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If you've ever zoomed in or out on a word processing document, it was probably via a simple left-right slider. Drag it to the left, things are smaller; drag it to the right, they're embiggened. It's hardly a revolutionary design, but it is one that Microsoft patented way back in 2006.
Now, MS is hauling out that patent to sue Corel, owners of WordPerfect, the non-Word word processor most lawyers love.
Microsoft's slider design patent was "awarded" the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Stupid Patent of the Month for December, almost a decade after the patent was filed. The EFF notes:
Design patents aren't like the utility patents that most people think of when they think of patents. Unlike utility patents, which are meant for new and useful inventions, design patents are meant for new, non-functional, ornamental aspects of articles. They have only one claim, little to no written description, and usually a series of images detailing what exactly is being claimed.
Microsoft's slider patent certainly isn't a "new and useful invention." It's simply a slider with a minus sign on one end and a plus on the other. This isn't exactly a candidate for inclusion in the Smithsonian. As Arstechnica puts it, the patent, "would seem to be one of those things that's so simple it raises some basic philosophical questions about the patent system."
But while the patent may be stupid, it's certainly useful. That's because any violation of a design patent can result in damages entitling Microsoft to all of the profits for the infringing product, not just those attributable to the design.
Microsoft sued its (much smaller) competitor Corel on December 18th, in pursuit of such a large damage award. Corel is the owner of WordPerfect, the small word processing program beloved by many attorneys. Microsoft alleges a host of patent infringements on Corel's part, including that Corel Write and Corel Calculate illegally ripped off MS's simple slider design. The complaint also goes after WordPerfect directly, noting that the program allows users to simulate the Microsoft Word workspace.
The suit is a direct response to a lawsuit filed by Corel in July. That suit alleged Microsoft had violated WordPerfect's RealTime Preview patent. Both suits seek treble damages, claiming that the patent violations are "an exceptional case" of infringement.
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