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So I saw this really cool google plugin called vimium, it allows users to press a mod key ("f") and then easily access any hyperlinks that are present on the current page by providing visible shortcuts (e.g., "A") as tooltips on the hyperlinks, and on pressing these shortcuts (e.g., "A") you can go to the hyperlink associated with "A". Microsoft has a similar feature in excel and word. And on researching a bit I found this patent.

Is what vimium is doing illegal? Can an idea like this even be patented? It's not a core technology, they are just trying to show shortcuts in a box. Can someone please explain what this link says, as I'm not sure if this idea is actually patented or just filed for a patent.

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A few things here.

  1. The patent to you link is actually just the Chinese filing of an original US patent by microsoft https://patents.google.com/patent/US7661074B2/en
  2. Both the US and the Chinese version have been granted in 2010 and they are currently active. So yes, it's a real patent.
  3. The patent appears to be somewhat "weak", it took 5 years to be granted in the US and it was withdrawn in Europe.

Whether Vimium violates this patent or not would require a very detailed analysis of all the claims of the patent against what Vimium is actually doing. That's a lot of work. In addition, the assessment will require a fair bit of "interpretation". Patent language is notoriously vague to make the applicability of the claims as broad as possible. That's often their downfall too: when being litigated patents can be invalidated because they are too fluffy or accidentally cover prior art.

If push comes to shove: only a court can decide whether Vimium violates this patent or not. Both sides would bring their arguments and interpretations and the court will weigh those arguments and provide a ruling.

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