Rockwell Sues Over Spreadsheet Patent

Ok, I'll bite.

What exactly is patented (supposedly)? With as vague as this article is, they could be talking about a recipie manager, or they could be talking about OPC. They could even be talking about DH+.

Ron Gage - Saginaw Michigan
"Looking for work"
Go Rockwell!!!

Finally, somebody had the uhus to call Solaia what it is...a way for shyster lawyers and a really seedy automation company to tax the entire automation and controls world with a patent that is out of date, and whose wide claims should never have issued in the first place.

I have the highest regard for the value of intellectual property, but if Solaia's original victims like Boeing and Lilly had stood up to them and fought it out, it would have been over by now. There is no doubt that the patent is invalid on the face of it, and it should have been tossed out of court long ago.

Unfortunately, most lawyers, even intellectual property lawyers, don't have a clue, and couldn't find the International House of Clues to buy one.

This means that judges and patent examiners don't either.

I hope that Tyco and the other victims band together and fight this thing before we tax things like TCP/IP, or the use of Unix, or (hush!) embedded web servers...

Walt Boyes

---------SPITZER AND BOYES, LLC-------------
"Consulting from the engineer to the distribution channel" [email protected] 21118 SE 278th Place Maple Valley, WA 98038 253-709-5046 cell 425-432-8262 home office fax:1-253-981-0285

Michael Griffin

What is particularly interesting is that Solaia itself isn't suing Rockwell for patent infringement, they are suing Rockwell's *customers*. Rockwell is counter-suing to try to protect their customers. It looks like a legal morass with the customers caught in the middle.

It was good of you to point this article out. I would suggest that any of Rockwell's American customers (and perhaps everyone else as well) should read the article behind this link.

If anyone discovers any further developments in this story, I believe that many people would be interested in hearing about it.


Michael Griffin
London, Ont. Canada
Okay, here's the deal.

The patent's primary claim is a method for transferring data from a PLC over a digital network to a spreadsheet resident in a host computer. Secondary claims are advanced for any data transfer in any digital format from any PLC to any host computer by any means, wired or wireless.

Basically, they've successfully patented a wheelbarrow. Or perhaps, gravity.

What they have been doing is to target end-users of PLCs and host computers, and negotiating settlements. These settlements are written so as to put into the record a statement of the validity of the patent claims.

The only non-end-user they've sued to date (Solaia and their attorneys) is Tyco. They sued Tyco after Tyco declared bankruptcy.

A cynical person would suggest that they sued Tyco because the receiver in bankruptcy will not discharge Tyco without settling the case in an expeditious manner.

Several persons who shall remain nameless who work for companies that have already settled the lawsuit have told me that they are convinced that the claims have no merit, but that their management wants them settled to make Solaia and their attack lawyers to go away.

Walt Boyes

---------SPITZER AND BOYES, LLC-------------
"Consulting from the engineer
to the distribution channel"
[email protected]
21118 SE 278th Place
Maple Valley, WA 98038
253-709-5046 cell 425-432-8262 home office

Greg Goodman

In fact, there is significant concern in the industry that the patent is being applied (inappropriately, many claim) to OPC. A Google search on "Schneider patent PLC spreadsheet" turns up a host of articles on the topic.

You can find the full text of the patent at and entering the patent number. Here's the abstract.

United States Patent 5,038,318 Roseman August 6, 1991

Device for communicating real time data between a programmable logic controller and a program operating in a central controller


Add-in program instructs operable through a general purpose spreadsheet program in a personal computer to move real-time status and control messages directly between cells in the displayed spreadsheet and addressed registers of programmable logic controllers (PLCs) is disclosed. The PLCs operate such as machine tools for processing stations and connect together and to an interface card in the personal computer over a network. The invention facilities a user's real-time monitoring and control of the manufacturing performed at the machine tools or processing stations through mathematical and logical features of the spreadsheet, which are well known and easy for a user to implement.

Anthony Kerstens

Good for Rockwell!

I glanced at the text of this patent. It seems to me that it is describing the specific case of a spreadsheet with proprietary "add-in" functions to transfer data to and from a proprietary interface card. I suspect this is the Square-D Sy/Link card which I've used in the past for this specific purpose with Lotus123 and "said add-in functions".

That was 10 years ago.

I wonder if the patent, being so specific to spreadsheets, is so out of date that it is irrelevant. All the industrial systems I work with do not use a spreadsheet at all. The only time I use a spreadsheet to connect to a PLC is _if_ I happen to need to document system settings. There do the quick and dirty DDE link and not the "@" functions the patent describes.

If Solaia was interested in suing to protect their patent, they really should go after the owner of DDE. Wouldn't that be Microsoft? Perhaps MS is just too big for them to take on. It would be just too bad if they went fishing only to end-up with a shark like MS on the hook.

Anthony Kerstens P.Eng.