Considering these two patents describing two features:

If anyone were to build some spreadsheet software, what would these entail in terms of restrictions if they would want to develop the same features? Is there a difference between commercial software and open source/free in that case?

1 Answer 1


If you want to implement this or a similar feature, you'd look up the patents, and either get a license (unlikely that Microsoft would give you a license), or figure out how to implement the feature without violating the patent.

An example how a company I worked for worked around a patent: In order to compress data. in the best possible way, the idea was to try eight different methods to compress the data and pick the best compressed data. There was a patent for that (even though to me, this was quite obvious). Workaround: The software tried eight different methods and reported a number from 1 to 8 indicating which method gave the best result (unlike the patent, which actually gave the best result). Then the data was compressed once using the best method. No patent violation.

You'd probably want a patent lawyer to check if your idea how to implement the feature violates the patent or not, and how to get around it. It takes a specific mindset that you and I don't have. And even good lawyers who are not patent lawyers might not be able to help you there.

Commercial vs. open source/free software makes no difference, except that Microsoft might not bother suing you if there is no money to be made. Unless the intent is to prevent you from implementing the feature, in which case the would sue companies without money as well.

  • 1
    Thank you for the detailed answer. So it's essentially a game of working around the precise terms used in the patent? For instance, if you'd use a different process than the one described here, this could potentially work out?
    – eckzu
    Nov 8, 2022 at 9:13
  • 2
    "unlikely that Microsoft would give you a license" Not convinced that this is true. Both patents have a significant chance of being invalidated in an infringement lawsuit. Some modest royalty income might be preferable to nothing, forcing them to sue and putting the validity of the patent at risk if a defense of the case is successful.
    – ohwilleke
    Nov 8, 2022 at 22:05
  • Eckzu yes, if they have a patent, and you don’t do what the patent says, then you are not covered by the patent.
    – gnasher729
    Nov 9, 2022 at 7:18

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