showing snapshots as previews of files, something which you can see in action all across the software world, from Cover Flow to Windows Explorer, from Chrome to the iPhone. The patent filing, applied for in 2001 but granted in March 2008, reads in more detail:
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, and organized chronologically by the most recent file ‘captured’. Filenames, application names and thumbnail filenames are stored in an indexed file. The indexed file can consist of every document and application used during a session or categorically defined by project or tasks or personal preference. This also stores the application name and path eliminating the need to remember which application last edited the file and where the application is located.
In case you haven’t noticed it yet, just about any desktop environment or operating system, or even many major applications, use methods resembling what is being described in this patent. Cygnus knows this, but states that Apple, Google, and Microsoft are good starting points. “They were a logical starting place for us,” said Matt McAndrews, a partner with the Niro, Scavone, Haller & Niro law firm, which is representing Cygnus, “We’ve identified many other potentially infringing products that we’re investigating.” Obviously, those “many other potentially infringing products” do not have bank accounts larger than most third world countries.
Cygnus is hoping to receive a “reasonable royalty” as well as a court injunction preventing further infringement. Seeing the idiocy of the US patent system, they can probably buy a small Carribean island by the time this suit is settled out of court.