Microsoft’s Patent Club

Microsoft has been going around coercing manufacturers of Android devices into licensing agreements, where each Android device they ship, they must pay Microsoft some amount of money. Or else Microsoft will sick their pack of lawyers on them. Every company Microsoft has tried this tactic on so far as complied in the end, and some reports have Microsoft making more money off Android licensing deals than they do off of Windows Phone 7.

Unfortunately for us, part of the deal these companies are forced to make is a Non-Disclosure Agreement forbidding them from revealing what patents MS was actually threatening them with. Now, thanks to a brazen move by Barns & Nobel (who had previously signed a similar deal with MS), we now know what patents they are using.

Some of the patents appear to be oriented towards the Linux Kernel it’s self, while others are oriented towards specific features in Android (albeit extremely general and basic features).

The following is a list of the 10 Patents and a brief description of each one.

US Patent No. 6,339,780

While a browser is loading content, display an animated graphic that is removed when the loading is finished.

My Analysis: This is a ridiculously broad patent covering what are commonly refereed to as “spinners” or “throbbers”. More technically called “Indeterminate loading bars”. They are used all over the place, I think the only thing that makes this patent stick is they restrict it to “limited available display area” otherwise there’d be about 1 million web sites infringing upon this.

US Patent No. 5,579,517 & 5,758,352

File’s that have both a long and a short file name.

My Analysis: I believe this addresses a deeper feature in the Linux Kernel not necessarily Android, but I’m not sure.

US Patent No. 5,652,913

This patent referes to a low level method for synchronizing communication between device drivers and user level file systems.

My Analysis: Same as the last one, this is a deeper feature most likely part of the Linux Kernel rather than Android it’s self. The EFF has done analysis of patents like this back when MS was trying to do something similar to Linux in general. And the EFF concluded in all instances that I’m aware of that the patents were indefensible.

US Patent No. 6,791,536

Simulating touch input from a device such as a stylus or mouse.

My Analysis: This must reference the new features that I think were added into Android around 2.3. You can see them used in Motorola’s laptop docks where you can use a mouse, but it interacts with Apps that were written for touch.

US Patent No. 6,897,853

This is a ridiculously broad patent just oozing in legalese. In general it talks about interpreting input from a stylus and providing responses to the user.

My Analysis: At one point in the description they seem to try and patent “intuitive responses”. But seriously, I believe this refrences the new Stylus code in later versions of Android. After 3.0 I believe.

US Patent No. 5,778,372

Prioritize downloading of images in order to render what you have as soon as possible.

My Analysis: Prioritizing the downloading of images is something browsers have been doing since Netscape, so I’m really not sure how they got away with this one.

US Patent No. 5,889,522
OS provided dialog controls in common code such as DLLs.

My Analysis: Again, providing dialog controls from shared OS code is nothing new. Literally every OS does this. Much like some of Apple’s overly broad patents, it’s defensibility lies in some of it’s fine details. For instance: “Image lists include multiple like-sized images that are stored efficiently in a single bitmap.” Is a very specific requirement, where if not met, this WHOLE patent would not apply. So likely they are finding areas that match these oddities exactly in Android.

US Patent No. 6,891,551

Handles for selecting text in non-editable documents.

My Analysis: Selection text out of a UI is far from novel, but I’m failing to see the details that make this defensible.

US Patent No. 6,957,233

Capturing annotations for read-only documents and saving them in a separate file.

My Analysis: I have literally no idea what this could be infringing on in Android. It might be something specific to the nook.

Final Thoughts

Most of these patents are from the 90s, some even reference Windows 95 specifically. Many are likely to be invalid due to prior art, and others for being too broad. I think B&N has a real shot here challenging these in court, especially if Google throws their weight behind the fight.