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2005-02-04 Matsushita Sues MS Word Competitor Off the Market

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A court in Tokyo ruled that Microsoft's main competitor in word processing software, Ichitaro, must be taken off the market, because it allows users to drag a help icon onto a to-be-explained function. This method is covered by a patent of Japan's Nr. 1 electronics giant Matsushita (also known as "National Panasonic") who took Ichitaro creator Justsytem to court over it.

The dispute centered on the way that a help function works in the Ichitaro and Hanako software. The way the software presents information violates a patent which was filed by Matsushita in 1989 and granted by the Japanese Patent Office in 1998. The patent broadly covers any device or program that allows a user to click on a help icon and then drag this help icon onto a function that needs to be explained.

Japan's rules for software patent granting are basically the same as those of the US and of the European Patent Office. All three conform to a Trilateral Standard. Matsushita regularly files its software patents at the European Patent Office as well, and we have yet to find out whether a European version of this patent exists. Possibly this can be done using the patent family search facility at http://www.depatisnet.de/.

Matsushita's role in Japan is similar to that of General Electrics in the US or Siemens in Germany. Matsushita has climbed to the top of the software patenting statistics at the European Patent Office. For several years, Matsushita has been Nr. 1, Microsoft Nr. 2. Matsushita probably has, like most companies of this size, concluded a patent alliance with Microsoft. Matsushita has recently also been named as a signator company on some lobbying calls for software patents in Europe.

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