Google, Microsoft, Apple sued over preview icons

Arizona-based networking company sues the tech giants for allegedly infringing on a patent related to document thumbnails used in operating systems.

Michelle Meyers
Michelle Meyers wrote and edited CNET News stories from 2005 to 2020 and is now a contributor to CNET.
Michelle Meyers
2 min read
This post was updated on January 5 and January 7 with corrected and updated information about the plaintiff company, an updated link to an amended filing, and a comment from Google. See bottom of post for correction.

An Arizona-based networking company on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against Google, Microsoft, and Apple, alleging that all three tech giants violated a patent it owns on the use of document-preview icons--or thumbnails--in operating systems.


In the suit, Cygnus Systems targets Google's Chrome, Microsoft's Vista and Internet Explorer 8, and Apple's iPhone, Safari, and Mac OS X as patent infringers. Apple uses the patent-protected technology in its Finder and Cover Flow Mac OS X features, the lawsuit claims.

Cygnus describes the technology covered by the patent as "methods and systems for accessing one or more computer files via a graphical icon, wherein the graphical icon includes an image of a selected portion or portions of one or more computer files."

E-mails seeking comment from Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Cygnus' attorney were not immediately returned. After having been formally served with the suit, however, a Google spokesman responded that "we believe that Cygnus' claims are without merit, and we will defend vigorously against them."

The case was filed in U.S. District Court in Arizona, where company owner Gregory Swartz lives, according to PCWorld and later confirmed by Cygnus Systems' attorney Matthew McAndrews, of Chicago-based Niro, Scavone, Halle, and Niro.

McAndrews also clarified that Cygnus Systems was incorporated in Indiana, is now a one-man company, and no longer has a working Web site. Swartz, he added, now works for Ping Golf.

Cygnus was granted the patent in March 2008, according to the lawsuit, although it first applied for it back in 2001 as a continuation to a 1998 application, according to Ars Technica, which appeared to report the case first.

Cygnus is seeking damages and a permanent injunction to prevent further alleged infringement. It has also indicated that it might go after other companies as defendants.

Correction: This post initially misstated the location of the plaintiff company and linked to a Web site for an unrelated Michigan networking and systems integration company with the same name. The plaintiff company has no live Web site, was incorporated in Indiana, and is now operated out of Arizona.