Apple, Microsoft & Google sued over thumbnail previews

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Cygnus Systems, a networking company based in Michigan, has sued Microsoft, Apple and Google after it claims to hold a patent that basically covers the navigation and access to files based on thumbnails; and has cited Microsoft’s Windows Vista and Internet Explorer 8; Apple’s Cover Flow, iPhone and Safari; and the Google Chrome browser as the source of the infringement. It is also seeking damages and a permanent injunction that would effectively stop them using the patent.

However, it has said that the three companies cited may not be the only ones that could be sued.

The patent in question, #7346850, was applied by Cygnus in 2001, covering a “system and method for iconic software environment management”, and was granted by the US Patent and Trademark Office in March this year. Describing it, in abstract, as “a method and system for storing, navigating, and accessing files within an operating system through the use of a graphical thumbnail representing the video display of the active document within the active application,” this basically mean that any thumbnail of any file, or any icon that updates to reflect changes, could be infringing on its patent.

Ars Technica notes that there are some discrepancies, like targeting Google in the suit, even though it is making software “within an operating system”, and claiming that it infringes on its patent by “making, using, selling and offering for sale” the Chrome browser, even though the browser is offered as a free download for Windows Vista and XP SP2.

Possible targets include Adobe, Opera and possibly web services like Yahoo’s Flickr, but that is only to be likely if the case gets anyway – which most likely not, since this is a very, very common interface feature that is present in many products; plus the fact that Microsoft, Google and Apple would have gotten themselves some good lawyers.