Microsoft patents an on-screen pause button

On December 6, 2005, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office issued Patent #6,973,669 to Microsoft. The patent is for “Pausing television programming in response to selection of hypertext link.”

Here is the crux of the patent’s claim:

In an interactive television system … a method for pausing the display of a television program that is displayed at the television system in response to a selection of a hyperlink that is displayed with the television program…

In other words, an on-screen pause button that you click on to pause, and subsequently resume, the program.

Where does this fail the patent test (useful, novel, non-obvious)?

  • It’s potentially useful, though I’d say a remote control with a pause button is many orders of magnitude more useful than clicking on a hyperlink.
  • It’s marginally novel — VCRs have been displaying on-screen pause indicators for years. The only difference is clicking on an on-screen hyperlink instead of a (more user-friendly) pause button.
  • It’s definitely not non-obvious. How simple of a thought is it to move the pause button from a remote control to a video display? For years, we’ve had remote controls with touch-screen displays. For years, we’ve had computer media players with pause buttons that you can click on. For years, we’ve had touch-screen computers (allowing you to touch on that on-screen pause button in your media player). This is a very obvious implementation of a pause button, and definitely fails the non-obvious test.

One other problem with the patent is that it misuses the term “hyperlink.” A hyperlink, by definition, is “a link from a hypertext file to another location or file; typically activated by clicking on a highlighted word or icon at a particular location on the screen” ( A clickable word or icon which performs an action is not, by definition, a hyperlink. Of course, if Microsoft’s patent application talked about an “on-screen button” instead of an “on-screen hyperlink” it still wouldn’t change the fact that this claim is obvious.

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