If you’ve spent any time in the information visualization world, you know Edward Tufte. If you’ve spent any time with Edward Tufte’s work, you know sparklines.
Here’s a sparkline:
In Tufte’s words, sparklines are “data-intense, design-simple, word-sized graphics.” He’s been talking about them since the early 2000’s. You can see them in a few web applications, like in Google Finance:
We’ve thought about incorporating them into PearBudget, but haven’t so far. The point, though, is that they aren’t new.
Microsoft raised some hackles when they tried to patent sparklines, back in November of 2009. (See the forum thread on edwardtufte.com about it, here.) That was frustrating enough. But now, Microsoft has gone even further down the path, with this ad from the August 2010 issue of Real Simple:
You see it, right?
No? Let me zoom in.
How about now? See it?
Okay. We’ll go in deeper.
Certainly you see what I’m annoyed by.
That. That right there.
Microsoft, you can’t effing copyright a term that someone else developed, that has years of prior art, and that has been used in hundreds and hundreds of applications. If you want to copyright “Sparklines for Excel,” you might have a case, but even then, Fabrice over at Sparklines for Excel might have something to say about it.
I’m a fan of Excel. Really, I am. I haven’t used it in years, but developing PearBudget in Excel as an early proof-of-concept and Minimum Viable Product was essential to our eventual development of PearBudget as a viable web-based business. But get your marketing hacks to back down on using other peoples’ terminology and claiming some special rights that you really don’t have.
Also, independent of the Sparklines© nonsense, my wife thought your ad was terrible. I mean, who puts an ad in Real Simple where the key messaging is “I want to buy more STUFF!”? Stupid.
Update: Marco noted, in reply to this post, that applying the © to “Sparklines” doesn’t even make sense. I totally agree (and actually had the same realization last night, after I had posted this and gone to bed). My apoplexy about Microsoft’s inanity prevented me from thinking clearly about the specific claims of ownership Microsoft was making.
That’s what a trademark (™) — or the version with more protections, the registered trademark (®) — is for. As Marco comments, this is probably a FUD move on Microsoft’s part. They know they would never get the actual trademark, so throwing a “harmless” © up there is meant to scare people off from using the word (and, possibly, to scare them off from using the concept of sparklines entirely). That’s bad for two reasons. The first being that it’s not their word to own, the second being that Tufte wanted to advance the state of the art of data visualization, and, if anything, would want people to use (and evolve) devices like sparklines more … not to come along years after a technique has been developed (by someone else!) and to then try to claim ownership over it.