A Patent on Workspaces? Whats Next?

It is interesting that I was just talking about the problems with our patent system. Today Red Hat and Novell have been jointly sued for patent infringement on the idea of “workspaces” on a computer. The plantiff? A company that does nothing but patent troll – IP Innovation, a subsidiary of Acacia Research Corporation. The hole goes deeper, as two ex-Microsoft employees (specializing in IP claims) has just recently been hired at Acacia.

As for the patent itself? It should never have been granted. The idea of a workspace is as old as the idea of a desktop. Speaking of the desktop, Acacia owns this patent as well. This company buys up computer ideas, and then sits on them until big companies wonder into its legal trap, then attack. As for this court case? The entire incident echoes of the lawsuit SCO filed against companies using Linux (claiming ownership). The infamous smoking gun on that case was financial records indicating a large payment by Microsoft to back the lawsuit.

Apple settled in June for an undisclosed amount and is now “licensing” its technology from Acacia to provide a desktop in its operating systems. How will this pan out for Linux companies? Something has to give.



  1. Matt Todd says:

    There has to be relevant prior art.

    How long as Screen been around? You know, the multiple concurrent terminal windows on Unix systems.


  2. At least since 1987, as per the Copyleft section of the manpage. However, it wouldn’t be considered prior art, as far as I know, considering the way the patent (abstract) is worded:

    “Workspaces provided by an object-based user interface appear to share windows and other display objects. Each workspace’s data structure includes, for each window in that workspace, a linking data structure called a placement which links to the display system object which provides that window, which may be a display system object in a preexisting window system. The placement also contains display characteristics of the window when displayed in that workspace, such as position and size.”

    E.G. the pager in enlightenment R16. Which was written in 1993; after the patent’s 1991 approval.

    Screen is more of a window manager than a pager (or “Spaces” as Apple calls it). Each terminal session within screen is like the windows you see on one desktop (web browser, file explorer, instant messaging client, etc.). Whereas the pager is a snapshot of multiple desktops. Presumably, it is interactive in that you can move windows from one desktop to another, determine which desktop a specific window is on, and its position, etc.


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