Martin Brampton from Silicon.com doubts that software patents are rarely as innovative as the simplistic argument for patents would suggest.
A parallel debate is being fought in science. Governments have sought increased commercial involvement with university research, but the price has often been proprietary control over new ideas. Many academic scientists are opposing this trend, believing that the advancement of knowledge is a collaborative and public venture.
Here are two examples of software patents that describe Interface design ideas:
6,785,865: “Discoverability and navigation of hyperlinks via tabs (A user may discover and navigate among hyperlinks through the use of a keyboard. For example, a user may press a tab key to discover and navigate to a first hyperlink that is part of a hypertext document.)” [Microsoft]
6,784,354: “Generating a music snippet (Systems and methods for extracting a music snippet from a music stream are described. In one aspect, the music stream is divided into multiple frames of fixed length. The most-salient frame of the multiple frames is then identified. One or more music sentences are then extracted from the music stream as a function of peaks and valleys of acoustic energy across sequential music stream portions. The music snippet is the sentence that includes the most-salient frame.)” [Microsoft]
Did someone “invent” something here? I would say no. The Tab key is a functional element of the invention “keyboard”. It is a very basic idea to assign functionality to keys and to enhance operation of software or to manipulate on-screen options. So, to assign navigation functionality to the tab key is a convention not an invention. But if a patent prohibits interface design following a convention, then these patents are destructive.
Also: the idea to compensate low network capacity by allowing to play snippets of a larger file is following a very general idea of selective representation. Downloading a single web page instead of the whole site is quite the same. A kid could contemplate such a principle without costly research. Again this is no invention but it is rather a logical consequence of the network, web and interface principles. Fair enough that Microsoft could implement this in a copyrighted software, which I think is enough protection for this “idea”.