Mirror Worlds 1, Apple 0

Mari Silbey —  October 5, 2010 — 5 Comments

A federal jury in Texas has ruled against Apple and in favor of the company Mirror Worlds in a patent case that could bring damages of more than $625 million. The jury found that Apple willfully infringed on three patents related to how files are displayed on iPods, iPhones, and Mac computers. Mirror Worlds created an interface that showed a series of files as image cards, much like what you see today in Apple’s Cover Flow UI. However, Mirror Worlds created that interface many years before Apple. First came the concept in the 1991 book Mirror Worlds, then came the actual implementation in a short-lived software application called Scopeware Vision in 2003.

I wrote about the case back in 2008 because of the involvement of renowned computer scientist David Gelernter. Gelernter wrote the Mirror Worlds book, and spearheaded the efforts behind Scopeware Vision. I worked briefly with Scopeware many years ago, and even met the famous Gelernter on several occasions. Oddly, the Scopeware software was really more analogous to Google’s desktop search and RSS reader services than Apple’s music products. However, the UI similarities to Cover Flow are striking, and the mirroring (pun intended) is readily apparent when you compare Scopeware to the interface for Apple’s Time Machine software.

There’s no telling whether the jury verdict against Apple will stick. Unsurprisingly, Apple is already challenging the jury’s findings, and the judge in the case has yet to submit an official ruling. However, if it goes through, Gelernter could find himself sitting on a pretty pile of money. It’s enough to resurrect Scopeware if he wants to. Or to move forward with a whole new venture.

5 responses to Mirror Worlds 1, Apple 0

  1. Mari, I really enjoy your thoughtful articles! It’s rather dishearteting that most outlets these days jump on any patent lawsuit, especially if it’s filed in Texas, and blame “patent trolls” without researching all the facts.

    Not to say that all lawsuits have merits, but people are very fast to jump even on TiVo even though facts in TiVo v. Dish case are pretty obvious.

  2. But the HyperCard interface which predates Mirror Worlds and Scopeware Vision is the obvious prior art that should invalidate some of thosee patents.

  3. Ivan Y- Thanks. It’s hard to go deep when the tech world moves so fast. But this is one I had the background for. Gelernter is a fascinating guy, by the way.

    T- I do wonder if HyperCard is part of Apple’s argument. Though there are differences – use of images versus text fields (as I understand it), and the concept of using HyperCard as a programming device rather than a consumer interface.

  4. The lawyers will never go hungry!

  5. “But the HyperCard interface which predates Mirror Worlds and Scopeware Vision is the obvious prior art that should invalidate some of thosee patents.”

    HyperCard doesn’t (as both the Scopeware and the Cover Flow) automatically arrange pre-existing information on cards. The user had to program it to do so. I’m betting that invalidated it as prior art.

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