Microsoft has lost a patent infringement suit in California in a case brought by Guatemalan inventor Carlos Amado, who has obtained $9 million USD (not nearly as much as the $500 million USD that he had asked for). The claim deals with U.S Patent 5,701,400, a patent that protects a “Method and apparatus for applying if-then-else rules to data sets in a relational data base and generating from the results of application of said rules a database of diagnostics linked to said data sets to aid executive analysis of financial data”. In other words, it is a patent that protects the linking of a database program with a spreadsheet application, such as the linking of Excel data into Access.
The “invention” was filed in 1990, and Mr. Amado offered to sell it to Microsoft (or perhaps licence it, the reports are unclear on this point). Microsoft refused, and eventually Mr. Amado sued Microsoft for infringement, as they had eventually included this linking function into Office. Microsoft claimed that they had started working on this function before Mr. Amado had filed his patent, and that “its own engineers started developing technology linking Excel and Access as early as 1989 and that it never infringed on Amado’s patent.”
Although I may be the type of person that would not shed a tear for Microsoft, I must admit that this is just another example of why software patents are so wrong. It doesn’t matter that Microsoft had been working on some interoperability function between two of its own programs, what matters is that somebody beat them to claim for a patent, and that this was broad enough to ensure a successful claim.
I just hope that this will serve to awaken large software manufacturers, and that they will finally realise that the software patent racket is perhaps not worth it.