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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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  • [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.
  • by johngaunt ( 414543 ) on Tuesday October 16, 2001 @11:19PM (#2439672)
    Yes, there is, the info was posted here [] on slashdot a while back
  • 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.
  • Re:Typical IBM (Score:3, Informative)

    by EvilJohn ( 17821 ) on Tuesday October 16, 2001 @11:51PM (#2439788) Homepage
    ...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.

  • by JohnA ( 131062 ) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {nosrednanhoj}> on Wednesday October 17, 2001 @12:06AM (#2439830) Homepage
    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.
  • 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 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.
  • Re:Sorry IBM (Score:3, Informative)

    by JabberWokky ( 19442 ) <> on Wednesday October 17, 2001 @12:54AM (#2439957) Homepage Journal
    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 (Denton, USA back then).


  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 17, 2001 @12:58AM (#2439966)
    I joined 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.

  • by thehossman ( 198379 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2001 @01:05AM (#2439986)
    Unlike some of the other prior art pentioned, [] had a system that opperated exactly as described. They annouced it in a press release [] just 11 days prior to the patent application.


  • 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.

  • by ronys ( 166557 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2001 @05:07AM (#2440337) Journal
    Goto [] 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.

  • some info for you (Score:2, Informative)

    by cryofan2 ( 243723 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2001 @06:59AM (#2440509) Homepage
    Actually, it is quite possible that this is a legitimate patent.
    1. IBM filed in 1998.
    2. You need to understand that invention starts when the idea is conceived. If IBM *conceived* of teh idea in, say, 1994, and diligently reduced it to practice from 1994 to 1998, then, then file with the uSPTO, ....that's how it works. OR they could have conceived of teh idea in 1992...or even earlier....
    This is how the process works....all you need is some documentation of when you first conceived of the idea, and some documentation of having diligently reduced it practice in teh intervening time frame between conception and filing.
  • Who cares? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 17, 2001 @09:18AM (#2440867)
    Who really cares that IBM has been granted this patent. Do you really think they are going to try and enforce this. If they are going to try and enforce it, they will be in court forever, so there is no point in trying to enforce it.

    At the time when IBM came up with this patent, it was probably somewhat of a novel idea. Perhaps you slashdotters do not understand how a research division works at a large company. I have worked for a research division at one of these large companies, and perhaps I can explain it to you.

    A group of people in a given department doing research on topic X get together and brainstorm. Out of this brainstorming session comes lots of ideas, perhaps 50 ideas in total. Then people go off and try to find information about these 50 ideas. Usually they look for patents that have already been submitted. Idea X1 has not patent submitted, so personA files a Declaration of Invention. The reason they do this is just in case someone else is thinking of patenting this idea, then the company has a concrete peice of information that this idea has been around before. Next, the person(s) who got idea X1 rolling will talk to their boss, and get him to hook them up with a lawyer to write a formal patent proposal. Sure, in some cases they write their own, it doesn't really matter. Then they file the patent with whatever patent body governs. Then the person(s) involved with the patent sumbitting are very happy, because they just got a bonus from their large company, and their boss put a smiley face beside their name for their year end review. Many companies base raises on number of patent submissions.

    Then they wait 3 or 4 years and more than likely forget about it. Out of the millions of patents that are submitted, I would be surprised if more than 500 000 of them are ever even used. For starters, lots of the patent ideas stink to begin with, and some idiot at the patent office let them through. I beleive that most patent officials have no clue, and the real checks on whether the patent is good or not comes at the organizational level of the large company when they try to decide whether they should spend the $30k or so in various fees in order to get the patent submitted.

    The department I worked at at a large company had about 20 employees, and each employee probably averaged about 5-15 patent submissions a year. I recall one employee getting a patent filed, and she couldn't even remember what the patent was about. When everyone looked at what the patent was for, everyone laughed at how dumb of an idea it was. I bet IBM is doing the same right now, laughing over coffee at how funny it is that this idea became an actual patent.

    Because the patent process is sooooo slow, it makes the majority of patent submissions useless. A good patent submission is when you find an idea so unique that in 3 years, there will still be very few people that would even consider it, let alone file a patent for it. And it has to give such substantial gains over whatever is currently used that everyone will want to jump on the bandwagon and use it. Or the other option is to get your patents into standards, because then people are forced to use it. This in fact happens quite a bit, and usually the large companies build products to follow these standards, so Company A trades 5 patents to Company B for their 3 better patents, every one is even steven, and they go along their merry way.

    Anyway, there yah have it.
  • Student Software (Score:3, Informative)

    by cascadefx ( 174894 ) <morlockhq&gmail,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 [] called SCORE [] (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 [] dating back to 1997.

    The About SCORE [] 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.

  • Defensive patents? (Score:2, Informative)

    by The Second Horseman ( 121958 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2001 @10:47AM (#2441213)
    IBM has had defensive patents for years -- stuff they never intended to charge for, but they wanted to make sure someone else didn't screw them.

    During the IBM/Microsoft divorce, IBM was supposidly able to drop a big, thick pile of patents on the table to prevent Microsoft from really shafting them.

    Didn't IBM have a software patent way back on using the TAB key to move between fields in software? They never charged anyone for that one.

  • Re:What can be done? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Panaflex ( 13191 ) <{moc.oohay} {ta} {ognidlaivivnoc}> 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.

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

    by kilgore_47 ( 262118 ) <kilgore_47&yahoo,com> on Wednesday October 17, 2001 @12:22PM (#2441750) Homepage Journal
    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.
  • by MemeRot ( 80975 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2001 @12:37PM (#2441833) Homepage Journal
    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!
  • Re:Sorry IBM (Score:3, Informative)

    by hearingaid ( 216439 ) <> on Wednesday October 17, 2001 @03:33PM (#2442721) Homepage


    Why can't /. read patent claims? This patent [] (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.

I've got a bad feeling about this.