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In January, 2011, Edgar Online was issued patent US7877678, which is essentially a patent on an excel plugin. I know that prior art exists, as I've used similar excel plugins for years, including Bloomberg's and FactSet's excel plugins. The fact that Edgar Online's patent is XBRL-based does not make it patentable, in my view. I am not a patent expert, so I invite someone with more knowledge of patents to investigate this patent further (as well as the myriad of other XBRL patents, including this one by RR Donnelley, which incorporates Edgar Online's and seems to try to broaden the patent beyond an Excel plugin, and this one by Rivet Software).

Background on the patent and prior art:

Edgar Online was issued patent US7877678, which is essentially a patent on an excel plugin. To my knowledge, Microsoft has allowed external excel plugins since Excel was introduced way back when. These plugins populate a spreadsheet with financial data (though their plugins predate XBRL, it is financial data nonetheless and the end-user wouldn't notice the difference). The claim by Edgar Online (now RR Donnelly) is that since the data fed to the Excel plugin is XBRL, that essentially makes the plugin patentable. Whether or not the backend is the actual XBRL file, a database, or a webservice makes no difference, in my view.

Background on XBRL:

XBRL is a way for companies to render financial data (e.g. it's essentially a company's annual report in XML format, for instance, here's Google's financials in XBRL format). XBRL is quickly becoming a worldwide standard. The U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission (the SEC) recently required all public companies to report their financial data in XBRL format. The U.S. taxpayer has spent a large amount of taxpayer money for the SEC to plan and implement XBRL. Because of it's complexity, early software providers have filed lots of patents. Don't let the shear number of patents fool you: XBRL is an open standard and is simply a complex form of XML, which is also an open format.

Background of Edgar Online/RR Donnelley:

In August, 2012 RR Donnelly bought Edgar Online. Edgar Online and RR Donnelly each (from very early on) enable companies to turn ordinary financial data into "tagged" XBRL data and file that report with the SEC. RR Donnelly, Edgar Online, Rivet Software, among others, charge a lot for this service. On the other side is the rendering of the financial data. Edgar Online (and many others) also provides financial data for customers and rendering of financial data (and they charge a hefty price).

Summary

Whether it's the creation or rendering of the XBRL data, these companies have a huge incentive to file as many patents as possible to protect their revenue streams. The entire purpose of the SEC implementing XBRL data was to bring down the cost of financial data and let average Joe Investor have access to interactive data for a low (or $0) cost. These (ridiculous) patents stand in the way of that goal.

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As mentioned, there's a treasure trove of xbrl patents either granted or pending approval that are based on open standards (XBRL by definition is an open standard) and, therefore, should not be valid –  user5111 Jul 30 '13 at 19:16

2 Answers 2

Xinba 2.0 Reader and Analyzer is the prior art you're looking for, I believe.

It's an Excel plugin, created by Hitachi America's XBRL Business Unit. Business announcement is December 04, 2006:

Wayback machine searches show the following for February 6, 2007, a Xinba PDF brochure.

The patent claims include (#25):

  • send a request to a financial data service provider for financial data, using the at least one function call; receive a response to the request for the financial data from the financial data service provider, wherein the response is an XML file comprising an Extensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL) instance document and XBRL taxonomy information;

From the brochure, Xinba seems to cover that well:

  • It provides end users the capability to consume XBRL 2.0a and 2.1 compliant financial information directly into Microsoft Excel by accessing taxonomies and instances stored locally, over the network, or via Web Services on the Internet. With Xinba TM, end users can perform examination and analysis on XBRL financial data and generate customized financial reports
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Excellent find. As far as I can find, Hitachi does not have a patent on it? (I guess even if they did, prior art from Bloomberg/FactSet, etc. would trump a patent from Hitachi) –  user5111 Jul 26 '13 at 1:22
    
It does not appear so, but Hitachi does hold a couple much more general purpose patents that do touch on XBRL: 7,996,437 (Program for mapping of data schema) and 7,813,975 (System and method for processing account data). Also 7,707,079 (Tax declaration system) but I think that can easily be ruled out. Here's the lookup if you want to examine further –  VendADonkey Jul 26 '13 at 1:41
    
An even older brochure....web.archive.org/web/20051124154354/http://www.hitachi.us/… –  user5111 Aug 3 '13 at 17:21
    
Let's not get distracted: it's not necessary to find prior art for an xbrl excel plugin. The patent is not valid on the notion that each of xbrl and the excel plugin are each open standards. The excel plugin (as pointed out in Scott's answer) has prior art dating back over a decade ago. –  user5111 Aug 10 '13 at 2:40

Not sure if it helps, but my old company Axcelis developed a very popular Excel plug-in that many used for financial analysis. It was called "Evolver", and it was featured in The New York Times, Newsweek and Popular Science over 20 years ago. It remains a popular program, now owned and marketed by Palisade (www.palisade.com).

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Good find. I would upvote if I could but I don't have enough rep –  user5111 Jul 26 '13 at 1:25
    
Is this the product? Wayback seems to only go back to 1997 but I found this product page: web.archive.org/web/19970703213228/http://www.axcelis.com/info/… –  user5111 Jul 26 '13 at 1:41

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