Microsoft faces new lawsuit over database patents

Earlier this month, Microsoft got hit with a lawsuit from VirnetX, claiming that Skype uses some of VirnetX's patented software. This week, Microsoft found itself on the receiving end of yet another lawsuit which alleges that the company is violating a different set of patents.

In this case, the company making the claims is MasterMine Software, a Minneapolis, Minnesota software group that's been in business since 1999 and sells a number of database management software products, including MasterMine 7.0 for GoldMine. The Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal reports that MasterMine filed the lawsuit on Thursday in Minnesota's U.S. District Court.

MasterMine claims that Microsoft's Excel and other elements of its Office products, along with its Dynamics CRM service, violate two patents granted to MasterMine that involve automatically creating reports from information stored in databases. The article quotes MasterMine's president, Rob Machalek, as saying, "We very clearly preceded Microsoft. Microsoft didn't even have a product on the [customer relationship management] market until five years after we were out with our product."

MasterMine is asking Microsoft to pay the company for the use of its patents but a specific amount was not mentioned in the lawsuit. Microsoft has yet to respond to MasterMine's allegations.

Source: Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal | Image via MasterMine Software

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I don't know specifically the patent but it is only involves "automatically generate reports" then MS could claim prior arts because several other products (such access 97 that do that).

So can several third-party products (such as CrystalReports, which had been the leading non-Microsoft product for creating such reports; while CR used standard ODBC, the advantage CR had was that it included *all* the ODBC runtimes, which meant it could create such reports from any database that supported ODBC, which was practically all of them). CrystalReports alone could constitute prior art.

The patent claims is basically this:
1. Receive a report generation request (a button press?)
2. User selects a bunch of database fields, the application fires off a database query.
3. User selects from a list of report templates.
5. The user preference of the report template is communicated to the spreadsheet application.
3. The application uses an API to generate a spreadsheet file that contains the result of the database query, wherein each row represents a single CRM record stored within the CRM database.
4. It also contains a macro that, when run, formats the data as a Pivot table, viewable inside the spreadsheet application.
5. Use the spreadsheet software's APIs to direct it to perform further tasks on the data in the spreadsheet.

Why the hell is it even patentable?

Hm... I'm not sure of the timeframe here, but I find their claims that Microsoft wasn't involved in databases until 2004 rather unlikely...

M_Lyons10 said,
Hm... I'm not sure of the timeframe here, but I find their claims that Microsoft wasn't involved in databases until 2004 rather unlikely...

Yeah, since they bought Sybase's database package and release MS SQL Server 4.2 in 1992 for OS/2 and Windows, I'd say they where in database way before that... along with the JET database with MS Access.. and so on...

Sybase code was used until 2004, when they totally rewrote SQL Server... which came out in 2004 as SQL Serer 2005... but that was the first one that included reporting services, which can automate report creation

In fact, they are impossible - the history of SQL Server alone at Microsoft stretches back further than that. (My first experiences with any SQL database involved trying to decide which of three back-ends I wanted to use for an experimental/testing SQL front-end - Microsoft, Sybase, or - don't faint - IBM DB2; I was coming, in fact, from Borland Interbase, which itself was a hybrid of old-school dBase, which I was familiar with, and SQL.) Has or has not MasterMine forgotten about ODBC (Open DataBase Connection)? ODBC is, in fact, the preferred method in Windows to connect anything to any database - and is part of the Windows Foundation Classes. The ODBC runtimes are used by (and included with) Office and most Windows development tools - whether Microsoft created them or not. I smell dead tarpon if (apparently) MasterMine knew diddly about either ODBC or SQL Server.

Anthony S said,
This isn't about the databases themselves. It's about automated report creation involving information stored in a database.

In fact, the patent is about linking spreadsheets to a CRM database. The article had the guy talking about the "[customer relationship management] market."

However, this is a meaningless distinction for the purposes of the patent.

CRM is just a schema on top of a database. If he got a patent on linking CRM to spreadsheets, then Microsoft can counter with prior art showing how to link any database to spreadsheets.

there also new patent about centralized blocklist by McAfee,
didn't some of MS product already use such centralized blocklist like "SmartScreen" ?

Well at least this company "sells" actual products and isn't just a patent holding company. Not taking on sides but if what the company president says is true then I think that would weigh in their favor.

Wouldn't Oracle be a gold mine for a patent infringement case based on "automatically creating reports from information stored in databases"? That is shockingly vague.

ctrl_alt_delete said,
Can someone link to the actual patent so we can take a look too see how obvious or novel the claims are?

The guy has three patents:

(1) US 7185279 B2, filed December 15, 2000, published February 27, 2007.
(2) US 7945850 B2, filed February 27, 2007, published November 10, 2011.
(3) US 20110276867 A1, filed May 13, 2011, published November 10, 2011.

Type the patent numbers into Google Patents to see them.

I find it very suspicious that the first patent took 7 years to be accepted. This is an abnormally long time for a computer-related patent to spend in the application stage. Especially for 2000, when the backlog was much shorter. It suggests that the patent examiner originally refused to issue the patent, and then got beaten down by the guy's lawyer.

He filed the second and third patents as continuations of the first patent. Thus, if the first patent collapses, then the next two also become very shaky.

If I were Microsoft, I'd be looking very carefully at why the first patent took 7 years to be issued. The patent examiner may already have given all sorts of reasons why the patent should be invalid, but lacked the resources to find the prior art. Whereas Microsoft can sic a whole pack of lawyers on it.

Edited by TomJones, Apr 29 2013, 3:26am :

TomJones said,

(3) US 20110276867 A1, filed May 13, 2011, published November 10, 2011.

On second look, I've discovered that this is not a patent. It's just an application. So the guy only has the first two patents, issued in 2007 and 2011.

U can say that again...
Looks like this company is trying to to get a HUGE PAYDAY....
Why didn't they go after Skype before MS acquired them...?
MS Office has been around forever, It took over a decade to find that you're patents we're being infringed upon....

Give me a break

This whole patent thing is a serious joke. I am not talking about MasterMine directly but in general.

How the hell a company can be grated a patent on something like this.

They should be more careful when granting patent on software.

I'm sure many people where doing things similar, back in the days, with "OLE Automation" on Word + Excel.


Edited by ZeroFearX, Apr 28 2013, 9:02pm :

Notice the patent isn't "automatically creating reports from information stored in databases" but only involves this. When will people learn that patents aren't as vague as the news describe them as.

Usually patents are not granted generically. The main problem is who grants the patent and who decide if a patent is violated are different people. So, while some patents are specific but they are applied generically.