United States Patent Application 20090282325

I have been spending this last year working in Romania, country of the famous Vlad Tepes, better known as Dracula...


Not that I am especially interested in bloodsuckers, but you might have a look at what Microsoft just patented today under a United States Patent Application 20090282325 :


SPARKLINES IN THE GRID (The pdf document is available here).


You will note that only few charts have retained MSFT interest : "The computer-implemented method of claim 6, wherein the visual representation includes one or more of: a line graph; a line graph with value markers; a bar graph; a stacked bar graph; a win/loss graph; and a pie chart. "


Anyway, I really would like to hear what Edward Tufte thinks about the "INVENTION" claimed by  :
  • Radakovitz, Samuel Chow (Redmond, WA, US) 
  • Buerman, Adam Michael (Bellevue, WA, US) 
  • Garg, Anupam (Redmond, WA, US) 
  • Androski, Matthew John (Bellevue, WA, US) 
  • Becker, Matthew Kevin (Kirkland, WA, US) 
  • Ruble, Brian S. (Bellevue, WA, US) 

26 comments:

Jon Peltier said...

The US Patent System is severely broken. Examiners are overworked and unfamiliar with their own topic areas. This patent illustrates this travesty.

Prior art in this topic goes back quite some time, with techniques implemented well before the application date of the MS patent.

I can think of three implementations: BonaVista's MicroCharts, Bissantz' SparkMaker, and Fabrice's work described in this blog.

Well before Fabrice released his impressive work, there were public discussions about the techniques he implemented, including several posts on Daily Dose of Excel blog, which I myself participated in.

Anonymous said...

I called the US Patent office, but they are already closed for the day. I'll call them back tomorrow and ask them to review Sparklines for Excel as prior art. I admit I didn't read every line of the patent application (I skimmed) but it doesn't appear to be novel or more than "one logical extension" of existing work, which was the criteria they used when reviewing a patent application of mine a few years ago. I don't mind MS getting patents for truly novel ideas, but (at least from what I absorbed from skimming) this doesn't seem to qualify.

Stefan said...

...well, to add something, it might cause some severe law troubles to the companies, Jon mentioned above... that would be sad. As we can see in cases like Intel vs AMD it will only satisfy lawyers for years. Instead I like Fabrices work, which inspires me!!!

Anonymous said...

Somewhat disgusting, on the one hand approaching open source on the other patenting what's out there. If "not ínvented by me" I just claim it.

Anyhow, for now it is only US and not a PCT or EU - yet?
So I will continue to use SFE regardless of M$$.

If I have a chance I'll talk to our patent lawyer and let you know ...
Chin up - it hardly can get worse...
THX for all your work!

Alessandro said...

I'm glad you keep doing this fantastic work!!! Shame on them...

Chandoo said...

wow.. this is a sad news. I am not even sure the patent system in US works the way it is intended to. It should be interesting to watch how folks at bonavista and bissantz respond to this.

Needless to say, SFE remains one of the truly outstanding open source projects in excel. All the best.

Bob Phillips said...

Are we perhaps not all jumping up and down a tad precipitously chaps?

I too have only skimmed the document, but I notice that the patent is specifically for 'Sparklines In The Grid', not a patent for Sparklines. As I understand it BonaVista's offering is some ActiveX control, I forget what Bissantz's is, but I doubt it is 'in the grid', and SFE is in cell charts is it not.

So are we talking about different things, and MS' patent will impinge in no way on the other offerings? It seems to me that this patent is aimed fair and square at OO, Google and the likes, to stop them introducung Sparklines.

Quite honestly, I think all 3 products are doomed once 2010 gets a hold, unless they can offer functionality that way exceeds MS's offering (Or MS crassly cripple Sparklines as they have with CF in 2007).

Eric Gundersen said...

Fabrice,

Very sad to see that the 800 kilogram gorilla (Microsoft) is once again taking the brilliant work of a few independent minds (including you), twisting it into something less elegant and less versatile, and then calling it their own. Eventually (Excel 2026?) they might catch up to SFE.

And BTW, if I didn't say thank you before, here it is: Thank You!

Best Regards,

Eric Gundersen

P.S. - I don't really know what MS means by "In the Grid", but certainly that's what SFE does?

Doug Rohde said...

It seems to me that "In the Grid" means the sparklines are some sort of native data type or representation that lives within a cell, as opposed to a typical Excel chart which sort of just floats on top of the document.


"The sparklines aren’t floating on the grid of Excel like a chart does. They aren’t rows, column, or sheets away from the data. They are in the table giving context to the numbers, unobtrusively, and appear like text in the cell."
http://blogs.msdn.com/excel/archive/2009/07/17/sparklines-in-excel.aspx

Jakob S said...

For what it's worth, one of the people named on the patent application, Samuel Radakovitz, Program Manager on the Excel team, acknowledges Edward Tufte as the inventor of Sparklines at http://blogs.msdn.com/excel/archive/2009/07/17/sparklines-in-excel.aspx

Sam Griffith Jr. said...

Actually, MS may have a case here for a least the charts bar charts in a table cell. The original MS Multiplan on the Macintosh in 1984 had that capability and so that may be part of prior art that they can use to defend with.

ed said...

I find this especially ironic being that Tufte himself lifted the idea from a designer from the team that designed/launched mlb.com back in 2000. The designer showed him a conceptual design for a sparkline that tracks a baseball team's win-loss record on MLB.com.
Tufte had the nerve to publish it as his own idea -- not giving any credit to the original designer. He won't get any sympathy from me.

Anonymous said...

As a holder of numerous patents, I'm pretty sure every patent I applied for, I had to claim the invention as my own, under penalty of perjury. I wouldn't want to be patenting something that I claimed in my blog was invented by someone else.

Martin Diers said...

There has been a Sparklines extension for Open Office since May: http://extensions.services.openoffice.org/project/eurooffice-sparkline

Anonymous said...

A patent application is just that: an application. The USPTO allows anyone to file an application for anything, as long as they pay the fee. The application does not become a patent granting exclusive rights until it has been examined against the prior art and approved. Applications are published after 18 months regardless of whether they've been examined, in order to open up their contents to the public. A published application has a serial number, but it is NOT a patent and does NOT grant any rights.

Fabrice Rimlinger said...

Anonymous :"A patent application is just that: an application. "

Key clarification... thanks for this.

Dirty Davey said...

Some possible prior art for sparklines-in-the-spreadsheet would be (circa 2006) >sparklines-in-the-information-dashboard

Anonymous said...

Anonymous :"A patent application is just that: an application. "

While technically you may be right, the fact of the matter is the USPTO grants a gargantuan number of patents which should never have seen the light of day.

So while the patent hasn't yet been granted, it merely awaits a rubber stamp which is a mere formality.

So while your technical distinction is appreciated, it is largely irrelevant.

Furthermore, if your intention was to convey that people are over-reacting at this stage, because it's not yet enforceable - I'd respectfully argue that now is precisely the time to be up in arms, before it is granted, and while there is a chance, however small, to intervene.

dbmuse said...

Please keep up the sparklines. Big Fat companies like Microsoft can be sued for lots of money when they are bad. Find the right lawyer who will work for percentage...

Anonymous said...

Read the claims at the very end of the PDF. That's all that is being patented. Only if ALL elements of a particular claim has been previously done is the claim non-novel and disqualified. At that point the only other question is whether it's non-obvious (whose meaning in patent law is, forgive the pun, non-obvious). This is the way patent law works guys.

The first claim has about 7 very specific elements. So it's a fairly narrow patent, and you have to judge each of the so-called prior art examples against all 7. If one is different, Microsoft's approach is novel, and obviousness is the only way it can be overridden.

Anonymous said...

I've filed a number of patents ... it's a legal requirement that you identify ALL relevant prior art. You have to sign a legal document attesting to that fact. I've glanced through the patent, and I see NO prior art cited. So the patent application itself is flawed and should (at the very least) generate an office action (i.e. be rejected on the first read.)

One of the inventors, Radokovitz, blogged about Tufte's book: http://blogs.msdn.com/excel/archive/2009/07/17/sparklines-in-excel.aspx. It's apparent that they are well aware of at least some of the prior art.

That said, the patent is not for sparklines, but rather for computer generation of sparklines. It it's even narrower, applying only to Excel (i.e. a spreadsheet, dynamic context), it may even be a valid application.

However, for "computer generated sparklines" Wikipedia offers a number of pieces of prior art. This (as an inventor) is what really pisses me off. I went to Wikipedia and found 6 potential pieces of prior art in less than 5 minutes. The inventors and their attorney didn't find ANY. That should be cause for summary rejection by the patent office, as there is potential perjury in the application itself.

Alex said...

you have been slashdotted.
You can read the /. chatter about your new enemy here:

http://yro.slashdot.org/story/09/11/20/0145200/Microsoft-Applies-For-Patent-On-Tuftes-Sparklines

Michael said...

This is a pretty sad. In about a minute, using google, I found defeating prior art. The patent doesn't cite a single reference in the prior art.

Under patent law, attorneys have a duty of candor and full disclosure to the patent office. Its clear that they intentionally hid a lot of material information.

Anonymous said...

ed.

Claiming that Tufte stole the idea from someone else is a very large accusation. Could you please provide some proof to help validate your argument

Fabrice Rimlinger said...

An intersesting summary by Graham Odds can be find here :http://www.scottlogic.co.uk/blog/graham/2009/11/microsoft-sparkline-patent/.

Graham's conclusion is :
"Bearing in mind that I am not trained in legalese and the number of other products I have considered is relatively small, it would appear that Microsoft may have a legitimate claim with this patent application. However, it does appear to have a disconcerting number of omissions and misstatements. Besides missing key information regarding the background of sparklines it also states “In the case of creating sparkline graphs, conventionally, sparklines are created manually” – a clear falsehood given the numerous existing examples of implementations that automatically generate sparklines."

tava tea said...

I don't mind MS getting patents for truly novel ideas, but (at least from what I absorbed from skimming) this doesn't seem to qualify.