Apple Faces Time Machine Patent Suit

One of the most-touted features in Apple‘s Mac OS X 10.5 "Leopard" operating system is an integrated backup feature called Time Machine, which offers users a sleek, graphical way to create incremental backups and restore documents—or their entire machine—back to a fixed point in time. Now, Apple is facing a patent infringement lawsuit over Time Machine from Mirror Worlds, a now-defunct company that tried to be a player in the enterprise and desktop search arena and which used time-based "stacks" as a metaphor for interacting with files and objects.

The suit has been filed in the Eastern District of Texas, which is well-known for ruling on the side of patent holders. Before folding up shop in 2005, Mirror World developed enterprise and desktop search software under the "Scopeware" name: it enabled users to organize documents and results in a time-ordered stream instead of a traditional file hierarchy. The company eventually reportedly shut down in the face of competition in both the desktop and enterprise arena from companies like Google, and Microsoft’s plans to integrate desktop search into what would become Windows Vista.

Some Industry watchers contend Apple may be able to argue something like HyperCard—the company’s groundbreaking authoring and multimedia tool from the mid 1980s‐might constitute prior art for something like Time Machine and other time-based organizational metaphors, although that seems weak: one could build a time-based view of objects and files using HyperCard (and, indeed, some multimedia presentations and products built with HyperCard did just that; the same can be said for Macromedia Director in the same era), HyperCard didn’t ship that way out of the box. Mirror Worlds’ suit reference patent 6,006,227, 6,638,313, 6,725,427, and 6,768,999. Although recent judicial decisions have reduced the ability of so-called "patent trolls" to purse infringement claims on "obvious" patents the contain no fundamental innovations, the concepts expressed in Mirror Worlds’ patents appear non-obvious to some industry experts.

Apple representatives declined to comment on the suit.

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