Sunday, June 24, 2007

Does Microsoft Own iPhone?

The US Patent and Trademark Office just granted Microsoft US Patent #7,225,409 for a "Graphical user interface for a screen telephone". The grant was made on May 27th, 2007.

The abstract of the patent, located here, describes "a graphical user interface for a web telephone and other telephony devices provides a unique combination of display elements that provide information and enable the user to access functionality of the device."

The illustration submitted with the patent application on August 25th, 1999, doesn't look much like an iPhone - and isn't exactly going to steal iPhone users away from Apple on the basis of looks:

That said, the claims granted by this patent are so broad - and the targeted devices so close to the iPhone market (PDAs, webphones, other computing devices) that you have to wonder if this little-talked about patent grant has the potential to enable Microsoft to make a claim to certain iPhone-related IP.

Take this extract, from the Summary of the Invention:

"the application program selection area provides a display of user interface controls that enable a user to select an application program, such as a web browser, address book, or answering machine/e-mail message retrieval application. In one implementation, the selection area is a button bar with control buttons that the user may select to initiate application programs or device features visually identified by the buttons..."

Or this, from Claim #1:

"A tangible computer-readable medium having stored thereon computer-executable instructions for implementing a customizable visual user interface on a screen display of a telephony device comprising: an application program for providing services to a user on the telephony device;"

Also from Claim #1:

"...execution of the one or more methods of the application programming interface is responsive to the input from the application for customizing the customizable visual user interface, wherein the telephony module includes an operator agent for determining a media mode of an incoming call"

More, from Claim #32:

"the customizable visual user interface comprising a branding area for displaying a brand graphic, wherein the branding area is operable to allow a user to connect to an internet location via the telephony device, and wherein the internet location is associated with the brand graphic"

Does that sound like a "branded home page short cut" to anyone else? I think I already have one of those on my Cingular BlackBerry...

These examples are really just the tip of the iceberg. The Microsoft patent - reproduced here - is quite dense, and filled with the kind of broad descriptions typically associated with software patents that could enable multiple engineering methods and variations.

I was particularly drawn to the idea that many seemingly commonly-used telephony user interface components might be represented as a novelty, and thus potentially granted a patent - such as the representation of a call slip within a telephony GUI (co-pending patent application Serial. No. 09/383,039 entitled "A COMMON VISUAL AND FUNCTIONAL ARCHITECTURE FOR PRESENTING AND CONTROLLING ARBITRARY TELEPHONE LINE FEATURES").

As with most patents, it is hard - nigh impossible, in fact - to read these patent claims without referencing *today's* innovations in your imagination. This will no doubt be a challenge also for judge and jury if Microsoft and Apple ever do end up in court over #7,225,409.

Note: I'd be very interested to get your commentary if you're an IP lawyer, post your reading of this patent.

1 comment:

Relay said...

MSFT’s patent application was rejected 8 times before it was granted. It is still a terrible patent that won’t stand up to any challenge. There is a lot of prior art that MS did not cite for their claims. I would be shocked if they try to enforce it against Apple because the patent will be found invalid.