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IBM Patents Checking a Box 186

Posted by kdawson
from the science-and-the-useful-arts dept.
theodp writes "What do you call it when you drag a pointer over a checkbox to select or deselect it depending on its original state? Answer: US Patent 7,278,116. On Tuesday, the USPTO awarded IBM a patent for Mode Switching for Ad Hoc Checkbox Selection, aka Making an 'X'. Isn't this essentially the same concept as the older Lotus Notes selection model that IBM was recently asked to reintroduce?"
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IBM Patents Checking a Box

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  • by KingSkippus (799657) * on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @02:27PM (#20827361) Homepage Journal

    First of all, it's not just "checking a box." It's clicking to toggle a checkmark, and dragging across a bunch of other checkboxes to toggle them all on (or off, depending on the state of the first one you clicked).

    Second of all, I have mixed feelings about this.

    On the one hand, it really bothers me in a cosmic sense that there was a patent granted for something so patently stupid. (Pun slightly intended.) I'm sorry, but this falls squarely in the realm of obvious to me. I mean, really, are programmers expected to patent every single frickin' thing they do out of fear that someone else might? Because that's the world we're living in, and I'd really like for it to change.

    On the other hand, I'm sorry, but the Lotus Notes selection model is one of the most frustratingly stupid things I've ever encountered in my life. Almost every other piece of software follows the old click-first-item, shift-click-last-item model. (Or ctrl-click individual items.) It's been in use since... Well, as long as I can remember using a GUI, and I'm really hard-pressed to think of any other way that selections work. Except for Lotus Notes, where they use this asinine system of selecting messages which means that if I have several pages of stuff to select, I have to scroll past each. and. every. one. Frankly, if IBM is the only company that can do this and it prevents any other company that has the bright idea from implementing something like this, then I can almost bring myself to say that this is a good thing.

    • by lgw (121541)
      Patents are not eternal the way copyrights are. The more obvious stuff that gets patented now, the more stuff that's clearly unpatentable 17 years from now. We're not that far from clearing all the crazy stuff that was patented in the 90s.
      • Unfortunately not (Score:3, Informative)

        by Rix (54095)
        There are various tricks to subvert patent expiration, and this is one of them. Instead of patenting a large system, they patent as many small parts of it as possible, spreading the applications over years.

        This way, the system as a whole doesn't lose protection until the last patent expires. The mp3 patents are an example of this, as they would have entered the public domain years ago if not for these shenanigans.

        The only real solution is to require one patent per system. Make them pick the best and disallo
        • But I thought you only had one year from publication to patent something. So the trick of patenting parts of a system years after it was first put into use shouldn't work. Unless the patent office doesn't actually count the publishing of a program as the same as publishing the description of the object being patented.
    • by MrTester (860336) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @02:56PM (#20827857)
      And while we are ripping on Lotus Notes...

      Why in the name of God would they take the F5 key (the key every other application known to man uses to refresh) and assign to to "Logout"?!?!??!!?

      WTF?

      Ive been using Lotus (against my will) for 3 years now, and still a few times a month I hit F5 because I just KNOW that I should have that email response by now.

      FOR THE LOVE OF GOD MAN!!!!!
      No, I dont normally invoke the name of God 2 times in an email (Well, I guess thats 3 now). Its just a sign of the wrath Lotus brings out in me.
      • by Jason Levine (196982) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @03:08PM (#20828035)
        As someone who used Notes, let me just say that God had nothing to do with it's design. You need to look in the other direction.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by brandonY (575282)
        It is because they picked that key before F5 meant refresh for everybody else, and they don't want to change it and confuse all the experienced Notes users just because some newfangled (read: after 1990 or so) products do it differently.

        You'll probably feel equally angry when you try out Notes 8 and realize that CTRL+tab doesn't take you between tabs because they decided to update themselves to use the same shortcut keys Eclipse uses for that operation, but you can't be angry at BOTH decisions and maintain
        • by blincoln (592401)
          In that case, they should make it an option that can be set either way. It's not like Notes is a bastion of clean and simplistic design that would be ruined by a few more radio buttons or a set of drop-downs to define your function key behavior.
        • by dtobias (262347)
          As I recall, around the 1980s or so, there were no firm standards for what the function keys did other than F1 meaning "Help". In a lot of programs I wrote around that time for diskmagazines and the like, I used F5 to mean "Print".
        • by fractoid (1076465)

          You'll probably feel equally angry when you try out Notes 8 and realize that CTRL+tab doesn't take you between tabs because they decided to update themselves to use the same shortcut keys Eclipse uses for that operation, but you can't be angry at BOTH decisions and maintain internal rational consistency.

          Sure you can. F5 is a pretty universal 'refresh' button. Ctrl+Tab is the standard "switch between tabs" hotkey and has been iirc since MS added tabbed dialog boxes to Windows. Just because Eclipse uses some shitty nonstandard hotkey doesn't excuse Notes copying it when there's a clearly defined standard.

          Another, similar pet hate is undo/redo keys. Everyone uses Ctrl+Z to undo. So far so good. Nearly everything uses Ctrl+Y to redo. But TOAD uses Ctrl+Shift+Z to redo, and Ctrl+Y to DELETE THE CURRENT LINE!

        • It is because they picked that key before F5 meant refresh for everybody else, and they don't want to change it and confuse all the experienced Notes users just because some newfangled (read: after 1990 or so) products do it differently.

          You'll probably feel equally angry when you try out Notes 8 and realize that CTRL+tab doesn't take you between tabs because they decided to update themselves to use the same shortcut keys Eclipse uses for that operation, but you can't be angry at BOTH decisions and maintain
          • LET THEM BIND THEIR OWN KEYS!! What a novel idea.
            I was in a retro mood last night so I had a session of TA:Kingdoms - with that you can do it with a plain ol' text file.

            Of course these days you'd need a 97 meg XML file compressed using a semi proprietary algorithm and stored in the registry. Now get off my lawn!
      • I spent the better part of last year working at a client site that used Lotus Notes for e-mail, and thus, so did I, at least for their corporate stuff. I found it incredibly frustrating to use and frequently wished I could use something with a more satisfying user experience. Say, pine or elm.

        One of my lifelong best friends worked as a developer for IBM at the time, so naturally the next time I saw him I bitched at him about how much I hated Notes and asked how he could stand it. His reply? "Oh, I would
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by wolenczak (517857)
        F5 Logoff - its origins:

        Remember, Notes has been around since 1973 ('PLATO Notes'), so there are some quirks in there which might seem illogical until you examine its history. I first came across Notes in 1987 before it was ever released by Lotus. Back then it was known as DEC Notes and was widely (internationally) used within Digital Equipment Corporation on their VAX network, but never commercially released.

        A DEC Notes user would logon to their VAX host using a 'dumb' VT terminal. To logout, a user could
    • Almost every other piece of software follows the old click-first-item, shift-click-last-item model. (Or ctrl-click individual items.) It's been in use since... Well, as long as I can remember using a GUI, and I'm really hard-pressed to think of any other way that selections work.

      I believe, like many other standards in GUIs, this was first introduced as a standard by Apple and documented in the Macintosh User Interface Guidelines in the 80's (although I'm sure someone did it somewhere before that). Later Mi
    • The last time I was forced to use Lotus Notes was 2003, and I was amazed that it _still_ looked like what I imagine software written in the Cold War Soviet Union must have been like. In 2003, it still wasn't caught up to conventions that were standard in the 1980's.
    • While independent claims 1, 6, and 11 do cover multiple checkboxes, they not require dragging do toggle the state of multiple checkboxes. That is covered in later dependent claims. Effectively IBM has just been granted a patent on the basic GUI checkbox which was implemented by Apple in the Lisa Office System in January 1983. Xerox probably used checkboxes before that, but I'm not certain. It seems likely that Claims 1, 6, and 11 can be invalidated by prior art, should someone be willing to invest the t
    • What's really funny is that I'm currently using the Notes 8 pre-release, and, well, shift-click/ctrl-click (or, more usually in my case, shift-arrow/ctrl-arrow+ctrl-space) does exactly what it does everywhere else, once I've applied the Notes8 template. So why they need to patent something that's going away, I'm not sure... maybe it's to get the "oh, you can't be serious about such a stupid interface" lawsuit into patent-infringement court?

    • Almost every other piece of software follows the old click-first-item, shift-click-last-item model. (Or ctrl-click individual items.) Yeah, but most of them screw up the ctrl-shift-click aspect for multiple ranges (firefox, for example, supports it for selecting but not deselecting)
  • Wow... (Score:2, Informative)

    by apdyck (1010443)
    If IBM can patent the checkbox, what's next? The radio button? The text box? Maybe even the address bar?!?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by darthflo (1095225)
      TFS is a bit unclear on this, but the patent is about moving your cursor over checkbox #1 in a given list, holding down a given mouse button and dragging the cursor over a number of other checkboxes in the same list, changing their state to whatever state #1 assumed after you pressed the button. It's still very but not that stupid.
      • he patent is about moving your cursor over checkbox #1 in a given list, holding down a given mouse button and dragging the cursor over a number of other checkboxes in the same list, changing their state to whatever state #1 assumed after you pressed the button.
        Do you remember how the desktop pattern editor or the MacPaint [wikipedia.org] pencil tool from Mac OS 1 worked?
    • by Kalriath (849904)
      The address bar is already patented. I think it was even reported on Slashdot. Can't remember who owns it, but thankfully I don't think they've gone suing yet.
    • If IBM can patent the checkbox, what's next? The radio button? The text box? Maybe even the address bar?!?

      I wonder if this is IBM's attempt to show how screwed up the patent system is?
    • Hm, almost. Mozilla has a patent on "Making webpages load automatically when you drag them down from the address bar, but then making you have to hit 'go' or 'return' in later versions and destroying all evidence of the original functionality."

      They implement this in FireFox, and, so far, have successfully prevented Microsoft from implementing the second part.
  • The patent is on their hybrid 'checkbox/windows selection' GUI abomination. It's really fucking ugly - note the "If you scroll the current checked selection off the screen, the behavior changes."

    IF YOU SCROLL THE BEHAVIOR CHANGES.

    Dear IBM: Didn't you learn to share your drugs? Please be giving me some of that crack.
  • by kidcharles (908072) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @02:42PM (#20827603)

    What do you call it when you drag a pointer over a checkbox to select or deselect it depending on its original state?

    What do you call it when I drag the U.S. software patent system behind my car until it is an unrecognizable bloody mess?

    Sorry for the graphic imagery, but I'm really getting sick of this crap.

    • What do you call it when I drag the U.S. software patent system behind my car until it is an unrecognizable bloody mess?

      A beautiful, but sadly never to be realized, fantasy?

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by baggins2001 (697667)
      Dragging it behind your car would be patentable, but making it an unrecognizable bloody mess has already been done.
  • by JMZero (449047) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @02:44PM (#20827631) Homepage
    I'm patenting my own method of box checking:

    1. Cut a hole in the box.
    2. Put your check in that box.
    3. Make her open the box.
  • Anonymous (Score:4, Funny)

    by adam.conf (893668) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @02:45PM (#20827637)
    Well, I guess I won't be posting anonymously for once.
  • My patent (#2334533533.Bull.Crap) is: Drawing 2 circles on your body followed by a dot in each one prevents you from getting cooties from the opposite sex.

    Circle Circle Dot Dot, now I got my cootie shot
  • Obviously (Score:4, Funny)

    by packetmon (977047) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @03:04PM (#20827987) Homepage
    No one here understands the complexity involved in checking a box. I don't work for IBM and I am not a marketing expert, if you have side questions on my post please contact me at nocengineer@ibm.com with that said:

    IBM's patented technology is a boon to the Interweb of Googletoolbars worldwide. This extremely proficient alternative to physically filling out a form with a paper and pen method deserves its right in Patentdumb history. The traditional approach of said former technology via the pen and the paper is an approach that is inefficient and expensive. IMB's modular design of the radio button and check button interface allows users to utilize with maximum proficiency, the power of checking a box.

    Thank you

    THIS AND OTHER SUBSEQUENT POSTS ARE PATENT PENDING
  • This is just so bad (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous EPA (1127109) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @03:18PM (#20828187)

    I am a patent attorney who tries to get his clients good, valid patents for any technology, including those that are implemented in software.

    I really hate to see patents like this being granted, because they are so obviously stupid, and bring the whole system into disrepute.

    If this were a granted European patent, it would have any number of oppositions filed against it. (An opposition is a cheap and effective challenges to a granted patent). IMO, no proper patent system should be without a workable system of opposition!

    This is a horrible mess, and I wish that there were a way of extracting it from the US patent system in a way that will save IBM the ignominy of having such an obviously bad patent granted in its name.

    A

    • by davidsyes (765062)
      I hope you can use your attorney powers to gather up some like-minded friends...

      TWO topics here: Patents/Symphony

      Patents

      I may be mistaken, but I think that Raining Data's Omnis Studio had such features BACK IN 1994!

      When I was a contractor back at Bay Networks in/~ 1993/94(formerly Synoptics and Wellfleet, BN later bought by Nortel, I think...) I used the Mac version of Omnis's Omnis database (later I began playing with Omnis Studio, but that's another topic), and I think the developers there had some such o
    • I really hate to see patents like this being granted, because they are so obviously stupid, and bring the whole system into disrepute.
      Better granted to IBM than a patent troll IMO. For all we know IBM might never implement this except in some obscure piece of software somewhere where some patent troll might try to milk it for a fifilion dollars.
    • I am a patent attorney who tries to get his clients good, valid patents for any technology, including those that are implemented in software.
      And I'm someone who doesn't believe in the software patent system. I don't suppose you can give us any examples of the kind of software patents you help push through? Or would that breach some confidentiality laws?
  • I'd like to hear the IBM "engineer" describe that he holds a "patent" during a conversation at some party:

    IBM Guy: Hey man, you know I have an patent?

    Party Dude: Really? What does it pertain to?

    IBM Guy: The "check box".

    Party Dude: The check box? Is that a new microchip technology.

    IBM Dude: No man... it's the box, that, you check... on forms 'n shit

    Party Dude: Really? That's not that novel...

    IBM Dude: Check it... you are on a computer and if you want to indicate that an item needs to be checke

  • If IBM would kindly patent all elements of the Lotus Notes UI such that no other company may ever inflict that atrocity upon its users, I'd be willing to overlook that patents are evil. I'd ask them to also patent the use of Lotus Notes in a business environment as well, except that I have yet to encounter any other company that actually uses the software. And I like it like that.

    For those of you who haven't had an opportunity to actually use Lotus Notes, think of it as Business Herpes.

    • by Pop69 (700500)
      These guys use it groupwide http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lvmh [wikipedia.org] and I fully agree, it sucks big time, even the Mac version
  • Which covers "Ejecting bodily excrements by restraining stomach muscles and putting pressure on the Bowels" - you all better start paying up royalties when you go for taking a dump or ill sue your butts out of you

    that'll teach you to respect patents !
  • by blckbllr (242654) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @05:11PM (#20830023)
    I'm biased. I really hate patent stories on Slashdot. They're oversimplified and do not substantively address the patent at issue.

    That being said, let's see what IBM really patented. First, for the time being, discount everything before the "claims." Claims protect what the patentee considers his/her invention. There are 15 claims of the '116 patent ("We" usually refer to patents by their last three digits). Claims 1, 6, and 11 appear to be the independent claims. These are, arguably, the broadest claims in that the claimed subject matter is much broader than claims 2-5, 7-10, and 12-15.

    Claim 1 recites:
    A method for control of checkbox status, the method comprising:
    • selecting and deselecting checkboxes in a GUI according to a mode of operation the GUI having displayed upon it a set of checkboxes comprising a multiplicity of checkboxes, wherein each checkbox comprises a selection status indicating whether each checkbox is selected;
    • detecting a mode selection event;
    • changing the mode of operation in dependence upon the detected mode selection event.

    Now, we come to the crux of the matter. What do these three limitations mean? Honestly, I have no idea. This is when we have to go back and read everything before the claims. Do these three limitations mean merely "checking a box"? Somehow, I don't think so. There seems to be a lot more going on here. For example, what does it mean to "detect[] a mode selection event"? That doesn't sound like merely "checking a box." That sounds like a bit more.

    The other independent claims recite a similar limitations. For example, claim 6 recites "means for detecting a mode selection event." What does this mean? I don't know, I haven't read the rest of the patent's specification. Again, however, this seems to be a bit more than "checking a box." I live it up to another reader to figure out what this limitation means.

    The lesson to take away here is that the patent stories on Slashdot are sensationalism at its finest. I read Slashdot, and often, I find the stories very interesting. However, the patent summaries are atrocious and are nothing short of informative, if not misleading.

    If you think you have prior art that would invalidate this patent, then please, submit it. I invite you to read about the reexamination procedures at the USPTO. You can find them here [uspto.gov].

    The views expressed herein are in no way associated with any private entity or government organization
    • by pipatron (966506) <pipatron@gmail.com> on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @06:20PM (#20830847) Homepage

      If you think you have prior art that would invalidate this patent, then please, submit it.

      This has nothing to do with prior art or not. I read through about 10% of this, skipping what mostly looked like fillers to make it more technical. This is seriously basic things. You know back in the 80ies when you used the 'pen' in MacPaint, and if you clicked a white square it would 'remember' that it was going to paint everything black, and if you started on a black square it would 'remember' it was going to paint every square white. That this thing goes through shows what sad state the sytem is in. This is what those points means, in practice:

      detecting a mode selection event

      This is when you click the first checkbox.

      changing the mode of operation in dependence upon the detected mode selection event

      There are two modes of operation: If the first checkbox is set, you enter the "clear" mode. If it's cleared, you enter the "set" mode.

      Now you can drag the mouse, all checkboxes you hit will enter the state you chose with the first click.

      I could show prior art; this is how the menus in DirWork 1.62 on my Amiga works, from 1992 (I just checked, to be sure I didn't imagine things). I have no wish to submit this, since doing that would just make people believe that "Hey, the system works! People can submit prior art if they aren't happy, so let's just keep giving out patents like santa on christmas day!". Something else has to be done.

      • by blckbllr (242654)
        This has nothing to do with prior art or not. I read through about 10% of this, skipping what mostly looked like fillers to make it more technical....

        Whoa whoa whoa. Slow down there. Patent law has EVERYTHING to do with prior art. The Examiner must have felt that, based on the claims presented before him and the references at hand, that the claims were patentable in view of those references. At this point, there is no debate on this subject. The claims are presumptively patentable. The only way to inv
  • by Dr. Mu (603661) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @06:41PM (#20831063)
    The M.Y.O.B Accounting software I use in my business has had this feature for years. When reconciling your checking account, for example, just click on a cleared check and drag across all the others in sequence that have also cleared, and they all get checked.

    Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.
  • ...to software patents.

    Pretty much all stories related to company X patenting trivial computing action can be summed up with that. When you have an asinine and completely absurd legal/patent system, don't be surprised when people take that for the example of how they're supposed to act using it.
  • Open Source as Prior Art and Patent Peer review...both have IBM as participants...
  • Is there some way to get the lawyers out of the technology business?

    What they like to do in court is select a jury that cannot possibly comprehend the case. By doing this it becomes a crap shoot and either side has an equal chance of winning. Patents like this make no sense to anyone other than lawyers who like them as a way yo retrain trade.

    It puts all programmers at a disadvantage because at any time we can be attacked by someone's legal beagles.

    Maybe we can ask for a patent on a business model based on
  • by wikinerd (809585)
    RMS has many times explained very clearly [cam.ac.uk] why software patents suck.
  • by 6Yankee (597075) on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @02:24AM (#20834087)
    Haven't gynaecologists been checking boxes for years?
  • From TFP:
    claim 1: preseting checkboxes according to previous state or user preferences, etc.
    Claim 2: Click and drag across the checkboxes toggles them. It doesn't say Toggle to a specific state (i.e., the state of the first box in the drag).
    Claim 3: Click and drag again, but this time, toggle to the state of the first box.
    Claim 4: "XOR" click and drag.
    Claim 5: Some gibberish about interaction between drags when clicking and dragging more than once.
    Claim 6: Describes standard gui events for a checkbox

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