If you read about Microsoft's
number 6,727,830, "Time based
hardware button for application launch," issued on April 27, 2004,
you're probably thinking that now you've heard everything. A patent on
double-clicking and on holding down an application button? How can the
Patent Office issue such a patent, since you can probably think of
several instances of prior art off the top of your head?
the abstract, explaining the patent:
A method and system are provided for extending the functionality of
application buttons on a limited resource computing device. Alternative
application functions are launched based on the length of time an
application button is pressed. A default function for an application is
launched if the button is pressed for a short, i.e., normal, period of
time. An alternative function of the application is launched if the
button is pressed for a long, (e.g., at least one second), period of
time. Still another function can be launched if the application button
is pressed multiple times within a short period of time, e.g., double
It drones on a while longer, but although they expend a great many
words, what they have patented is simply this:
- You have a device with a button. If you press the button quickly, you
get different behavior than if you hold the button down. Electric
typewriters have worked that way for decades, and portable CD players
- Press the button twice in a short period, and you get different
behavior. This, of course, is the "double click."
Linux systems are full of software which implements the claimed
Double-clicking is found everywhere. The "hold the button for different
behavior" can be found in places like the CD player.
The patent specifies a "limited resource" computing device, so they are
talking about PDA-type systems. The simple fact is that all computing
devices are "limited resource," however.
I asked my right-hand man on Groklaw, Dr Stupid, if he could think of
any prior art and he had no trouble in about 10 minutes coming up with
The general concept of short press and long press doing different
things is not new at all - many embedded devices use it. What the
patent is about is a particular use of this concept for launching
programs on a device. That is, clicking once on the icon launches the
program with one command line parameter, and a double-click a different
command line parameter. Or a hold down is yet another.
The very old FVWM window manager for Linux has a 'maximize' button
which works like this:
- Click-and-hold: stretches the window vertically.
- Single Click: stretches the window but does not cover the taskbar
- Double Click: stretches the window to cover the entire
So you have normal action, hold-it-down action, and double-click
action. It's still shipped with SuSE and most distributions to this day, I
To me, it fails the 'not obvious' test. Another one that I wonder if
it might be relevant is here:
'If you wish, you can distinguish single, double, and triple clicks.
A double click means clicking a mouse button twice in approximately the
same place. The first click generates an ordinary click event. The
second click, if it comes soon enough, generates a double-click event
Microsoft listed 8 prior art documents, each slightly different from
theirs. But then you find a long list of what they asserted was unique
to this patent. But, without analyzing this one in great depth,
certainly we can agree there are patents issued that should not be
issued, and the real question is: why does the Patent Office issue
them? And why do companies want them?
The answer to the first question is simple: they are understaffed and
there is a general policy that you do your best and later the courts
can determine if the patent was valid or not.
Why do companies want them? I asked that question of patent attorney
Dan Ravicher, head of PubPat, the
organization that is dedicated to going after patents that were wrongly
issued, and also asked about this specific patent, and here is what he
When I read those claims, I was like, sure, nice try. I
Microsoft would ever assert this patent. But, there is still value in
building up a portfolio because many valuations are based purely on the
objective factor of how many patents or how many claims one has, despite
the fact that a wide swath of them are useless. The valuation experts
aren't that sophisticated, yet.
A patent, in other words, is an
intangible, and you look good to valuation experts if you have a big
pile of them.
Does that mean there is no danger? Should something be done? He told
me that until Microsoft begins to assert the patent, which so far it
seems not to have done, the best thing is just to monitor it. "If
to assert this patent specifically, then we'll review the situation and
make a decision about how best to protect the public," he says.
to post comments)