back to article Ludicrous Patent of the Week: Rectangles on a computer screen

Chinese internet giant Tencent is the newly minted holder of a US design patent on the concept of placing rectangles on a display screen. US Patent D767,583 describes a "design concept" that, in the words of the applicant, consists of "the ornamental design for a display screen portion with graphical user interface." What …

  1. PJF
    Mushroom

    I'll see ya

    in Texas, or is that Maryland? I can't keep the troll states right in my head...

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: I'll see ya

      Just kill everybody.

      Everybody.

      The DNA pool is deep enough, we won't lose anything.

      1. Jedit
        Joke

        "Just kill everybody"

        I think Americans have patented that, too.

    2. Bob Vistakin
      Facepalm

      Dear USPTO

      I am writing to you to inform you of a knowing voilation of patent D767,583 describing the ornamental design for a display screen portion with graphical user interface. The violator has placed content on a website using the square areas described in the patent, and cannot argue it was unaware of said patent because it granted it.

      As of writing, this site is still online at USPTO but once word spreads of such a willful violation it might not be for long.

      Yours

      Whistleblowin' Bob Vistakin

    3. Mpeler
      Mushroom

      Re: I'll see ya

      Or "I'll Sue Ya" from Weird Al Yankovic:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MeXQBHLIPcw

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm happy with this

    ... as long as the first company they sue for infringment is Apple.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: I'm happy with this

      I was thinking MS since it looks like a way of doing windows..... Maybe they'll hit Apple and MS at the same time?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I'm happy with this

      I think Apple will claim prior art with their Macintosh interface that goes back 30 years.

      {cue the posts about Apple stealing it from Xerox but even Xerox say they didn't}

      I don't think any 'patent pending' can go back that far.

      Even in the early 1980's we were testing Graphics cards by putting coloured rectangles on the screen in different positions. Drawing a square was a 'primitive' operation on several Graphics Cards I could name.

      I wrote device drivers and dianostics for at one of them.

      Note that none of these were PC based. Some went back to the mid 1970's.

      If that isn't prior art then I don't know what is.

      1. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge

        Re: I'm happy with this

        Prior Art?

        Can you say X Windows and their widgets?

        1. bombastic bob Silver badge
          Devil

          Re: I'm happy with this

          "Prior Art"

          (cued up)

          prior art didn't stop Apple from suing Micro-shaft over windows overlapping windows...

          (they were just ticked off because MS was running their thing on cheap clone boxen, or they'd have gone after IBM over OS/2 - which interestingly enough was ALSO written by Micro-shaft! )

          needless to say, they ALL ripped off Xerox!

          1. fobobob

            Re: I'm happy with this

            Pong was drawing rectangles on consumers' screen while Alto was still in its infancy. Arguably, it's not technically a computer. Note that I put about as much effort into checking dates as the patent submitter spent on assessing prior art.

      2. cortland

        Re: I'm happy with this

        https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2102757

    3. Mike Richards Silver badge

      Re: I'm happy with this

      They'll probably sue Xerox.

      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        Re: I'm (not!) happy with this

        This is a new low , but whats to stop the existing company saying "Fuck you - we had rectangles in our software before you were born, and can prove it"

        or is that not in fact a defence?

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm all for patents...

    but this is ridiculous. It looks like they're trying to patent the concept of white space, or negative space.

    Really, since we've moved to a "first to file" system, the first stage of the process should be to post every new potential patent on the USPTO's website, so that anyone can point out obviousness or prior art. Every potential patent should stay up there until a patent officer actually gets around to looking at it. That way, when the patent finally gets looked at, any garbage patent will already have tons of background information available. This should allow junk patents to be invalidated at an earlier stage, and allow good patents to be vetted faster.

    Notes: As soon as the patent is filed, it effectively has protection; so no one else can copy it and claim rights afterwards.

    Downside is that now we'd have people trolling the patent filers, trying to get their competition's patents invalidated.

    Patents are supposed to allow innovation by providing a monopoly on the invention for a limited time. These are effective when it is possible to directly monetize the invention. Hence engineering tends to get lots of patents, pure math not so much.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: I'm all for patents...

      "Downside is that now we'd have people trolling the patent filers, trying to get their competition's patents invalidated."

      Sorry to have to ask, but where's this downside you mentioned?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I'm all for patents...

        "Sorry to have to ask, but where's this downside you mentioned?"

        Throwing relevant patents or prior art at the new patent: Good.

        Throwing garbage patents, irrelevant patents, unrelated art or movie scripts at the new patent: Bad.

        "Patent offices think that independent review done for free by volunteers in their spare time is an excellent method of finding prior art. They feigned shock where no-one bothered. It is almost as if people were not willing to risk the triple damages for wilful infringement that the possibility of glancing at a patent causes."

        Yes, I'm sure--just like with open source software--that a lot of people will not participate. But some will. And anyone that does participate would help alleviate some of the burden on the USPTO. Also, not all participants would be competitors, academics, journalists and amateurs would be just as good for some of these patents. Also, not all businesses make their living off violating patents, some actually choose to license good patents and copyrights.

    2. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      I'm all against patents...

      Patent offices think that independent review done for free by volunteers in their spare time is an excellent method of finding prior art. They feigned shock where no-one bothered. It is almost as if people were not willing to risk the triple damages for wilful infringement that the possibility of glancing at a patent causes.

      Lets fund medical research by creating a shortage of medicines!

    3. Don Dumb
      Facepalm

      Re: I'm all for patents...

      @AC - "Patents are supposed to allow innovation by providing a monopoly on the invention for a limited time."

      This. Is. A. Design Patent.

      As others have had to point out below this is a 'Design Patent', which here in the UK we call (IMHO much more helpfully) a 'Registered Design'. The US patent system is abysmal but if we are going to criticise it we really need to understand what Patents are, and are not, before we wade in. This seems to be part of the reason that things haven't been fixed, few know the difference between Copyright and Patent, before we throw in pesky things like Registered Designs or Trademarks.

  4. zb

    Rounded corners

    I hope it does not have rounded corners, Apple already invented them.

    1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Rounded corners

      The article's author already beat you to that joke

    2. GrumpyOldMan

      Re: Rounded corners

      Seem to remember them in Windies XP as well.

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: Rounded corners

        yes, but the XP versions were 3D skeuomorphic, and so the "modern" 2D FLUGLY ones are now "up for patent grabs"! Yeah, see if a rounded corner 2D FLUGLY rectangle can pass the patent troll test!

  5. JLV Silver badge

    How about posting a frivolousity bond for prior art/obviousness, proportional to your company's revenue or "ability to pay" or somesuch.

    Ideally, dumb, bad faith, scattershot-in-case-I-sue-someone-later patents should result in losses when they get invalidated. The losses should hurt enough to discourage dumb filings. The PTO should NOT get the $, otherwise they'd have an incentive to accept anything just to collect later. But money should be made available to "reward" patent invalidation and hurt frivolous filers.

    I know, as is this idea as it is has more leaks in it than the Titanic. Not least the risk that a small entity is discouraged to sue a big fish like Google, or Apple, for actual infringement. And, an unsuccessfully defended patent should not automatically result in a penalty, only a frivolous one.

    But if the PTO does not do due diligence and lets anyone in, there should be a monetary reckoning when the patent is successfully challenged if it did not meet basic guidelines as established in

    https://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/pac/mpep/s2141.html

    the claimed invention as a whole would have been obvious before the effective filing date of the claimed invention to a person having ordinary skill in the art to which the claimed invention pertains.

    And, yes, I fully include "rounded corners" in this category.

    1. lglethal Silver badge
      Go

      Simple solution - every patent granted by the USPTO which is later invalidated for prior art reduces the budget of the USPTO by, lets be generous, 0,01%. More then 100 invalidations is going to start hurting! Maybe then they'll stop granting things willy nilly.

      Or the USPTO could simply follow the UK Home Office visa application policy. You pay your fee when you make your visa application, and whether your visa is granted or not, the Home Office keeps the money. If your missing paperwork, then you need to submit a new application form and pay again. This way, the USPTO would have absoutely no incentive to approve every patent. They get the money either way, so they might actually spend some time looking at the patents, rather then reaching for the big green approval stamp every single time.

  6. ecofeco Silver badge

    Oh FFS

    Really? Just... really?

    Stick a fork in the USPTO, they're done.

  7. Tristan Young

    Awarding patents like this is a sure-fire way to make yourself look like an incompetent, inept, rather idiot and useless person or organization.

    Can we vote to send the entire USPTO to represent the Earth on Mars? I hear it could be a one-way trip.

    1. Alien8n Silver badge

      Prpbably not the best idea. Was tried with telephone sanitisers once and resulted in the extinction of the planet from an unsanitised telephone. Not to mention the resulting cock-up of a billion year experiment (I understand the mice weren't too happy about the result). Best to be on the safe side and get the Vogons to put in a hyperspace bypass.

  8. davcefai

    Spreadsheets

    So half the world's spreadsheets are infringing on this patent because the author drew black borders around some groups of cells.

  9. ultrastarx1

    im a gonna draw a picture of myself registering a patent, yee haw, bet those fools dont see me a comin..then i can stands outside the patent office with me six shooter.. sippin whisky.. i'll file yer patent for ya, file it full of lead..

  10. Mephistro Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Software patents, the gift that keeps on giving!

    Patenting code, patenting numbers, patenting basic geometric shapes...

    What could possibly go wrong?

    1. Don Dumb

      Re: Software patents, the gift that keeps on giving!

      @Mephistro - "Patenting code, patenting numbers, patenting basic geometric shapes."

      None of which has happened here as this is a Design Patent A.K.A. a 'Registered Design'. It is purely a specific design. It still may be really f***ing stupid but it is not a Patent.

  11. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    WTF

    I thought most of this s**t worked its way out of corporations collective sphincters in the 90's.

    Obviously some of them still need an enema.

    IIRC this started when Regan gutted the USPTO and ended any but the most cursory examinations.

    Thanks Ronnie.

    1. Gary Bickford

      Re: WTF

      Reagan had little to do with it. I was there. At the time the USPTO was so many years behind that entire product lifecycles were going by before the original patent got reviewed. (Also, no software patents, as software was based on algorithms and algorithms were math, and math could not be invented, only discovered as a fact of life. Until 1986. But that's another story.) So everybody - Congress, the President, business, etc. were whining out loud about the situation.

      My company actually was working with another company to bid on the PTO's RFP for a system to scan and OCR all the existing patents and put them into a searchable online system. This would allow examiners and others to search existing patents more quickly. We ended up not bidding because of some rules for the bid, notably we could be awarded the bid, spend a couple of million on implementation, then the gov could cancel the contract and pay nothing. That was too much risk.

      So the decision was made to change the rules, and allow the USPTO to default to 'award' unless they found pretty much obviously prior art in the patent office itself (not outside), and leave it to the patent applicant to defend the patent. This was widely hailed as a big step forward at the time, as it would (and actually did) cut the backlog from six to 10 years down to a year or two. But this was before software patents, widespread gaming via trivial patents and the art of patent trolling. Trivial patents have always been with us, but had not been such a serious problem, and patent trolls didn't really exist yet - a lot of this was the unintended consequence of the new rules _combined with_ the explosion of computers, making it easy both to generate new patents and search for potential victims. It's taken a while, but IMHO we are finally tweaking the new system in ways that are bringing the system back into sanity.

  12. Ian Emery Silver badge

    make yourself look like an incompetent, inept, rather idiot and useless person

    My bet is that the whole USPTO are voting Trump; he's their kinda guy..

  13. Hans 1 Silver badge
    Joke

    >The digital rights group believes that the vague nature of the patent will leave the door wide open for dubious infringement claims against other companies.

    I wonder what Xerox has to say about this ? I bet they'll sue Xerox for ripping off their patent 36 years before the patent was granted ...

  14. MacroRodent Silver badge

    A new low, indeed

    That looks like any number of old GUI and touch screen user interfaces. From the very short patent, it is hard to even see what novelty is claimed. But remember this is a design patent, where the bar is lower than in "real" patents. And judging by this example, they have no screening at all. Or maybe they only checked their database did not contain any identical entry.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I initially thought "that IBM one, nice work guys, 'of the week' 50 years ago..."

    Then I read it.

    Happy to be in the EU.... oh wait, Brexit...

    Yes I did just make it about Brexit.

  16. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    Big bucks!

    At first glance this looks like the inventor is just trying to protect the design - there's no general claim at all, it's a very specific patent and virtually worthless - there's no money in this, however...

    I think that the real villain in this case is the patent attorney who's probably laughing all the way to the bank.

  17. This post has been deleted by its author

  18. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
    Pint

    *Design* Patents 101

    This is a 'DESIGN Patent', not a general 'Utility Patent'.

    The 'D' prefix confirms it's a DESIGN Patent.

    El Reg " the vague nature of the patent"

    No. A DESIGN Patent covers only the *precise* design shown, not the concept of rectangles on display screens. It's almost like a Trademark or Copyright on the exact style, kinda ...sorta ...not really.

    Famously, the first US Design Patent (D1) was for a font. It doesn't mean that they patented the alphabet. Only the *precise* font shown.

    Only the precise arrangement shown is protected. (But even that is obviously very weak, and litigation is unlikely.)

    It's still a stupid patent, just not quite as broad as feared.

  19. Neil 44

    The US Patent Office (http://www.uspto.gov/) seems to have things in rectangles on it.

    Surely that's an indication of prior use!

  20. Mage Silver badge

    For a start

    charge LESS on approval.

    Charge x10 as much if rejected.

    At present the financial incentive is on USPTO to approve (they get paid much more) and on big Corporations to spend more on frivolous applications than actual R&D.

    Also Design Patents (Registered Design in UK) and Registered Trade names ought to be distinctive and made up.

    (Fluted Coke bottle good, Apple phone bad. Kleenex good, Specsavers OK. Travelodge OK, Travel Lodge not, using ordinary words bad. Using regular names such as Ford or Dyson etc should end.)

    1. Alien8n Silver badge

      Re: For a start

      Space Marine bad...

  21. innominatus
    Trollface

    Civil disobedience?

    A freebie web site hosting service that only offers the one template looking exactly like the patent layout of three rectangles with a square underneath could attract shedloads of infringements.

    1. Steven Roper

      Re: Civil disobedience?

      Civil disobedience? Armed insurrection is starting to look the the best option.

  22. Milton Silver badge

    A joke, surely?

    Notwithstanding JeffyPoooh's useful clarification, in the comments, about Design Patents, a quick scan of template repos for major CMSs reveals dozens which have layouts showing things in groups of three horizontal boxes with box elements underneath. It takes less than five minutes to find examples.

    So if it isn't in fact a joke—

    1. USPTO seems universally acknowledged as farcically incompetent, but even so, did no one in the office—the janitor, say—think "Hm, that seems familiar" and go surf the net for a few minutes?

    2. First filing or not, it is the work of moments only to demonstrate prior art, and I'd bet good money that a through search would throw up tens of thousands of examples of apps and sites which happen to have arranged some information in the way shown. Some of them will probably date back to the 80s. So why did the filer even bother?

    3. Notwithstanding the possibility that a few gullibles may be frightened into paying for "infringement", it seems inevitable that big companies (yeah, perhaps Apple, to add to the irony) won't allow this: soon enough some lawyered-up corporate will blow this ridiculous patent out of the water. But, other than the lawyers who infest the industry like guinea worms, who benefits?

    In short, while I understand that the incompetence of USPTO encourages wealthy companies to throw patents at a wall, to see what shyte might stick—why on Earth would anybody think this one was a good idea?

  23. Nonny Mouse

    Binary

    Even if you only have the time it takes to read this available to assess, how can you grant this unless one of the following hold true for you as an examiner / examining organisation?

    1. incompetence

    2. corruption

    Seriously?

  24. a pressbutton
    Holmes

    Look at this comment page

    IMO it is infringing!

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Thank god...

    I was getting bored of the same old same old square thumbnails on porn sites.

    Now we can have the odd circle and rhombus thrown in.

    Until my patent goes through.

    Im also considering patenting the concept of inventing.

    Don't call prior art on this, im a direct decendent of the original ape that invented the first invention some 50,000-100,000 (million billion?) years ago.

    Heres the diagram im submitting:

    http://m.imgur.com/nhMXoWW

    If you look closely you'll notice this is a multifunction device (not unlike an HP OfficeJet). Uses include but are not limited to:

    1. Throwing directly (or indirectly dependent on gender and/or sexual persuasion or neither thereof depending on viewpoint of a nearby observer) at a target determined by the executor of aforemention action.

    2. Opening coconuts.

    3. Alleviating OCD impulses if used in conjunction with one or more of the same device and arranged in a pedantic and uniform manner.

    4. DRM. This device is only compatible with other devices from the same rockbed.

    Tech specs:

    0hz (unless you purchase the deluxe model containing quartz)

    0MB RAM

    0MB Onboard Storage

    Unlimited battery life.

    Wireless Connectivity (when thrown, range dependent on thrower)

    Encrypted messaging (caveats: wont work if recipient sees you throw device).

    Haptic feedback (on impact)

    Time travel (simply scratch in a message that people in the future may or may not be able to read, results subject to invasion, subjication of your tribe, rise of empires, loss of device etc)

    Physical 3D interface

    Lifetime guarantee (limited warranty applies, chipping and accidental sinking in a pond / lake / any body of water not covered, battery and screen not covered).

    Upto 10x more lethal than flinging shit at a mating rival.

    Erosion rating: good for up to tens of thousands of years).

    Military grade toughness. Can withstand a heavy duty amount of sitting around in all weathers. Rated for upto 20,000 skull impacts.

    Free migration assistance from one of our Genus Homo Erectus at the Genus bar.

    Full HD

    Microsoft Windows Compatible. Subscription and buttfucking may apply.

    Available in various sizes including:

    Handful

    Armful

    Party Size

    Earphones included.

    Available in 4 colours:

    Grey

    Dark Grey

    Light Grey

    And for a limited time:

    Darker grey

    Lighter grey

    Pink

    As you can clearly see this full featured product has been around for millenia and shares some suspciously similar features to a lot of modern tech.

    Modern tech is just a fad. This device has been around since the dawn of time and will be around until the end of time.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    By coincidence I also came across a moronic patent earlier this evening - reconfigurable processing system featuring FPGAs, interface components and conductive traces for interconnection.

    What's the legal procedure, at no cost, for saying "that is not an invention, in 2009 it wasnt even an innovation, it's been done before, therefore the patent us invalid and can be ignored"?

  27. whoseyourdaddy
    Devil

    Is the patent image itself some kind of trademark?

    I'll take a case of Charmin bum wipers with that printed on it..., please.

  28. J__M__M

    now hiring coders for new OS development

    I need a couple dozen devs willing to work for peanuts now and filthy effing rich compensation levels later on, and I need them asap. I'm not going to get into the details here, but suffice it to say my new operating system, Portholes 3.1, will be virtually litigation proof. Or at least as far as this scumbag patent troll jerkoff a-hole in the article is concerned, anyway (which is almost reason enough by itself).

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    E=mc^2

    The last good thing to come out of a Patent Office

  30. GrumpyOldMan

    Hope they have deep pockets

    Remember when Microsoft tried to copyright the word 'Windows'?

    If these guys start going after Apple and MS, not forgetting IBM, Novel (they still around?), Oracle, and lets face it - pretty much anyone who has had / does have / will have rectangles arranged on a screen like that for infringement they better have deep pockets or they may well find themselves bankrupted very very quickly. There are some pretty big guns out there who won't play nice.

    Cue the round / eliptical windows.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: Hope they have deep pockets

      "Cue the round / eliptical windows."

      already done in Win-10-nic - the user pic is NOW rounded. nevermind if you WANTED the corners, you can't have them any more...

      troll icon because it's an opportunity to slam Win-10-nic and Micro-shaft

  31. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
    Mushroom

    It seems that the USPTO is in the back pockets

    of the Patent Lawyers esp those based in East Texas.

    Time for it to be nuked.

    But most politicians are lawyers so why would they vote to put their bretherin out of work?

    That is just not done now is it?

  32. bombastic bob Silver badge
    Trollface

    I should patent the phrase "F-off"

    I should patent the phrase "F-off" so that when the patent trollers attempt to sue EVERYONE and their next door neighbor over a frivolous claim of violation, and everyone tells them to "F-off", I get a royalty...

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Patent lawyer here..

    Agree this is woeful, but remember is a REGISTERED DESIGN, not a PATENT. It's important to make this distinction El Reg, if you want to be take seriously on this subject.

    The USPTO is unique in using the misleading term of a 'Design Patent', but it is not a patent in the colloquial sense so clearly assumed by many commentators here (in the US, that's called a 'Utility Patent'). It's also worth bearing in mind that many systems simply register designs, leaving the issue of novelty and individual character untested until infringement occurs.

    But as another commentator points out, when the USPTO's own website could be said to infringe a design application, then they really have dropped the ball.

  34. casaloco

    I'm gonna patent the same thing...

    I'm gonna patent the same thing... but "on a mobile device".

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