Microsoft puts Edward Tufte’s sparklines into Excel

You’ve probably been wondering lately “How can I possibly spend the thousands of dollars that I’ve saved by using Google Docs and Spreadsheets instead of Microsoft Office on all of my desktops and laptops?” If disposing of this excess money has you concerned, you’ll be interested to know that Microsoft has added something very interesting to Excel 2010: Edward Tufte’s sparklines, as described in his latest book Beautiful Evidence.

I’ve always loved and been amazed by Excel, though I can’t use it anymore because I’m addicted to the real-time collaboration of Google Spreadsheets and, in any case, few of my collaborators have Microsoft Office. discusses the inclusion of sparklines and provides examples.

12 thoughts on “Microsoft puts Edward Tufte’s sparklines into Excel

  1. It looks like it was provided by a plug-in before MSFT got around to adding it. And the plug-in still does it better.

    It should take someone at Google all of a week to add it to Spreadsheets. Bang on some pipes. The squeaky wheel gets the feature-added-to-the-free-product.

  2. The biggest problem: no cited prior art given, and they explicitly duplicate the rules for sparklines already used by prior art. In theory this should be cause for rejection of the application, but sadly, in practice of US patents, it might not – Microsoft is probably playing the odds on that. This is one substandard application even for preliminary application.

  3. They haven’t tried to patent sparklines, but the use of sparklines in Excel. I.e. the automatic updating of a sparkline embedded in a spreadsheet.

    Not that that’s good either, but it is different.

  4. @ jhn — prior art from 3 October, 2003, at Tufte’s own web site:

    “I attended the 9/30/03 one-day course in Chicago and thought it was great. I was intrigued by the sparkline idea presented there and shown on the handouts, particulary in relation to baseball team records. Among my less-serious duties, I run the office football pool and decided to try implementing sparklines in the pool, which is run in Microsoft Excel 97. I have run this pool for years and find it a great venue to test out new things since it gets used by a broad audience of differing levels of sophistication.

    Doing sparklines manually in Excel is possible but tedious…”

  5. Thanks, David, for that. It took me a while to figure out that I had to click on the “related companies” button (upper left) to get to (and then click on “y” above the sparklines to find interesting information).

    Anyone a patent nerd here? What’s the procedure for an interested citizen to submit prior art to the patent examiner looking at a particular patent? (or is there one?)

  6. Go to the last two or three pages of the patent application: The “claims” are listed there. That’s the patent. All the stuff before is is meaningless dicta. The patent is for anything the duplicates ALL ELEMENTS of any given claim. In other words, if something matches, say, 6 out of the 7 elements of the first claim, it would not violate the patent. It has to match all 7.

    Microsoft’s claims are extremely specific and narrow, and they clearly exceed the patent office’s “novelty” requirement (none of the examples in the comments above are prior art to these narrow claims). The claims may or may not pass the “obviousness” requirement (but note that the word “obvious” is a legal term of art here whose meaning differs from the Merriam-Webster meaning, so bone up on that before making outraged comments on it).

    Patent law as applied to software is no different than patent law as applied to anything else. People in the automobile industry and the oil drilling industry and every other industry were just as miffed when a competitor patented something that they felt they could have easily thought of — if only they had, and had gotten around to patenting it.

  7. Phil, you can phone up the examiner, whose name and number are listed on the application’s record at, or you can wait until the comment period opens (which the examiner may tell you to do if you call), and submit something on paper.

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