Microsoft Patents Page Scrolling

Last Updated Aug 28, 2008 6:05 PM EDT

The future of intellectual propertyThere are times the US Patent & Trademark Office and large corporations can leave you scratching your head. As Om Malik reported, Microsoft has essentially received a patent on paging through a document by pressing keys on the keyboard, like page up and page down, for example. It's absurd, but more of a problem is that the big companies undercut any credibility they had (or didn't have) when they moan about patent trolls. If you're going to make everyone spend time on this level of nonsense, what ethical authority do you have to complain about the practices of others?

Here's the language from the actual patent application:

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 some, 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. Similar behavior occurs when there is more than one column of pages being displayed in a row.
Oh, good gravy, are they really serious in Redmond? Scrolling the same increment of document by pushing either page up/down or one of the arrow keys, even if you've zoomed in? One might think that the Supreme Court decision in KSR v. Teleflex might have suggested that scrolling through a document is at least an "obvious" invention, even if people hadn't been doing so for, oh, I don't know, three decades at least?

A large company often blow a gasket when a smaller company owns intellectual property and dares to assert its rights, whether or not it has embodied said IP into a product or service. But then the same corporation, with thousands of patents in hand, decides to add one more to the coffers on something so basic, so widely practiced, that it seems equivalent to patenting the Enter key.

I'm no lawyer, but Microsoft seems on incredibly shaky grounds and is lucky that the USPTO has so much turnover in staff, with the accompanying loss of institutional experience, that it might as well install revolving doors at each cubicle. When an actor and movement performer in New Zealand was irritated at Amazon (and, as he told me, simply bored), he raised money over the Internet to pay for a reexamination request of Amazon's one-click patent. He provided enough prior art to get most of the claims overturned. Maybe he should do the same thing for Microsoft.

Or maybe, just maybe, all the large corporations that whine about all the trouble they face from so-called patent trolls should stop abusing and slowing the patent system with their useless intellectual excrement and spend their time doing things like making their own products actually work well. Just think, real patents wouldn't get clogged quite so much in the system and Microsoft could save the $300 million it's spending to convince people that a Vista DVD is more than an expensive coaster.

Keyboard image via morguefile.com user Alvimann, via site standard license.

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.