Re: Patents

Harvey Newstrom (
Mon, 22 Feb 1999 19:15:11 -0500

John Clark <> wrote:

> I agree that some patents are much too broad, particularly in the computer
> field. The pinnacle of absurdity was reached by Apple (not Microsoft) when
> they tried to patent the "look and feel" of their operating system. They
> claimed they owned such intangibles because they stole them fair and
> square from Xerox.

There is one difference here. Apple paid Xerox for the rights to use their ideas before receiving any technical specifications from Xerox. Microsoft promised to pay for Apple technology, but then refused to pay after delivery.

Most people don't know the details of this often-cited case. Microsoft purchased technology from Apple which they used to develop Windows, which was initially intended to be a Macintosh emulator for the PC. Microsoft promised to pay royalties to Apple on every copy of Windows sold. Microsoft then decided not to sell any copies of Windows, and thus didn't have to pay Apple anything. Instead, they independently developed an unrelated product which they dubbed "Windows 2.0". Apple argued that Windows 2.0 looked like the same product as "Windows 1.0". Microsoft successfully argued that the new Windows was rewritten to look exactly like the old Windows without looking at the source code from Apple.

Microsoft also did this with their deal with IBM in which they promised to let IBM have rights to put Windows 3.0 technology into their OS/2 operating system. Having seen what Microsoft did to Apple, IBM made sure the contracts gave them rights to Windows 3.0 technology and all future derivative works. Microsoft then came out with Windows 95, and claimed that it was a brand new operating system that was in no way related to prior versions of Windows. IBM also tried to claim that Windows 95 was a derivative of Windows because the functionality was so similar between the products. Microsoft again successfully argued that they were independently written and were in no way related to each other.

Harvey Newstrom <>
Author, Consultant, Engineer, Hacker, Researcher, Scientist.