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IBM Patents Web Page Templates 420

jalefkowit writes: "More follies from the US Patent & Trademark Office ... now IBM has been awarded US Patent #6,304,886 for software that automatically "generates [a] customized Web site without the Web site creator writing any HTML or other programming code", based on "a plurality of pre-stored templates, comprising HTML formatting code, text, fields, and formulas" that are then customized through the process of asking the user a few questions. In other words, they've patented the ubiquitous wizards found in FrontPage and other newbie-oriented HTML editors. This was submitted to the USPTO on June 19, 1998 -- surely someone out there knows of prior art for this?"
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IBM Patents Web Page Templates

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  • Sorry IBM (Score:2, Funny)

    by redcliffe ( 466773 )
    I have prior art. I use templates for all my websites. Instead of creating a new product page from scratch I always have a pre-made template which i then modify. Can I please have $10 million dollars? Thanks,


    • Re:Sorry IBM (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Zeinfeld ( 263942 ) on Tuesday October 16, 2001 @11:52PM (#2439791) Homepage
      I have prior art going back to 1993.

      I was in a patent meeting when we were discussing filling a bunch of patents so that we would have amunition to fire back should some company come and fire at usthe patents that they orginialy filed for the same reason.

      The reason I don't like doing that sort of thing is that besides being essentially fraudulent the fact is that no company has prospered long on the basis of a patent portfolio alone. Polaroid and Xerox are two prime examples of the long term effect of management thinking they have a monopoly in their market.

      • by sterno ( 16320 )
        Yeah I worked for a company that was doing template based HTML publishing starting back in 1995 or 1996. 1998? Wow, IBM might have the edge in failing hard disk drives, but maybe they should stop bothering with software patents :)
        • Re:Sorry IBM (Score:3, Informative)

          by kilgore_47 ( 262118 )
          ViaWeb, Robert T Morris' e-commerce company, had a LISP-powered template system for creating sites a long long time ago. They got bought by yahoo in 98 (becoming Yahoo Store), but they were successfully using web templates long before that.

          IBM should really be a little more carefull about crap like this; it obviously alienates the open-source community that they are trying to be on good terms with.
    • Online Merchant (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Alien54 ( 180860 )
      Heck, there is this bit of software: Online Merchant [onlinemerchant.com]

      a quick and dirty product that uses a Paradox database engine under Windows to generate a mass of perl scripts to auto generate a simple web store, complete with graphics, etc., which are then uploaded by the program to you site on a Unix server.

      By Stumpworld Services, the owners of which have since sold the company and got out while the getting was good. It is now integrated with a hosting service [sfcommerce.com], which cuts out the hassle of mom and pop businesses trying to deal with clueless ISPs.

      The date of the original software press release to market was July 15, 1998, and there was an extensive beta period before then.

      I think there is enough prior art to have this covered.

    • Re:Sorry IBM (Score:3, Informative)

      by JabberWokky ( 19442 )
      I *do* have prior art - we've had the software running at OnePaper (and back when we were DigiPaper) since 1987 at least. And the concept dates back another year to 1986 when I was offering "build you own Rocky Cast website" for TimeWarp.org (Denton, USA back then).


    • Re:Sorry IBM (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Cratylus ( 156571 )
      Not to mention that Microsoft was giving away copies of FrontPage 97 with copies of Windows NT 4.0.
    • Re:Sorry IBM (Score:3, Informative)

      by hearingaid ( 216439 )


      Why can't /. read patent claims? This patent [uspto.gov] (somewhat cleaner presentation of the text than the top link) has a whole bunch of claims, and it actually has a detailed descriptive listing as to what the program's supposed to do.

      I reproduce the list here.


      One object of the invention is to overcome these and other deficiencies and drawbacks of existing web site creation tools, systems and methods.

      Another object of the invention is to provide a tool for creating a Web site that minimizes or eliminates the need for a Web site creator to know or use HTML or other programming languages to create a Web site.

      Another object of the invention is to provide a tool for facilitating the creation of Web sites and pages based on stored templates that enable personalization and customization of the Web site and pages without the need for a user to change or write any software code.

      Another object of the invention is to provide a tool for facilitating the creation of Web sites and pages by taking a web site creator through a series of views, each having one or more options/features, to enable the site creator to select from a plurality of options/features available for the web site layout, content and functionality.

      Another object of the invention is to provide a tool for creating a Web site where the tool comprises a library of stored templates (including fields) associated with different options/features for a Web site, the tool prompts a user of the tool to select desired options/features from a list of possible options/features. Based upon the option/features selected, the tool determines which of the stored templates (and fields) are to be used and the user is prompted to supply data to populate those fields. The tool uses the templates and user supplied data to create the web pages that make up a Web site. The Web site may then be posted on a network, such as the Internet.

      Another object of the invention is to provide a tool for facilitating the creation of a Web site and pages based on stored templates having predetermined fields, wherein the tool comprises a dynamic look-up capability to automatically populate one or more fields with data.

      Another object of the invention is to provide a tool for facilitating the creation of Web pages with templates for predefined Web pages that enables personalization and customization of the Web pages without the need for the user to change or write any software code, and facilitates the inclusion or modification of graphical and other multimedia objects.

      Another object of the invention is to provide a tool for facilitating the creation of a Web site based on stored templates having predetermined fields wherein one or more fields can be selectively marked as a required field, and where if data for a required field is not provided by the user, a predefined message may be presented to a user identifying what information is missing and a cursor may be positioned at the missing field.

      Another object of the invention is to provide a tool for facilitating the creation of content for a Web site with an automated content approval feature whereby authorized content creators (specified during creation of the Web site) can create proposed content for the Web site. Upon creation, the proposed content may be automatically, electronically routed to one or more content approvers specified during creation of the web site for authorization before posting the content on the Web site. The approved web page may be automatically posted as appropriate.

      Another object of the invention is to provide a tool that facilitates the modification of Web pages in a finished Web site including one or more of the above objects, without requiring a content creator to change or write any software code.

      Another object of the invention is to provide a tool for facilitating the creation of a Web site based on stored templates whereby once the site is created, a content creator can selectively modify individual pages or groups of pages without using HTML or other software programming code.

      These and other objects are accomplished by various embodiments of the invention. According to one embodiment of the invention, a software tool is provided for use with a computer system for simplifying the creation of Web sites. The tool comprises a plurality of prestored HTML templates, each having various fields. The templates preferably correspond to different types of Web pages and other features commonly found on or available to Web sites. Each feature may have various options. To create a web site, a Web site creator (the person using the tool to create a web site) is prompted by the tool through a series of views stored in the tool to select the features and options desired for the Web site. Based on these selections, the tool prompts the web site creator to supply data to populate fields of the templates determined by the tool to correspond to the selected features and options. Based on the identified templates and supplied data, the tool generates the customized Web site without the web site creator writing any HTML or other programming code.

      The features and options may include, for example, site areas, specific security features, enablement of distributed authorship with the ability to specify approved content authors and content approvers, the specification workflow/approval procedures, enablement of automatic workflow routing, and a graphical design center with a plurality of predetermined user selectable features.

      According to another embodiment of the invention, the software tool provides a series of menus or views to guide the user through the creation of a web site, where the views comprise screens to enable the site creator to select the various features and options for the Web site and forms for entering text that is used to populate fields of stored templates.

      IOW, it's more than just single-page templates. This system is multi-user, it supports a web page approval structure, and it supports web SITE templates.

      That is, the templates will generate a whole bunch of pages.

  • [yawn] Been there... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Boatman ( 127445 ) on Tuesday October 16, 2001 @11:08PM (#2439622)
    I wrote code for this in (Openmarket's - then ICentral's) Shopsite Manager back in 1997. Fill in your products, pick some options, get an e-commerce website. Sigh.
  • I'm not sure when ms word got the ability to save HTML, but combine that with the generic document-generating wizards it has and *presto* you've got html templates. Not that everyone wants to read a web page that starts off "Interoffice memo"....
    • I'm not sure when ms word got the ability to save HTML


      insert lame-ass content here

      Press Alt-F A, call it "foo.html," select "Plain Text (*.txt)" from "save as type," and press Enter. I'd say the ability to save HTML from Word predates HTML or the Web, let alone this patent.

      Notepad is less cumbersome, though. :-)

      (Insert more smileys for the humor-impaired if necessary.)

  • Typical IBM (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Red Avenger ( 197064 )
    IBM espouses so much about being an open company and promoting open things. And then they go and pull something like this. I seriously don't get this company. I really want to like them but more and more I can't.
    • Re:Typical IBM (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Bandman ( 86149 )
      The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

      If they can smack Microsoft around for making Frontpage, then I'm all for it. If I was IBM, I'd do it just to see MSFT squirm...
      • Re:Typical IBM (Score:2, Insightful)

        by John Miles ( 108215 )
        The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

        Uh huh. That kind of thinking is how we ended up with the Taliban.
        • Re:Typical IBM (Score:3, Informative)

          by EvilJohn ( 17821 )
          ...and how we wound up with England as an ally.

          Like most designs, it is not the idea itself that matters so much, but how you implement it.

      • If they can smack Microsoft around for making Frontpage, then I'm all for it. If I was IBM, I'd do it just to see MSFT squirm...

        Scary thought, but doesn't MSFT have a habit of buying out the companies that make them squirm?
      • Re:Typical IBM (Score:3, Insightful)

        by penguinboy ( 35085 )

        If they can smack Microsoft around for making Frontpage, then I'm all for it. If I was IBM, I'd do it just to see MSFT squirm...

        Of course, FrontPage existed, IIRC, in 1996 if not even earlier - which looks like solid prior art. I'm as much for smacking MS around as the next guy, but not without a legitimate reason. Bogus software patents, of course, with years of prior art, aren't exactly legitimate reasons.

    • Re:Typical IBM (Score:3, Insightful)

      by gnomish ( 168308 )
      This speaks more to the Patent Office than IBM. IBM's success, in part, is a function of developing new things and getting the rights to sell them exclusively.. and if you had your own IBM you'd be doing the same thing. The Patent Office, on the other hand, is woefully inept at identifying unique things. In addition, they bear none of the consequences for granting a patent when no patent should have been issued.

      Realistically, I doubt IBM would even bother to enforce this patent. It would behoove them nothing.
    • Ok, companies are CONSTANTLY filling patents anything and everything. Many are used as legal defense, many are used just as trophies. Few are actually used badly. If IBM starts asking for any licenses from anyone for this patent for any reason. THEN we should start screaming. I know you will say that they shouldn't be filling for such things in the first place. Then go yell at the Patent Office, because had IBM not filled for a patent on that idea, someone would have.
      • Re:Typical IBM (Score:2, Insightful)

        by macinslak ( 41252 )
        What if the person that they finally decide to chase after doesn't have the money or resources to put up with IBM's legal department? Old unknown patents are really dangerous (scenarios like GIF and MP3 come to mind).

        IBM isn't holy, these are the same people that want to put hardware copy control on your hard drive. Though at the same time, I doubt they did this on purpose. There's probably an idiot in some idiot somewhere in IBM who honestly thought this was a new thing.
    • Re:Typical IBM (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Derkec ( 463377 )

      IBM is way too big to have everyone on the same page. Just because some over-proud techie asked legal to patent something doesn't mean the CEO looked over it and made a strategic decision.
    • by cshotton ( 46965 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2001 @06:26AM (#2440463) Homepage
      IBM espouses so much about being an open company and promoting open things. And then they go and pull something like this. I seriously don't get this company. I really want to like them but more and more I can't.

      If you own their stock, you have to love them. Their patents are very likely what kept IBM from disappearing in the mid- to late '80's. What you probably don't realize is that IBM has formalized the process of patenting just about everything their engineers do. So much so that they talk about their "Patent Factory" inside the company.

      In 1982, IBM was generating less than $20 million a year in patent license revenue. Over the course of the next 10 years, they made a concerted effort to formalize their patenting process. The result is now an engine that flings off patents and licenses them to the tune of $1.7 billion per year, and that's 95% cash.

      IBM has mastered the art of manipulating the industry via patents. Their standard tactic has been to quietly file a patent, publicly discuss the technology through their technology journals, generate a huge adoption for this seemingly public technology, then 3 years later drop the granted patent on the rest of the industry. Sun, Intel, and others work directly from IBM's playbook now, too.

      In an increasingly competitive landscape, IBM has simply become very good at working the process that the government has put in place to protect intellectual property. If you don't like their business practices, don't buy their stock or their products. If you don't like the way the Patent and Trademark Office works, talk to your Congressman.

      But don't bitch out IBM for working the system. They have a fiduciary responsibility to maximize shareholder value. That they wring it out of competitors to the tune of $1.7 billion a year is a credit to their foresight and the lack of initiative on the part of their competitors. It's not that they're smarter than everyone else. It's just that most people don't play the game well. And if you don't like the game, you can either stop playing or get someone to change the rules. The current rules don't say that IBM has to be nice to people who aren't smart enough to create their own patent portfolio.

      And finally, for those who think that patents are evil or somehow inappropriate for software, processes, and "obvious" inventions, consider this. There is a 100% direct correlation to a country's GDP, the strength of its intellectual property protections, and the number of patents filed by its citizens. If you want to rot in some Third World hovel while you and your buddy take turns pedaling the generator that powers your '386 laptop while you tweak the latest kernel hacks, then see what happens if you overturn the US system for protecting innovation. In the meantime, the rest of us will enjoy the fruits of an economy created by companies that work and a government that protects their work.

  • Prior Art (Score:4, Interesting)

    by _azure23 ( 238110 ) on Tuesday October 16, 2001 @11:11PM (#2439631) Homepage
    Sure, how about FrontPage97?
    • How about any text editor with a sufficient number of macros?
    • Re:Prior Art (Score:5, Interesting)

      by BrianH ( 13460 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2001 @12:39AM (#2439918)
      IBM could conceivably argue that FP97 is a programming utility and therefore exempt. A better example would be MS Publisher 97. I hammered out a few simple brochure sites with Publisher back then and it clearly violates this patent. I could pick a generic template from a list, input nothing more than my content or body text, and have the software output a web site (they were pretty awful sites, but that's beside the point).

      There's your prior art, and it's from Microsoft no less.
    • Re:Prior Art (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Schwarzchild ( 225794 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2001 @01:13AM (#2440008)
      Actually a book describing FrontPage is cited as a reference of sorts in the patent itself:

      Tyler, Denise. Laura Lemay's Web Workshop: Microsoft FrontPage 97. Sams, Macmillan Computer Publishing. ISBN 1575212234, published Jan. 17, 1997. .COPYRGT.1997. Introduction, Chapters 3 and 5.*

      • how about FrontPage97

      How about whatever system of "plurality of templates" the USPTO web site was using prior to mid-1998?

    • Re:Prior Art: 1995 (Score:5, Interesting)

      by sulli ( 195030 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2001 @12:34PM (#2441819) Journal
      I have right here in front of me a copy of the very first FrontPage, by Vermeer Technologies, copyright 1995. From the package:

      Visual tools make modifications as simple as dragging-and-dropping.
      - Drag-and-drop hyperlink editing

      Desktop publishing features create professional-looking results.
      - Hide HTML code with WYSIWYG editor
      - Create "hotspots" on images with clickable image editor
      - Add interactive forms with just a few mouse clicks

      WebBots (tm) eliminate programming tasks while Web Wizards guide you through the creation process.

      Built in WebBots let you:
      - Create bulletin boards for threaded discussion groups
      - Save information from fields automatically
      Web Wizards simplify the development of:
      - External Web sites
      - Internal Web sites for corporate information distribution
      Select from over twenty page templates or create your own.

      So is this prior art or what?

  • My templates (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Foxxz ( 106642 )
    are HTML with perl variables in them that get filled in when executed. so do i have to pay money? i think not. lets see them try to collect.


  • by superdk ( 184900 )
    The RIAA patents sound in an attempt to draw royalties on everything that makes any sound including but not limited to musical works and things that go bump in the night.

    Film at 11:00
  • by oGMo ( 379 ) on Tuesday October 16, 2001 @11:16PM (#2439651)

    A friend of mine (Nathan Anderson) wrote something that I believe is quite like this, and posted it right here to slashdot, a number of years ago. Here is the article [slashdot.org]. Judge for yourself. When he sees this he'll probably post something about it as well. Does this count as prior art?

  • Prior art ... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jonku ( 472956 ) <jon@rapid[ ]eral.com ['gen' in gap]> on Tuesday October 16, 2001 @11:18PM (#2439664) Homepage
    Someone has to answer this.

    "customized Web site without the Web site creator writing any HTML or other programming code", based on "a plurality of pre-stored templates"

    In 1996 I wrote JavaScript that would give a different action based on browser detection. This did require "programming."

    I recently wrote a content manangement system (1999) and e-commerce site, the creator does no programming. Steuben.com [steuben.com].

    Same workaround: different browsers see different-looking page (CSS or simplified version for IE 3.0, which cannot deliver different colored links on the same page). Similar effects for other features, pop-up windows etc. Also different menu actions. Many done with included page fragments ("templates").

    Perhaps a lawyer would say I am the creator, although the tools were handed over to non-techies, they loaded all the images, content and products and now run the site.

    Another answer is browser detection sending to a Flash or vanilla html site. Which are "templates."

    Am I missing the point?
  • uhhhhhhhh (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Dr. Awktagon ( 233360 ) on Tuesday October 16, 2001 @11:18PM (#2439665) Homepage

    wouldn't this cover any program that has a "save as HTML" option?? That lets you create HTML without typing any HTML codes, and somewhere in the guts of the program are some HTML templates, right?

  • a patent of beowulf clusters?


  • A modest suggestion (Score:5, Interesting)

    by AirLace ( 86148 ) on Tuesday October 16, 2001 @11:25PM (#2439692)
    Why doesn't the patent office implement a system whereby patent holders who are found to be abusing the system are denied the right to file any further patents for a specified period (say, 5 years) or lose the rights to other more valuable patents that they own? I think that'd make corporations like IBM which are looking to make a buck off trivial patents think twice about what they're doing. This software patent madness has to stop before it spreads to Europe.
    • Simple... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Sanity ( 1431 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2001 @12:11AM (#2439843) Homepage Journal
      Because they are not financially motivated to do so.

      People should stop complaining when organisations do what they are designed to do - namely make money (in the Patent Office's case, this means granting as many patents as possible). Don't bitch about the RIAA when they push for freedom-curtailing laws - THEY DON'T CARE - their job is to protect the interests of those who pay their salaries. Don't bitch when a for-profit corporation exploits dumb laws to increase their profit margins - THEY ARE DESIGNED TO DO THAT.

      Instead, bitch about the stupid laws which allow and encourage them to do this, and the customers who keep them in business (of course, very few of IBM's customers are likely to take a stand on this issue - but IBM does seem to care quite a bit about its reputation among the Open Source community these days).

      • by TheFrood ( 163934 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2001 @03:06AM (#2440190) Homepage Journal
        People should stop complaining when organisations do what they are designed to do - namely make money (in the Patent Office's case, this means granting as many patents as possible). Don't bitch about the RIAA when they push for freedom-curtailing laws - THEY DON'T CARE - their job is to protect the interests of those who pay their salaries. Don't bitch when a for-profit corporation exploits dumb laws to increase their profit margins - THEY ARE DESIGNED TO DO THAT.

        Every time a story about a company doing something irresponsible or evil gets posted on Slashdot, somebody invariably makes this argument. "Don't blame them! They're just trying to make a profit!" Apparently the idea is that anyone who's trying to make money is exempt from any moral responsibility whatsoever. I've never heard a good explanation for why this is supposed to be true. In fact I've never heard any explanation for it; some people just assume that the profit motive is enough to justify any misdeed, as long it stops short of breaking an actual law.

        Abusing the system by filing frivolous patents is wrong. Yes, there should be a law against it, but the fact that there isn't doesn't mean that the people who do it shouldn't be criticized.

        • The responsibility they have to their shareholders to make as much money as possible precludes any moral compunction they may have. Violating the latter gets them bitched at by a few Slashdotters. Violating the former gets them fired and possibly sued into the poor house.
        • by garver ( 30881 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2001 @07:31AM (#2440572)

          You missed Sanity's point: They don't care about their moral responsibility.

          Besides, "moral responsibility" is a vague and relative term. What you consider immoral, I may consider ingenious. Does that mean I'm wrong? You think so. Does that mean you're wrong? I think so. Where does that get us?

          The question is, should businesses use "moral responsibily" or laws as a code of conduct. "moral responsibility" doesn't work since its open to wide interpretation, everyone would have a different set of rules and the game would be unfair. Laws are a lot more concrete and make a better set of rules.

          The point is, arguing that businesses should follow a moral code is useless. They don't and can't.

        • by mosch ( 204 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2001 @07:58AM (#2440628) Homepage
          It's immoral to run a company in a manner which ignores obvious and legal methods of generating revenue. It's irresponsible to the employees and stockholders of the corporations. Indeed, it's so irresponsible that failure to maximize profit is an actionable offense.
      • Constitutional basis for federal patent and copyright systems is to be found in the Constitution of the United States Article 1, Section 8, clause 8 which states:

        "Congress shall have power ... to promote the progress of science and useful arts by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries. "

        Federal patent laws have existed since 1790. The first United States Patent Act, that of 1790 was a short act of seven sections only entitled "An act to promote the Progress of Useful Arts". Under its terms any two of the Secretary of State, the Secretary of War and the Attorney General were empowered to grant patents for terms of up to fourteen years for inventions that were "sufficiently useful and important" provided that the grantee submitted a specification describing the invention (and where appropriate a model thereof) to the Secretary of State at the time of the grant.

        In 1793 this act was repealed and replaced by a slightly longer act, the drafting of which is largely attributed to Thomas Jefferson, who was at the time Secretary of State and therefore intimately involved in the administration of the 1790 Act. The Act is notable for its definition of what constitute patentable subject matter in the United States, which definition is almost unchanged up to now:
        "any new and useful art, machine, manufacture or composition of matter and any new and useful improvement on any art, machine, manufacture or composition of matter."

        In the same year the Supreme Court in Grant v. Raymond made it clear that failure to provide an adequate description of the invention was a ground under which a defendant might use when sued for patent infringement, it being held that

        "as a preliminary to a patent a correct specification and description of the thing discovered (was required). This is necessary in order to give the public, after the privilege shall expire, the advantage for which the privilege is allowed and is the foundation of the power to issue the patent ... "

        A major review of the law was undertaken in 1836 in response to complaints about the grant of patents for things that lacked novelty. Under this revision the Patent Office was set up as part of the State Department and a specification had to be submitted to it and be examined for novelty before a patent would be granted. As a consequence of this provision of the 1793 Act requiring the inventor to distinguish his invention from the prior art was expanded upon to require the applicant to "particular specify and point out the part, improvement or combination, which he claims as his own invention or discovery".

        Nowhere in there do I see anything about being designed to make money.

        What I do see is that the Patent Office was set up to ENSURE sufficient novelty in those items submitted for patenting. If it fails in this IT IS FAILING IN THE ONE THING IT WAS DESIGNED TO DO!
    • Actually, somebody on /. posted something [slashdot.org] to the effect that you CAN get punished like this if you wrongfully leverage IP.

      And let's not even get into the copyright issue. Under American law, any monopoly which leverages intellectual property to preserve their monopoly has their work turned over to the public domain.

      Anybody else have a solid reference?
    • Sadly, it has already spread to Europe - we ARE fighting but there are already thousands of software patents in Europe :(

  • I see it every day (Score:2, Interesting)

    by unfrgvnme ( 304410 )
    In working for an IP law firm, I see the rediculousness that is the USPTO every day. The fact that they could grant such a patent doesn't surprise me in the least.
  • Based on the (Score:5, Informative)

    by jallen02 ( 124384 ) on Tuesday October 16, 2001 @11:30PM (#2439720) Homepage Journal
    This is a fairly specific patent. After having a look at it im not really concerned. Their definition of "tool" is a little loose, which bothers me somewhat.

    Having worked with content management systems in both PHP and ColdFusion using a WebBrowser and a VB client for managing the content.

    The chances your specific interface emulate completely IBMs described interface are little to none.

    Before I rise up to say how evil IBM is I will say this. Patents are an eventuality. It is like a nuclear arms race, if you don't patent it someone else will, and then they can use it against you or at least hold it over you.

    Is this new, unique, exciting, or worth a patent? No probably not. It seems from their description to be little more than a super-duper WYSIWYAG (What you see is what you almost get) type site builder. WIth IBMs drive to do ecommerce this definitely fits with thier overall marketing and business plans.. This would obviously be for the low - medium end of the ecommerce spectrum

    THe system also defines a system of content approval and rights of some sort

    All in all I have designed systems this in depth or more. The systems may do similar things but the means of doing it are invariably almost completely different. (Of course my system focuses on already having a site and allowing an administrator to build the site without the overhead of really thinking up the design aspect at all.. just manage the content)

    Again, this is just an incremental evolution.

  • Interning at IBM (Score:5, Informative)

    by pjdepasq ( 214609 ) on Tuesday October 16, 2001 @11:34PM (#2439733)
    Having interned at IBM for a summer (2000), I was somewhat nauseated during a meeting I sat in on where the focus was 'What can we patent?'. While I understand the purpose of such meetings, anything not nailed down was fair game to have a patent attempted for it.

    We were constantly reminded that IBM was the corporate leader of patents (whoo hooo! How about getting my damned stock price up again!) and that meetings like this were common.

    I found it to be pathetic.
    • Oh, I don't think that the meetings were wrong, I agree that it was a product of talented people working hard. What I hated was the prevalence of the meeting where it was like "...well EJBs are patented, what else is there.... what about FOO working with EJBs.... that might be ok to go after". That's what nauseated me. Of course, perhaps it was just that I was not used to that atmosphere.
    • Re:Interning at IBM (Score:3, Interesting)

      by peccary ( 161168 )
      I found it to be pathetic.

      Indeed, it's one of the reasons I finally quit IBM. They even acknowledged that the crap only had to be "patentable, not rocket science." And that it "doesn't even matter if the patents stick, nobody challenges them anyway. Just as long as our stack is higher than theirs." This kind of egregious abuse of the patent system just made me sick, so I will no longer contribute to their portfolio. I wonder how much creative talent they're missing out on for the same reason?
  • Why don't we hear about this stuff _before_ it's a done deal? I realize that the chances of it actually affecting any given person are slim to none but in the event that this type of patent actually gets leveraged in some way or other, I'd prefer to have a chance to voice my objection before the patent is actually granted.
  • I'm no expert on deciphering patent-language, but the free community hosting service [avidgamers.com] I started in April 1998 seems to do more or less exactly what this patent covers.

  • Someone really, really needs to get a clue over at the old patent office. This and so very many other idiotic patents have slipped through the US patent office in the last few years.

    There's TONS of prior art on this. I worked on a product for Proxicom in 1997 that let you fill out a fancy wizardy thing that built websites from your web browser.

    Everyone has mentioned FrontPage97, etc, etc, etc. This really is criminal -- when you do a patent search, you're supposed to DO A PATENT SEARCH, which also includes A SEARCH FOR PRIOR ART.

    And the patent office should ALSO DO A PRIOR ART SEARCH. What the hell?

  • Some small people with CREATIVE ideas cannot go to patent their creation because of the legal fees, plus the pattent application fees, (a patent application plus extras comes over 5000$ easily for those of you who don't know)... meanwhile, big companies can patent useless stuff that will break innovation (I'm starting to hate that word) instead of it's root concept of being to PROTECT I.P.

    Of course this means, those who might actually BENEFIT from the system for a just cause cannot access it (well depending on your cashflow as a startup for example , you have that great idea, you get 100K$ seed money to develop a simple prototype application/device so you can demonstrate your idea and get even more financing... will you use 5 to 10% of that budget for a PATENT (which will bring even more fees in the process) or will you concentrate on the project itself? Yep.. you guessed it right, and as soon as you go for your round of financing and approach people with money, funny how those NDAs mean nothing for them (since anyways, you won't be able to sue them) and if you get thru all of that crap, normally you get bought out for a fraction of what you could have made, because probably the investors will tell you if you don't comply with their rules they'll invest in that X company that can pull out the same thing and even better (and drive you out of buisness) etc etc, so probably you lose control over your project (51% shares not to you), and if you're really unlucky, the appointed CEO is a jerk and makes the whole thing goes down... if it works and becomes a success, notice you probably not even have 1% of the company with the dillution and all the maths applied after. (still, 1% of 100M$ is not too bad if you get there :) ).

    Of course with SOFTWARE it can be a bit more positive, but for let's say, some cool hardware application, or innovative invention, it's another story.

    This is almost depressing. heh...

  • by kcbrown ( 7426 )
    Murray Hill, NJ -- Today AT&T sued IBM for patent infringement, noting that IBM's patent on web templates is an infringement of AT&T's patent on #include.

    #include, found in the C language's preprocessor, was invented in the early 1970's by Brian Kernighan and Dennis Ritchie. "The #include directive is really a very innovative invention", said John Law, director of language sales at AT&T. "The technology landscape just wouldn't be the same without it".

    Representatives from IBM were unavailable for comment, but were heard muttering something about how they "can't stand it when someone beats us to it".
  • I could be wrong here, but it sounds like this could apply to more than just wizards. What about web-based content management tools, which allow the user to copy and paste plain text into an input box, check a few options, and have HTML pages generated on the fly?

    (I tried reading the claims of the patent to see if this is true, but got lost in legalese. The patent has 24 claims, and I'm assuming each of those claims must be violated in order to be considered patent infringement.)
  • http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PT O2&Sect2=HITOFF&u=/netahtml/search-adv.htm&r=2&p=1 &f=G&l=50&d=ft00&S1=nazem.INZZ.&OS=in/nazem&RS=IN/ nazem

    Not sure how this conflicts/contrasts with the IBM patent.
  • I just realized the paramount reason to not patent internet "inventions"... by the time it gets approved, nobody gives a damn about it anymore. This thing was submitted in June of 98, for crying out loud!

  • How about Ralf Engelschall's WML [engelschall.com] language? According to the copyright [engelschall.com], WML came about in 1996.
  • Hi there. I led a team that developed the Interactive Advertising Agent, a product that allowed a user to create a customizable web site, including forms and layout customization. This product was released in 1996. If you are a person or company who would like a copy of this software as a defense against this patent, please let me know. I'm going to try to make it available on a public HTTP server, but that will take a while.
  • What can be done? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rothfuss ( 47480 ) <chris,rothfuss&gmail,com> on Wednesday October 17, 2001 @12:16AM (#2439851) Homepage
    This is just the latest in a *long* line of trivial, abusive patents that have been discussed on Slashdot. They all make a mockery of what intellectual property rights are intended to protect, which is innovation.

    What, other than making sarcastic comments about 1-click shopping, can actually be done to effect change on how patents are granted?

    Who's e-mailbox should we all slam with requests for reasonable IPR laws?


    • Re:What can be done? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by awful ( 227543 )
      That is the first sensible post on this topic all day. If you don't like the situation - change it. Somone needs to sit down and do some research - find out all the 'landgrab' patents that have been filed over a particular period (6 years seems like a good start), then do the work locating all the prior art, then use the info to make a mockery of the whole mess, scaring the politicians into action.

      Be like McSpotlight - do the research and force the main offenders into a public forum like a court.
      • Re:What can be done? (Score:4, Informative)

        by Panaflex ( 13191 ) <convivialdingo@NOsPAm.yahoo.com> on Wednesday October 17, 2001 @12:09PM (#2441664)
        I have written legislatures extensivly on this topic, and have been invited to attend hearings on the matter. Never been, though I've talked once or twice to the PTO before. Here's my sloppy and quickly written take.

        Here's what it's going to take (Pick 2).
        1. Corporate backing (i.e. money. Find a company recently badly burned by patents to back up legislature)
        2. Sacking people at the patent office. For what it's worth, the patent office is more of a product registration entity than an idealistic "never-seen-that-before" museum of greats. Hell, even I have a patent!
        3. Changing the whole business of patents. Puttng hundreds of lawyers out of business.
        4. Changing the view of product development and competition.

        You see, sometime in the past, the patent office got spanked for the light bulb and the computer, and the transistor, others too. Whenever the patent office stuck by its guns, seems that they always got in trouble. Then in the 50s or 60s the people decided that the patent office was holding back innovation.. that they needed to move faster. So they gave them minimum patent creations. The effect was to expand the patent office to not only store the great ideas of the world, but to become a registry of products and service methods.

        Lots of companies were looking to build new products based on old designs, but figured that they couldn't protect the product for a long enought time to make money off it.

        The goverment saw a chance to fill in this practice with "lowering the bar" so to say for patents.

        Whether you think this is bad or good depends mostly on which end of the stick you're on.

        Getting a patent isn't that hard.. honestly. It just takes money, good lawyers, and a long time.

        Getting a GREAT patent is. Because chances are that there are atleast one other patent that resemble yours at least in context.

        Here's the stickler.. if you improve the patent office then open source will suffer... Why? Because companies will start enforcing their patents.

        I can't imagine how much of the linux kernel/os/gtk/qt has patents associated already. I remember reading security patents in 89 from apple and sun that are SURELY broken by openssh. I'm sure there's alot of patents on GUI's, on cacheing, on scheduling, on file formats. But it's BECAUSE of lackluster patents that companies don't go after linux. Why? Because they're afraid of that other company that might have a simular patent going after them.

        So the only way to really do it is to kill software patents, right? No.. then you'll see companies and universities going the "trade secret" route. Free Code could disappear like turkey on thanksgiving.

        I think the real answer lies in improving the quality of patents. Raising the bar a bit, but not being too idealistic. To do this, the patent office should HIRE PEOPLE WITH A REAL SOFTWARE BACKGROUND. Most of them, I hear, are lawyers. (That's who they deal with, right?)

        In other words, get the industry to pay for a comprehensive database like biomedical does. Allow people to "publish" in a journal to document prior art. This, and a good combination of standards committees will keep the playing field level, IMHO.

        Anyhow, IBM has every right to get a patent on this.. you would too. Spending a few million bucks on development, only to get dragged into court later is NO FUN. Better to patent some basic novel method.

        There's lots of patent holding companies who get their jollies off calling IBM and telling them their infringing on their patent.

  • Netscape Gold? (Score:3, Informative)

    by TheMightyZog ( 228867 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2001 @12:16AM (#2439855)
    I seem to remember Netscape Gold 2.02 (from 1996 or 1997?) having a WYSIWYG editor.

    Given the length of time it takes to work a patent through the system, I'm sure we're going to have many more years of foolishness like this ahead.
  • by Speare ( 84249 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2001 @12:17AM (#2439859) Homepage Journal

    Patents exist.

    There are two things that patents do:

    • let you sue someone who copies you, and
    • protect you from being sued by someone who copies you.

    One is a sword, one is a shield.

    If IBM doesn't use the patent as a sword, then who should care? Nobody. If they start charging royalties for those who "infringe," if they start trying to attack other companies who have since done the same obvious thing, then you can sound the alarms of righteous indignation.

    Until then, STFU. Please.

    • by Tord ( 5801 ) <tord.jansson@gmai l . c om> on Wednesday October 17, 2001 @02:38AM (#2440148) Homepage
      The problem here is not that IBM uses a screwed up patent system to their advantage, the problem is that the patent system is screwed up in the first place.

      What if it wasn't IBM that got this patent, but somebody who would use it more like a sword? What if IBM in ten years changes their policy and starts to use patents for attacking? What if IBM indeed intends to use it as a weapon against somebody?

      I think most of the aggression here was pointed against the patent office and not IBM in particular. The patent system has just become one big machinery who's main goal seems to be to sustain itself and all the lawyers working with patent issues. It simply doesn't protect and promote innovation anymore the way it was meant to, at least not in the fields of software and business models.
  • ????????/ (Score:3, Interesting)

    by clone304 ( 522767 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2001 @12:36AM (#2439907)
    Does all of this conversation spawn from boredom? The ONLY reason this topic was modded up to the main page is that it's Funny. IBM cannot enforce this patent. Anybody with at least half a brain, can see that it is not non-obvious. In fact, the Patent Office could use a rule similar to this to avoid handing out idiotic patents in the software industry:

    The birth of computers obviated the USE of computers to automate tasks that previously would have been done manually or with another device. Thus any use of a computer to automatically do anything that would have previously been done by hand or with another tool is obvious. This also applies recursively. In other words, any use of a computer to automate the operations of a computer to do work that would have previously been done through manual usage of a computer is also obvious.

    This one simple, OBVIOUS rule would strike down just about every software patent in existence, and only grant software patents that were truly deserving. I can't think of a truly deserving software patent off the top of my head, but methinks the posibility COULD exist.

    Either way. Why all the drama, ./ers? Bored?
  • Based on the vague generalities of the patent, I think I could claim prior art based on Perl programs I wrote back in 1997 that did this very thing. User goes to web site, has a variety of templates they can choose from, inputs some information for the web page, format, etc., and presto! The new page is uploaded directly to a web site that hosts the user under a unique name, along with all the other users that made their own pages. In addition, the user could go back and modify the page later if desired. Completely automated from start to finish, no HTML required.

    I wrote several versions of this program for different companies, none of which (to my knowledge) managed to survive the dot-bomb. But I know for a fact that my idea wasn't an original one; several other sites were doing the same thing. I visited these sites to see what they did so that I could 'one-up' them with my own program and improve on what they had to offer.

    So unless I've got the wrong take on IBM's patent *I* can prove prior art. I might even have the programs backed up somewhere in storage. But there are others that can prove prior art to *my* claim as well.

    How can IBM expect to enforce this claim? This wasn't something new and innovative at the time the patent was submitted.

  • by werdna ( 39029 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2001 @12:42AM (#2439924) Journal
    Look, here's the deal. The abstract, by regulation and statute, has no bearing whatsoever as to the scope of a patent. None, nada, bupkis. Don't characterize a patent by the abstract -- you'll be wrong, often wildly wrong.

    Look to the patent claim, which governs the scope of the patent grant. Understand that the meaning of that claim may depend upon many other things. And be cool -- most patents are much narrower than they seem to a lay reader.

    1. A computer system comprising a tool for creating Web sites having user specified features, the system comprising:
    identifying means for identifying an interface browser means during the creation or editing of content for a Web site, wherein the identifying means identifies, at least, the particular type of interface browser means being implemented to create or edit the Web site content;
    presenting means, responsive to the identifying means, for presenting a plurality of views, wherein the plurality of views comprise menus of user selectable features, and wherein the presenting means presents predetermined ones of the plurality of views based upon the interface browser means identified;
    selecting means for enabling a user to select one or more of the user selectable features, and wherein the user selectable features comprise one or more browser specific features that further comprise features predetermined to accommodate predetermined interface browser means;
    storage means that stores, at least, common browser features that may be presented on a created Web site independent of browser type used to access the created Web site, the browser specific features selected so that the browser specific features selected may be presented on the created Web site when the created Web site is accessed by the predetermined interface browser means, and alternative browser features that display on the created Web site when the created Web site is accessed by browser means other than the predetermined interface browser means;
    template means, associated with the one or more of the user selectable features; and
    assembling means for assembling a Web site by retrieving the template means associated with the one or more of the user selectable features selected, and adding to the template means the common browser features, and either the browser specific features selected when the created Web site is accessed by the predetermined interface browser means, or the alternative browser features when the created Web site is accessed by browser means other than the predetermined interface browser means.
  • file a patent on filing patents on obvious software practices for which there exists lots of prior art.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I joined Amazon.com as an engineer just before they went bonkers over patents. As a long time free software fan, the whole one-click deal was a real shock! A bunch of us who worked there were totally bummed.

    We were told not to talk about the "one click" patent AT ALL. So people would write "I'm not talking about it", etc, on elevator whiteboards.

    It was a sad joke. And oh yes.. The whiteboards went away as the layoffs came.

  • This seems only to cover the generation of multiple, browser-specific versions of the same web page from one template. It doesn't cover template-based HTML generators generally.
  • Unlike some of the other prior art pentioned, homestead.com [homestead.com] had a system that opperated exactly as described. They annouced it in a press release [homestead.com] just 11 days prior to the patent application.


  • by Enonu ( 129798 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2001 @01:10AM (#2439996)
    #include <stdio.h>

    int main (int argc, char** argv) {
    char buff[100];
    printf ("Please enter in your web text: ");
    scanf ("%s", buff);
    printf ("Your web page: <HTML><BODY><b>%s</b></BODY></HTML>\n", buff);
  • by wfaulk ( 135736 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2001 @01:12AM (#2440001) Homepage
    I don't know what the rule is for "prior art" (does it need to be published?), but I worked for Nando.net back in the early-to-mid 90s and we had a system that would qualify. We had a legacy system for newspaper editors that eventually got the data back in those systems back to a series of Perl scripts that we wrote that formatted it according to the site's format. Anyway, the editors wrote only text - no HTML.

    I seriously doubt that they still use the same system, though.
  • by pedro ( 1613 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2001 @01:13AM (#2440009)
    Might it not make sense that IBM, (now a good open source ally) is now actively, and proactively plugging holes in the anti-open source dike?
    After all, we've often discussed on this very site the notion of patenting everything we think of, as a community, as a hedge against the multinationals!
    Big Blue could very well be on our side here. God knows.. given all of the support they've supplied, and how severely entrenched we are so far, pissing us off NOW would be a Bad Business Move(tm) on their part. They have everything to lose, and very little to gain if they actually think this patent is truly enforceable.
    I vote a Benefit of the Doubt for IBM.
    Who's with me?

  • IBM: "I patent the HTML wizard"
    MICROSOFT: "Well I patent HTML"
    IBM: "Well I patent the whole internet."
    MICROSOFT: "Well I patent all the computers."
    IBM: "Well I patent YOU!"
    MICROSOFT: "Well I patent you times one thousand"
    IBM: "I patent you times one million"
    MICROSOFT: "I patent you times infinity. No returnsy, personal jinx, sucks to be you!!!"


    MICROSOFT: "MOM!... IBM hit me!"
    MOM (aka US Supreme Court): "Stop your whining! I thought I told you: 'No more patenting after you stole Java from your baby brother'."

  • Questionable? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by SenorChuck ( 457914 )
    If I'm not mistaken, wouldn't something like the /. user preferences be under the wing of
    this patent? After all, the preferences allow you to customize the html presented to
    you without the need to actually write any html on your own -- it asks you questions
    about how you want it to be presented, and you get what you ask for. How long has this
    system been in effect? Can any /. ops answer this one?
  • How about using the OBVIOUS argument???
  • I think that anybody who champions IBM as one of the bastions of open source amongst real corportations needs to take a good long look at their actions. Is this a company who really supports open source philosophy? Is a patent like this somehow in that same spirit? Or is IBM merely a corporation trying to flag down as many supporters as it can by speaking out of both sides of its mouth?

    We can't be pissed that they applied for the patent and still say that they're better than most companies in the computer biz, cause you can't have both. If Microsoft were to release a few open source apps, would that make them an open source friendly copnany? Make no mistake: IBM is a corporation too (a big one at that) and will do whatever it can to increase shareholder value, even if that means switching strategies whenever its convenient.

  • I believe the original NCSA httpd delivered some templates for producing HTML but not sure.
    Looked on sunsite.unc.edu/pub/Linux/apps/www/converters for old code. (sunsite's been a linux host since '93 at least - or at least that's how long I've been using it :)

    t2htmll.tgz - Aug 29 1997

    webtex-0.96.tar.gz - May 29 1997

    info2www-1.2a.tar.gz - Mar 2 1997

    What this suggests to me is there's a lot of prior art. I'm using sunsite as an example as it's dating is fairly accurate btw.

    Check perhaps postgresql95, MySQL, NCSA HTTPD-1.0 (perhaps), and maybe even original Netscape server and Netscape composer - circa '95 IIRC.

    But I think the best connection is TeX/LaTeX WWW formatters which probably first came into existance in '92-93 when the physicists developed WWW. After all TeX is fairly common for documentation under unix...
  • Goto BounteyQuest.com [bountyquest.com] and sign up. This is a site that's set up to help kill patents with existing prior art, and is a sensible, practical, and legal way to help restore some sanity to the patent process.

    (It may be argued that the patent issuing process is broken beyond repair, but even if so, a viable alternative has yet to emerge.)

    Disclaimer: I have no interest in the above site other than a registered user.

  • Student Software (Score:3, Informative)

    by cascadefx ( 174894 ) <morlockhq AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday October 17, 2001 @10:39AM (#2441168) Journal
    We built that into our software engineering student project in 1996. We built a resource allocation program for our computer science department [bsu.edu] called SCORE [bsu.edu] (for Scheduling Courses with Order, Reliability and Efficiency) for the Department chair that would allow him to easily assign courses and work out room and faculty assignments with automatic conflict catching.

    Our client wanted to be able to post reports that were output from the software to the web. Our head programmer put a very rudimentary web template system in place that would output reports with choices of sort order, gawd-aweful background colors (from a 16 color palett), and customized headings and footers. This was all done without the user having to know any HTML. You can see samples here [bsu.edu] dating back to 1997.

    The About SCORE [bsu.edu] page even references automated HTML authorship. From the page:

    SCORE (Scheduling Classes with Order Reliability and Efficiency) is an application developed by a group of Computer Science students enrolled in the Software Engineering sequence at Ball State University. SCORE is an application that is a flexible scheduling advisor for use by faculty involved in the creation of course offerings by a department. SCORE has features which allow for powerful schedule reporting, class conflict catching and reporting, persistent and consistent data retieval and automated HTML authorship of documents for Internet/Intranet display.

    Though ugly, I think these qualify as prior art and beat IBM's 1998 application.

Trap full -- please empty.