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Datamize vs. Plumtree: another silly software patent bites the dust

I usually don’t take much interest in legal matters, but I found this tidbit quite interesting and even a bit entertaining.

Two weeks ago, in an appellate court ruling, Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker wrote that a patent infringement suit filed by Datamize against Plumtree Software should be essentially thrown out the window (by what’s called a summary judgment) based on the fact that the words “aesthetically pleasing” make Datamize’s patent invalid.

Intrigued? I was.

It turns out that Datamize filed patent 6,014,137 back in early 1997, right around the same time that Plumtree founders Joe McVeigh, Glenn Kelman and Kirill Sheynkman were dreaming up version 1.0 of the Plumtree portal and getting Plumtree Software, Inc. off the ground. The patent tries to lay claim to the act of “developing and maintaining user interface screens for multimedia kiosk systems” that can be “customized quickly and easily” while following “good standards of aesthetics and user friendliness.”

The appellate court’s main objection to the patent was the use of the phrase “aesthetically pleasing” because the definition of aesthetics has too much to do with deciding what’s beautiful and what’s not, which is far too subjective to be enforceable. In other words, as we all know, beauty is in the eye of the beerholder, even when it comes to kiosks!

I’m just happy to see another worthless software patent get thrown out for two reasons. One is that I have a particular distaste for overly broad and blatantly obvious software patents (e.g. the classic Amazon one-click ordering example, 5,960,411) and two is that I have sharp disdain for companies that try to use their patents to squeeze money out of the market-leader in their industry simply because they’re losing and acting like sore losers.

If you want to win in this business (or any business), make your product or service better, market it better, sell it better and support it better than your competitors. At least that’s our philosophy at bdg.