Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Microsoft Applies For Patent On Tufte's Sparklines

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the audacity-of-patents dept.

Patents 175

jenkin sear writes "Data visualization guru Edward Tufte developed Sparklines, a great way to display condensed data as an inline graphic. Excel's new version has incorporated the design element — and Microsoft has applied for a patent on them — without so much as a by-your-leave from Tufte."

cancel ×

175 comments

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

Why are you surprised? (1, Funny)

stillpixel (1575443) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168086)

It is very obvious that Microsoft has never payed much attention to design concepts, especially user interface design concepts.

Re:Why are you surprised? (4, Insightful)

MrNaz (730548) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168258)

How are Sparklines even patentable? They're just a graph, scaled down. I don't even see an innovation here, either my Microsoft or Tufte.

Re:Why are you surprised? (5, Informative)

mabhatter654 (561290) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168334)

They're already published and in use, therefore not patentable.... if only the patent office would follow their own damn rules about such things!

Re:Why are you surprised? (2, Insightful)

burner (8666) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168664)

It's a little too early to fault the USPTO, since Microsoft as only applied for the patent, it hasn't been granted yet.

Re:Why are you surprised? (3, Informative)

Daengbo (523424) | more than 4 years ago | (#30169270)

This appears to be a specific implementation of sparklines in an Excel spreadsheet, not sparklines in general. This blog [dailydoseofexcel.com] talks about this specific implementation (sparklines in Excel) in 2006. This comment on that blog [dailydoseofexcel.com] says that there are three current commercial implementations.

There's even a Sourceforge project for Sparklines in Excel [sourceforge.net] , but it appears to have first published in early 2009.

Re:Why are you surprised? (1)

apez1267 (1311469) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168380)

its not a mater of inovation in their eyes , its a matter of keeping ppl from sueing them like they did in ms word

Re:Why are you surprised? (1)

lahvak (69490) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168752)

They are graphs scaled down so that they fit well wit the surrounding test. It's not actually completely simple. As far as I know, Tufte never claimed to invent them, he just described them in his book, and developed some theory on how sparklines should look like to work well. Possibly he also coined the term sparkline, I am not sure about that.

Re:Why are you surprised? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30168814)

Which is why the concept of sparklines is not addressed by the patent, but a particular implementation. Read the whole of the patent and skip the /. summary. You'll see it's (likely) a defensive patent for their way of creating sparklines.

Re:Why are you surprised? (2, Informative)

TamCaP (900777) | more than 4 years ago | (#30169112)

They are not. In addition to Tufte, they've been used since 70ties (??) in Neuroscience and Physiology to describe currents (i.e. http://jp.physoc.org/content/574/2/415/F7.large.jpg [physoc.org]

Re:Why are you surprised? (1)

TamCaP (900777) | more than 4 years ago | (#30169124)

Oh, stupidity....those are voltage traces... anyway, point still stands.

32% Rate hike for UC tuition (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30168098)

Crosshairs on the regents' foreheads. We're playing for keeps now.

Obvious bad patent (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30168110)

The patent is obviously bad. As the summary states, there is plenty of prior art. If you read the patent, it's also trivial - it's just making graphs smaller.

Will the USPTO reject it?
Maybe.

But even if they do, we also need to ask:
Will anyone at Microsoft be fined or imprisoned for applying for this bogus patent?
Unfortunately, not.

Re:Obvious bad patent (1, Troll)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168318)

you want to imprison people filing a patent which has prior art? fuck you in the neck.

Re:Obvious bad patent (3, Funny)

mister_playboy (1474163) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168356)

fuck you in the neck.

Only works if OP has had his larynx removed.

Re:Obvious bad patent (1)

Asclepius99 (1527727) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168714)

Clearly mister_playboy can demonstrate prior art in the technique of neck fucking.

Re:Obvious bad patent (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30168834)

Why not? I've got pictures of your mother doing it last night.

Re:Obvious bad patent (1)

Blue Stone (582566) | more than 4 years ago | (#30169024)

I have patented the 'placement of an orifice below the chin but above the shoulder for the purposes of sexual gratification'. Please cease and desist you potentially infringing suggestions immediately.

Re:Obvious bad patent (2, Funny)

pishfish (1664367) | more than 3 years ago | (#30169672)

I think you will find I have prior art on this with a patent I filed entitled: "The use of the neck as a penis warmer"

Re:Obvious bad patent (3, Insightful)

mysidia (191772) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168472)

It would certainly help with the epidemic of bogus patents, if those exaggerating or being deceptive on applications (such as claiming to have invented a graphical design while doing so much as acknowledging [msdn.com] that someone else invented the design) would lead to some serious justice.

Re:Obvious bad patent (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168476)

I wouldn't imprison them. I'd just fine them 50% of the gross worth. They'd only try to fool the patent office once.

Re:Obvious bad patent (1)

Korin43 (881732) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168524)

Sometimes prior art is hard to find. You'd probably want to base the fine on how obvious the prior art should have been (if it was blatantly stolen vs. plausable that they didn't know) and how quickly they fix their mistake (telling the patent office when they find the mistake).

Re:Obvious bad patent (1)

Znork (31774) | more than 3 years ago | (#30169650)

Then again, if you can't be absolutely one hundred percent certain that you're the first, then maybe you shouldn't apply for or be able to get a monopoly?

But basically it's one of those issues that is practically irresolvable with an all-or-nothing monopoly system, while it would be easy to resolve in a system constructed as most other wealth redistribution systems. If the patent office simply paid out a certain amount when a patent got used by someone it would be trivial to reduce the amount paid. But how do you repair damage caused to other companies by the use of the falsely obtained monopoly right?

Re:Obvious bad patent (1)

realityimpaired (1668397) | more than 3 years ago | (#30169818)

Then again, if you can't be absolutely one hundred percent certain that you're the first, then maybe you shouldn't apply for or be able to get a monopoly?

Do you remember the controversy surrounding the patents on the telephone? Specifically that Elisha Gray filed his patents the same day as Alexander Graham Bell, and that Bell's patents beat out Gray's because he filed them about an hour earlier?

Sometimes you need to file a patent as soon as you can, because somebody else is working on the same idea. You can't 100% guarantee that the other party hasn't beaten you to the draw, but you at least need to try. Theoretically, the patent office is supposed to reject patents for things that've already been done... but when they screw up, it's the failing of the patent office, not the person filing the patent.

Re:Obvious bad patent (1)

MrMr (219533) | more than 4 years ago | (#30169204)

Given the fact that these patents are prepared by legal professionals and that these professionals themselves already note the prior art and still want to file for the bogus patent, I would say all possible malpractice punishments should be applied.
And preferably also the somewhat harsh punishment you seem to consider suitable for disagreeing with you.

Re:Obvious bad patent (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#30169860)

What about chemical castration and laser blinding?

Re:Obvious bad patent (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30168474)

Too bad people aren't imprisoned for excessively ignorant posts on slashdot. You might enjoy being raped by niggers and mexicans.

Re:Obvious bad patent (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30168510)

It's not really Microsoft's job to make sure the patent isn't bogus. Remember, it's just an application. It will probably get rejected, reviewed, and sent in again. Microsoft is expecting this. If the system is working, Microsoft will only get the patent once they have a good claim.

But the system isn't working. Even if this patent isn't granted, the version that is eventually granted will still probably be invalid. Eventually, when someone finally goes to court to invalidate the patent, I suggest that we fine the USPTO reviewers who granted the patent.

Re:Obvious bad patent (4, Informative)

HiThere (15173) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168592)

Actually, yes, it *is* a legal requirement that MS not claim to invent what they haven't invented. Unfortunately, this is never enforced with the applicable punishment. (Rarely against individuals. I've never heard of it being enforced against a company.)

Re:Obvious bad patent (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#30169838)

Jeesh, read the patent. They patented a specific way to generate the sparkline as an inline app process. They did not patent the sparkline, nor did they patent making graphs smaller. I don't like Microsoft a bit. And this patent is pretty trivial, and should have been thrown out. But it's probably going to be a feature in the next version of office, and they want to make the new feature hard to copy. The OP and the blog writing about the patent obviously didn't read more than the first paragraph of the patent. Others already have alternative ways of generating sparklines.

It's not a patent for Sparklines themselves (5, Informative)

shutdown -p now (807394) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168122)

A comment on the blog post [harvard.edu] discussing the feature (to which TFS links) says:

They haven’t tried to patent sparklines, but the use of sparklines in Excel. I.e. the automatic updating of a sparkline embedded in a spreadsheet.

Cue the posts on how obvious and stupid the patent is regardless of this below. Point is, it's not an attempt on something already claimed by someone.

Re:It's not a patent for Sparklines themselves (1)

Sockatume (732728) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168194)

We're two for two, then.

Re:It's not a patent for Sparklines themselves (5, Insightful)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168218)

Ok, so if I have to push a button to update it, it's not covered? If I don't embed it but, say, just have an external application retrieve data from a spreadsheet, it's not covered?

Yes, I'm hanging on technicalities. But when you look at it closely, the whole software patent BS is about technicalities and not much more. We're talking about (usually) so obvious applications that a 5 year old wouldn't only get the idea but actually say "duh" when you present it to him.

Maybe that would be a good metric. The patent clerc should tell his 5 year old about the idea. If he says "duh", it's not patentable.

Re:It's not a patent for Sparklines themselves (1)

schnablebg (678930) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168322)

Ok, so if I have to push a button to update it, it's not covered? If I don't embed it but, say, just have an external application retrieve data from a spreadsheet, it's not covered?

Probably, to both. Most patents, by the time they are approved, have been whittled down to this level. And although I am not in favor of many software patents, most are not really that bad because they describe very specific implementations.

Re:It's not a patent for Sparklines themselves (1)

RightSaidFred99 (874576) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168670)

Of course it is, it's all bullshit. The whole system is fucked. But any company that doesn't try to patent as much bullshit as they can will be sued by some asshole and at best pay a boatload of legal fees. Any idiot can see that these companies must play the game or it will cost them. Bit of a prisoner's dilemma.

Re:It's not a patent for Sparklines themselves (1)

fireylord (1074571) | more than 3 years ago | (#30169506)

the obvious target of this attempt at patenting someone else's idea into their spreadsheet app is other peoples' spreadsheet apps (openoffice et all). Just goes to show that with stunts like this Micro$oft still hasnt changed their rattlesnake type business ethics

Re:It's not a patent for Sparklines themselves (2, Insightful)

westlake (615356) | more than 3 years ago | (#30169682)

We're talking about (usually) so obvious applications that a 5 year old wouldn't only get the idea but actually say "duh" when you present it to him.

The 5 year may "get" the idea.

That doesn't mean he can produce the machine or device or program that puts the idea to work in new and interesting ways.

To the patent examiner, "obvious" has to mean more than "twenty-twenty hindsight."

If the "sparkline" is so obvious and useful an idea and so easily implemented in your spreadsheet program why isn't it there now?

Re:It's not a patent for Sparklines themselves (1)

gtall (79522) | more than 3 years ago | (#30169738)

"If the "sparkline" is so obvious and useful an idea and so easily implemented in your spreadsheet program why isn't it there now?"

Uh...you know, MS has a lock on spreadsheets and they only just thought of it.

Re:It's not a patent for Sparklines themselves (1)

fbjon (692006) | more than 3 years ago | (#30169856)

Are there automatically updating graphs in spreadsheets? A sparkline is ultimately a graph or other image with a small format. If an automatically updating image isn't obvious, whatever the image may be, I don't know what is.

Specifically... (2, Informative)

Sockatume (732728) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168220)

The most general claim of the patent, claim number 1, is:

associating a sparkline with a location in a document to provide a visual representation of one or more data values included in the document;associating with the sparkline a data source within the document including the one or more data values; associating the sparkline with one or more presentation options; generating the sparkline according to the one or more data values and the one or more associated presentation options by generating the selected visual representation based on the one or more data values with a matrix of points proportional to the associated location in the document; presenting the sparkline at the associated location in the document; and configuring the sparkline to be updated, such that: the sparkline is regenerated when one or more of the data values in the data source change; and the one or more presentation options are maintained when one or more document attributes are changed.

Re:Specifically... (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168256)

Gee, what update action did they miss on that list? Whaddabout: "update a sparkline when you bend over in the shower to pick up the soap"

Re:Specifically... (4, Insightful)

lahvak (69490) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168702)

That's pretty interesting. If I remember correctly, there is a LaTeX package for creating sparklines, it uses data that can be embedded in the document, it takes additional parameters that influence the look of the sparkline, and if you change the data a re-run latex, the sparkline changes to reflect the new data, while preserving the look given by the additional parameters. Add to it a system that watches your file and rerun latex every time to see a change in order to generate a preview (I believe I have seen at least one such editor), and it seems to me exactly like what they are describing. I don't quite understand what they mean by "matrix of points proportional to the associated location in the document". If that is the only difference, it really seems too little to deserve a patent.

Re:It's not a patent for Sparklines themselves (3, Insightful)

sohp (22984) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168392)

Sorry, but taking an existing invention and just taking on "in Excel" or "using a computer" does not make it a new invention. That seems to be the way the USPTO treats those magic words, though.

Re:It's not a patent for Sparklines themselves (2, Insightful)

mysidia (191772) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168490)

This is just a synthesis of existing technologies.

Spreadsheet software already automatically updates graphs and charts based on changes in the spreadsheet.

A sparkline is nothing more than a graph reduced in size and placed in-line within the text.

It follows that a combination of the existing graph technology, with the reduction in size, automatically leads to a sparkline that automatically updates.

Nothing new or novel is accomplished by the combination, so the synthesis isn't an invention.

Re:It's not a patent for Sparklines themselves (3, Insightful)

ChaosDiscord (4913) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168630)

Well, golly, I've got a very small chart in a spreadsheet. And you're suggesting that I could dynamically update that chart? Wow! I would never have thought of that! Truly a breakthrough that must have taken years of research and is totally worth a patent.

Re:It's not a patent for Sparklines themselves (1)

Fred_A (10934) | more than 3 years ago | (#30169756)

Well, golly, I've got a very small chart in a spreadsheet. And you're suggesting that I could dynamically update that chart? Wow! I would never have thought of that! Truly a breakthrough that must have taken years of research and is totally worth a patent.

It's a real shame that now that it's patented I'll still be stuck with updating my graphs in OpenOffice by adding pixels with the Gimp after figuring them out with my calculator. I could have saved hours with this !

Damn you Microsoft !

Re:It's not a patent for Sparklines themselves (4, Insightful)

jipn4 (1367823) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168632)

It's not just "stupid and obvious", there is plenty of prior art, and it follows from standard engineering principles.

Point is, it's not an attempt on something already claimed by someone.

Yes, it is. If sparklines are public domain and updating graphs dynamically is public domain, then so is the (obvious) combination. The technique belongs to all of us.

So, Microsoft isn't just stealing from another inventor here, they are stealing from all of us, which is even worse.

Re:It's not a patent for Sparklines themselves (1)

sheriff_p (138609) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168666)

Did you look at the link? It links to a website that ... provides the technology to embed Sparklines in Excel.

Re:It's not a patent for Sparklines themselves (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30168748)

They haven’t tried to patent sparklines, but the use of sparklines in Excel

Let's say that I patent the way that I walk. That's okay, isn't it? I mean, I only patented how I walk, not how walking is done in general.

"Hey, you're walking kind of like me. Stop that, or I'll have my team of lawyers sue you!"

Patents have the potential to kill the small developers (like me).

Opposing patents (3, Interesting)

StreetStealth (980200) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168134)

This is one of those issues I'd love to hear a real patent attorney weigh in on: If someone files a patent on something you can prove you demonstrated publicly at an earlier date, what are your options? Can you file an opposition to the patent? How does it work?

Re:Opposing patents (1)

Mr_Plattz (1589701) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168274)

Please stop thinking in a FOSS mind frame. In our world, someone asks a question and if we're experienced in that field we don't mind helping out. In the law world, they just lol'd at you (just like every patent attorney who actually read your post) and are currently waiting for you to swipe your credit card details. Now ... Armchair Patent Attorneys ... now that's another matter. I'm sure they're willing to provide an abundance of information.

Re:Opposing patents (3, Informative)

Grond (15515) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168612)

Please stop thinking in a FOSS mind frame. In our world, someone asks a question and if we're experienced in that field we don't mind helping out. In the law world, they just lol'd at you (just like every patent attorney who actually read your post) and are currently waiting for you to swipe your credit card details. Now ... Armchair Patent Attorneys ... now that's another matter. I'm sure they're willing to provide an abundance of information.

I'm taking the patent bar in a month and the state bar in three. I'm currently an academic, so naturally part of my job is teaching people about the law, but I'm not going to stop doing so if I'm admitted to the bar. In fact, the Model Rules of Professional Responsibility state that lawyers should help to educate the public about the law (note: they aren't required to, but they should).

Furthermore, there are patent attorneys that have made helpful comments on Slashdot over the years, which stands in direct contradiction to your claim.

Similarly, one of the people I work with is an experienced patent attorney and distinguished law professor. We offered to be the subject of a Slashdot interview about patents, particularly software patents. We felt we'd be a good match since he graduated from MIT and I have bachelor's and master's degrees in computer science. Slashdot didn't take us up on the offer, but at least we tried.

And finally I'll just point out that there are, of course, far more armchair patent attorneys than patent attorneys on Slashdot, so statistically it's hardly surprising that most comments, helpful or otherwise, come from non-experts. It would actually be pretty incredible if every patent-related post or comment on Slashdot was met by a host of patent attorneys chiming in on the issue.

Re:Opposing patents (1)

Grond (15515) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168690)

Model Rules of Professional Responsibility

*facepalm* That should be Model Rules of Professional Conduct, of course. The predecessor to the Model Rules was the Model Code of Professional Responsibility. It's late, and I got the names jumbled up.

Re:Opposing patents (1, Funny)

Antique Geekmeister (740220) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168866)

And, of course, you've provided no less than four paragraphs advertising your expertise, and not one single statement about the actual validity of the patent. You must be _amazing_ at preparing defense witnesses for testimony: answering the question without providing the information someone was really looking for is, in fact, an art form which you've just demonstrated quite well.

Re:Opposing patents (1)

icebraining (1313345) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168970)

Well, I thought that too, so he may need some practice.

Re:Opposing patents (5, Informative)

Grond (15515) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168342)

This is one of those issues I'd love to hear a real patent attorney weigh in on: If someone files a patent on something you can prove you demonstrated publicly at an earlier date, what are your options? Can you file an opposition to the patent? How does it work?

I am not an attorney (I'm an academic) and this is not legal advice. If you ever find yourself in a situation like this you should consult a competent patent attorney in your jurisdiction. To be clear, when I use the word 'you' in this post I mean the generic 'you,' not you personally.

Here's the basic flowchart. Has the other party filed an application or received a patent? If they've already received a patent, then your primary option is to put the patent into reexamination. To do this requires evidence of a substantial new question of patentability (i.e., something new the examiner or the courts haven't looked at yet) and the payment of a fee. You can either put it into ex parte reexamination, where you submit your evidence and the patent office takes it from there, or you can put it into inter partes reexamination, where the patent office holds a sort of mini trial with you arguing against the patent's validity and the patent owner arguing for it.

If the patent holder is actually demanding a license, threatening a lawsuit, etc, then you may also have the option of filing what's called a declaratory judgment lawsuit where you ask a court to determine whether the patent is valid or not.

If things are still at the application stage, your options are much more limited. You can submit prior art to the patent office, or, in the rare circumstance that you also have a pending patent application on the same invention, then the patent office may declare what's called an interference and try to figure out who invented the claimed invention first.

Obligatory Plunger Analogy (2, Funny)

hoytak (1148181) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168156)

http://wondermark.com/555/ [wondermark.com]

I'm trying to figure out who's more ridiculous... (-1, Troll)

rtilghman (736281) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168158)

Microsoft for trying to patent anything related to this or Tufte for putting a name on and claiming to "create" something as laughably simple as a miniature graph line...

Bad Tufte! Baaaaaad *hits with paper* Now, if I can just patent that really small pie chart idea I've been playing with.

-rt

Re:I'm trying to figure out who's more ridiculous. (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30168488)

But it's not just a miniature graph line. That is a misconception. If you tried miniaturizing graphs with all the axes information etc., they don't become any easier to interpret. They just become smaller.

A Sparkline has special features, like a dot at the endpoint, and a number representing its value (some also display max and min, which gives you an idea of spread). Looking at a Sparkline immediately gives one a sense of the trends and magnitudes in the graph. You cannot imagine how incredibly useful Sparklines are for visualizing the trend of thousands of dynamic trajectories in engineering. Graphs are good if you need to extract detailed information on a few variables, but when you want to see how a dynamic system with 240 variables is evolving, Sparklines can give you that information in 3-4 printed pages. That's how information dense they are.

Re:I'm trying to figure out who's more ridiculous. (1)

rtilghman (736281) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168584)

I design sophistcated financial applications for a living, so I know exactly how valuable basic trend indication can be. The point of my post was to highlight that this idea is:

a) not at all novel or original
b) like trying to patent writing
c) did not in any way originate with Tufte

Great idea, not Tufte's, in no way Microsofts, laughable on it's face.

-rt

Re:I'm trying to figure out who's more ridiculous. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30169114)

Well, I've just looked at it, and yes, it is just a miniature graph. Make all the claims you like, but it is just a graph sized to fit with the surrounding objects. Wow, it has a dot at the end-point (like of course, every other graph I've seen, although the dot is in the example I saw a different colour, wow!), and some also display a max and min value, funnily enough like most normal graphs. How does looking at a sparkline give you any more of a sense of a trend than any other similar traditional line graph. Answer: it doesn't. What it does do is occupy less space. Those of us who have had to embed graphs in documents, have used very similar techniques, but didn't bother to declare it a wondrous new technology.

To summarise: it's a small graph with certain characteristics.

Re:I'm trying to figure out who's more ridiculous. (-1, Flamebait)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168498)

Maybe you should also patent that really small penis you've been playing with.

Do you know who Tufte is? (5, Interesting)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 4 years ago | (#30169236)

Obviously not. If you did you would know he always credits his sources in depth and explains the historical development of his thinking. He often draws out features of graphical presentation of data and gives them simplifying names to provide a framework, but he does not claim originality.

He is not suing Microsoft, and has done absolutely nothing wrong, And your post is a simple troll.

A Few Points (5, Informative)

Grond (15515) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168254)

First, the actual claims are considerably narrower than just 'any and all uses of sparklines.' The broadest claim is about the use of sparklines in a dynamically updated electronic document. Most of the narrower claims have to do visual effects, the handling of null values in the spreadsheet, etc. This is pretty tame stuff.

Second, this is a newly filed application. The examiner will almost certainly come back with multiple rejections based on obviousness, and the claims will likely be narrowed in response. Like most negotiations, the parties start off with extreme positions and work towards compromise.

Third, the patent application already cites Tufte (along with a dozen other pieces of prior art) in the Information Disclosure Statement. In other words: Microsoft gave the patent examiner many important pieces of prior art. The examiner will no doubt find many more. This is all publicly available through the Patent Office's Patent Application Information Retrieval [uspto.gov] system.

Fourth, there is no need for Microsoft to acknowledge Tufte as an inventor on the patent application. Inventorship in the patent context is a legal term of art with a specific meaning. The fact that Microsoft said that Tufte invented sparklines is not the damning piece of evidence many are assuming it is (and recall from point three, above, that Microsoft acknowledged Tufte in its IDS). First, Tufte invented sparklines more than a year before the filing date, so any patentable claims must be a non-obvious improvement upon or use of sparklines, not sparklines themselves. Second, Tufte clearly did not work with the Microsoft inventors, so he cannot be a co-inventor of anything claimed in this application.

Once again non-experts hear hoofbeats and scream 'Zebra Stampede!' The comments on Tufte's site, for example, are a joke, an absolute mess of uninformed speculation. Given the wealth of publicly available information on patents and patent application, the Slashdot editors should do more to fact check these stories before publishing them.

Finally, I'll just tack on that if sparklines are so great and this is all so obvious, then surely there's an open source version that predates this application. Remember, though, that this application was filed on May 7, 2008, so the open source version would need to predate that, preferably (but not necessarily) by a year or more. That would actually be an important piece of prior art.

Re:A Few Points (-1, Redundant)

ChipMonk (711367) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168358)

The examiner will almost certainly come back with multiple rejections based on obviousness

You have such faith in the Federal Gov't. I wish I were still as naive as you.

Re:A Few Points (2, Informative)

Grond (15515) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168446)

The examiner will almost certainly come back with multiple rejections based on obviousness

You have such faith in the Federal Gov't. I wish I were still as naive as you.

This is not naïveté, this is based on personal experience and empirical research. Virtually no patent applications sail through completely unopposed, especially not applications--like this one--that claim combinations of known prior art elements whose combination behaves in a predictable way.

Furthermore, obviousness is probably the most common basis for rejection, especially in a case like this, where the broadest claim is basically 'sparklines in a spreadsheet.' Sparklines are prior art, spreadsheets are prior art, so it's at least arguable that the combination is obvious, especially given that sparklines are really just a special type of chart, which are of course a common and well known spreadsheet feature.

Re:A Few Points (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168824)

"You have such faith in the Federal Gov't. I wish I were still as naive as you."

Speaking of being naive, despite what you think government employees are no where near as lazy as the intellect displayed in your post.

Re:A Few Points (1)

chrisb.au (1209032) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168428)

"Finally, I'll just tack on that if sparklines are so great and this is all so obvious, then surely there's an open source version that predates this application. Remember, though, that this application was filed on May 7, 2008, so the open source version would need to predate that, preferably (but not necessarily) by a year or more. That would actually be an important piece of prior art." A quick search shows: http://sparkline.org/ [sparkline.org] which on their sf page have a release dated 2004-11-09

Re:A Few Points (2, Interesting)

Grond (15515) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168550)

A quick search shows: http://sparkline.org/ [sparkline.org] which on their sf page have a release dated 2004-11-09

It doesn't anticipate any of the claims, but it may help in an obviousness analysis. Specifically, it doesn't automatically update the sparkline if the data changes and it doesn't automatically adjust the horizontal proportion of the sparkline (at least that I could tell the width is set explicitly by the programmer).

Of course, this is to be expected since it's for the web and not a spreadsheet. I suspect a good obviousness argument could come from it though: This is a static sparkline graphing tool. Other static graphing tools have been incorporated into spreadsheets as dynamically updating charts. It would be obvious to add this one new kind of chart to a spreadsheet, especially given that their use on a computer has already been demonstrated.

Normal sparklines are vertically proportional to the surrounding text but not horizontally proportional because, apart from the width of the page, free flowing text has no natural notion of width. A spreadsheet, on the other hand, is made up of discrete cells, so it would be obvious to make the sparkline's width proportional to the width of one or more cells.

I fully expect that those arguments, or something very much like them, will be made by the patent examiner.

Re:A Few Points (1)

Lehk228 (705449) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168676)

updating a graph is not patentable, spreadsheets already do it.

Re:A Few Points (4, Insightful)

Grond (15515) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168756)

updating a graph is not patentable, spreadsheets already do it.

It's a legal rule that in an obviousness analysis you have to consider the claims as a whole. You can't dissect the claims into individual, obvious elements. It's the combination of all of the elements that must be found obvious.

I'm not saying that dynamically updating sparklines in a spreadsheet isn't obvious, just that the argument you made isn't a legally valid one.

Re:A Few Points (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#30169542)

There is something very wrong with your argument from a logical perspective. It is not about dissecting the claim as you call it it is about generalizing the claim that speadsheeds are already automaticaly updating graphs that is sernanly true and as sparklines are just graphs the claim holds also for sparklines so there is not much left to patend anyway. To recap it is not looking at just a part of the claim it is looking at a statement that is true for sparklines as it is true for all graphs in a spreadsheed

Re:A Few Points (2, Insightful)

Akir (878284) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168556)

The examiner will almost certainly come back with multiple rejections based on obviousness [....]

You're saying this about the patent system that approved the patents on swinging on a swing [google.com] and using a laser pointer as a cat toy [google.com] ?

Re:A Few Points (2, Informative)

Grond (15515) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168654)

The examiner will almost certainly come back with multiple rejections based on obviousness [....]

You're saying this about the patent system that approved the patents on swinging on a swing and using a laser pointer as a cat toy?

I said rejections would be made, not that Microsoft wouldn't be able to overcome them with arguments or amendments. And a quick check shows that rejections were filed in both cases*. Both patents have since been abandoned for failure to pay the maintenance fees, by the way.

* Technically, the record shows that one and two office actions were filed, respectively. Each office action contained one or more rejections, and it's common for them to contain several. The patents are old enough that the complete record is not available on PAIR, so all I can say for certain is that there were rejections filed.

Re:A Few Points (4, Informative)

barath_s (609997) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168606)

Re: Predating May 7 2008 :

http://www.dailydoseofexcel.com/archives/2006/02/05/in-cell-charting/ [dailydoseofexcel.com] https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=7603152763857688635&postID=4147846911463078558&pli=1 [blogger.com] Note especially comments by Bob Phillips and jon Peltier, in addition to the post by Fabrice on starting in 2005.

Plus, I'm not sure why you emphasize open source implementations that predate it. Did you really mean to imply that if I had a closed source implementation that predated it, it would not be prior art ?

Re:A Few Points (2, Insightful)

Grond (15515) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168720)

Well, see, there you go. That's the kind of prior art worth submitting to the patent office, assuming the examiner doesn't find it.

Plus, I'm not sure why you emphasize open source implementations that predate it. Did you really mean to imply that if I had a closed source implementation that predated it, it would not be prior art ?

No, I didn't mean to imply that at all. I just didn't realize Excel was capable of doing in-cell charting through VB or a plug-in, so I assumed a prior art implementation would most likely come from Open Office, gnumeric, etc.

Re:A Few Points (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30168618)

Well sparkline.org was registered in late 2004 - and it seems that around 5 years ago (well before the 2008 application date) there was code released on sourceforge - BSD license too.
Obviously it wont match the precise claims because it predates the application but you would expect the application to avoid any claims that could be made about the functionality of existing published code.

Re:A Few Points (3, Interesting)

dbIII (701233) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168788)

Finally, I'll just tack on that if sparklines are so great and this is all so obvious, then surely there's an open source version that predates this application.

The wikipedia article lists several, but for all I know they may have appeared there after your post.
As for the patent being of restricted use that is true but ultimately somewhat petty. It is like appending "on a plane" onto a mention of anything.

"Non experts" are rightfully scared (0, Flamebait)

Nicolas MONNET (4727) | more than 3 years ago | (#30169460)

First of all, fuck you and your condescending attitude.

Patents are unreadable by an expert in the field they apply to. I have 15 years experience in IT, as a developer and sysadmin, plus a formal education in a technical field, and I can't understand patents that apply to the work I do. I can not. I might just be stupid, but I can't help notice that most of my peers can't read patents either.

Yet I can get sued should I publish Free software that is infringing on something I can't read.

And here you are, patronising people for not understanding that patent, while the damn things are made unreadable *on fucking purpose* because it's advantageous to the patent holder since it makes it easier to trick east Texan rednecks into awarding them billions for nothing.

Re:A Few Points (1)

Sabriel (134364) | more than 3 years ago | (#30169488)

Finally, I'll just tack on that if sparklines are so great and this is all so obvious, then surely there's an open source version that predates this application.

There very likely is one. Of course, since it wouldn't have involved attempts to monetise somebody else's shoulders, it might involve actual work (hah) tracking it down.

Patents have become a broken window. The system was intended to reward what was once the rare spark of applied creative genius - it does not scale to cope with billions of educated individuals possessing both time and resources to advance the useful arts.

They give him credit on a MS Blog Page (2, Informative)

PhunkySchtuff (208108) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168260)

Over on the Microsoft Excel Team Blog [msdn.com] they even give Edward Tufte credit as the inventor of these sparklines.

For Excel 2010 we’ve implemented sparklines, “intense, simple, word-sized graphics”, as their inventor Edward Tufte describes them in his book Beautiful Evidence. Sparklines help bring meaning and context to numbers being reported and, unlike a chart, are meant to be embedded into what they are describing:

Why must /. editors insist on twisting the truth (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30168284)

By the obvious twisting of what is actualy being patented here, is timothy the new kdawson?

Right initial, wrong patent (2, Funny)

gmuslera (3436) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168362)

They should patent Tourette instead, so maybe the rest of the world stop getting its symptoms every time they make a move.

It's killing me (1)

elysiana (1152995) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168390)

Either it's way past my bedtime, or the market is over-saturated with Twilight crap, or both, but...

I totally read that as "Tufte's Sparkliness".

Re:It's killing me (1)

compro01 (777531) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168480)

You are not the only one.

Not too impressed. (1, Insightful)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168398)

I wouldn't complain about Microsoft's activity when you link to Wikipedia rather than the author's own page on sparklines [edwardtufte.com] .

Wait A Cotton Picking Second (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30168494)

Sparklines on PC have existed since the 1990s for financial, memory management, cpu graphing, calculators and medical statistics. They even go back farther in the field statistics and physics itself. Neither Microsoft, nor Tufte have invented anything here.

Re:Wait A Cotton Picking Second (1)

Sockatume (732728) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168802)

Sparklines are specifically line graphs included totally in-line with text, without axes. Obviously line graphs as a whole have existed for much longer.

Re:Wait A Cotton Picking Second (1)

NoOneInParticular (221808) | more than 3 years ago | (#30169602)

So in essence Tufte invents "graphs without axes, in-line with text", calls them sparklines. Then excel comes along and invents 'sparklines in a spreadheet', which, after proper removal of the redundant items (in-line with text), can be expaned to 'graphs without axes in a spreadsheet'. Bravo Excel: you're patenting the removal of one of your features!

Microsoft Applies For Patent On Tufte's Sparkline (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30168562)

This is an application, not a "claim" or a "patent". That means it has yet to be examined by the USPTO. You can file an application for anything, but the examiner must do an art search and examine the case.

Force Factor [goarticles.com]

first to apply (1)

dbcowboy (162210) | more than 4 years ago | (#30168794)

I have been hearing about the first to apply rule. If patent reform includes such a rule change these new patent applications to inventions by others will have beat the owners of ideas in the race to patent, plus it allows free grab of anything left unpatented.

Microsoft didn't patent the sparkline itself (2, Informative)

Device666 (901563) | more than 4 years ago | (#30169030)

Microsoft patented the use of sparklines as a visualization for a single cell in a grid. In the US patent system, that's night and day different. They recognise Edward Tufte on their website [msdn.com] for his invention of the sparkline: "For Excel 2010 we've implemented sparklines, "intense, simple, word-sized graphics", as their inventor Edward Tufte describes them in his book Beautiful Evidence."

If they would patent the sparkline they would have no claim because of broadly published prior art, under 35 U.S.C. 301: "Any person at any time may cite to the Office in writing prior art consisting of patents or printed publications which that person believes to have a bearing on the patentability of any claim of a particular patent. If the person explains in writing the pertinency and manner of applying such prior art to at least one claim of the patent, the citation of such prior art and the explanation thereof will become a part of the official file of the patent. At the written request of the person citing the prior art, his or her identity will be excluded from the patent file and kept confidential."

Speaking from an information visualisation perspective Microsoft badly implemented sparklines in excel.

Re:Microsoft didn't patent the sparkline itself (3, Insightful)

Lord Lode (1290856) | more than 4 years ago | (#30169320)

So they patent putting it in a single cell? How obvious is that? Putting something else than text in a cell? No matter what, it's a graph, it's line art, an image, images and lines have been rendered by computers for decades, no matter if it's in a cell of a spread sheet or in a window or in whatever else, no matter if the image is synchronized with some numbers from somewhere else and what not, I fail to see any innovation at all, it's just plotting of a graph based on numbers.

A by-your-leave? (0)

YourExperiment (1081089) | more than 3 years ago | (#30169444)

without so much as a by-your-leave from Tufte

The summary seems to be implying that Tufte should have asked Microsoft for their permission before allowing them to rip him off. This seems somewhat harsh on the poor guy.

Blame the system, not M$ (2, Insightful)

ath1901 (1570281) | more than 3 years ago | (#30169492)

Sure, the patent application may not go through, most likely because of the non-obvious/inventive step requirement (even if you find something looking like prior art, it may not look like it to a lawyer).

It doesn't make the (american) patent system any less stupid though:
Microsoft obviously thought the chances were good enough (> 0%) to spend some money filing a patent. It would (almost) be business malpractice if they didn't. Similar patents have been granted before (progress bars, one click shopping etc) and M$ would get a significant advantage if the patent was allowed (great marketing feature and by preventing interoperability of spreadsheets once again).

As long as design/software patents are allowed, you have to live with the consequences. Next time, vote on someone who cares.

Embedding is what they are meant for (1)

metalmonkey (1083851) | more than 3 years ago | (#30169522)

Sparklines "are meant to be embedded into what they are describing" quote http://blogs.msdn.com/excel/archive/2009/07/17/sparklines-in-excel.aspx [msdn.com]
How can a patent be granted on embedding them in a grid, when Sparklines were designed to be easily embedded into other contexts. A grid being one such context.

New Moon (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#30169704)

Edward... sparkliness... vampires (MS)... I smell another 'Twilight' promo here.

Regardless, Glad To See Sparklines in Excel (0)

davide marney (231845) | more than 3 years ago | (#30169762)

It's too bad that we're all here talking about the legal issues surrounding Excel's implementation of Sparklines, rather than praising the developers at MS for picking up on this great idea and putting it in the code. Isn't this what is supposed to happen in a free market of ideas?

It's obvious that MS isn't trying to claim authorship of Sparklines per se, since they mention Dr. Tufte's name right up front. Seems to me they're just being aware of a terrific UI idea, and putting it into code. There's not a thing wrong with that, and frankly, it doesn't happen nearly often enough.

The fact is, Sparklines look awesome in Excel, and I'd love to see them in Sharepoint, too, where a lot of dashboard-type information gets displayed. Way to go, Microsoft! It's great to see some outside-the-box thinking; you've beat your open source competitor at his own game.

People who know me know I don't normally take Microsoft's side on IP issues, but if their patent is properly limited in scope and novel in execution then let 'er rip. If the patent claim is trash, well then, OK, throw it out. But we need to make sure we don't discourage this imitation-is-the-sincerest-form-of-flattery style of development. That's how we advance the art.

I've done it... (5, Informative)

mok000 (668612) | more than 3 years ago | (#30169826)

I've used sparklines that were updated "automatically" from the values in a database. The software in question tracked the coffee consumption pr. person in the lab, and displayed it using sparklines on a web page (no longer online). The sparkline code was a PHP snippet I found on the net somewhere. There must be plenty of prior art.

Emperor's New Clothes (4, Insightful)

backwardMechanic (959818) | more than 3 years ago | (#30169850)

Am I really the only person looking at this and thinking 'it's a graph'?

The rest is all visual design and auto-updating.
Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>