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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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  • Prior Art (Score:4, Interesting)

    by _azure23 ( 238110 ) on Tuesday October 16, 2001 @11:11PM (#2439631) Homepage
    Sure, how about FrontPage97?
  • Re:Sorry IBM (Score:1, Interesting)

    by standards ( 461431 ) on Tuesday October 16, 2001 @11:16PM (#2439653)
    Oh, you'll have to share with me.

    I created HTML templates and then permitted users to modify the data sent to those templates via a web-based UI. That was sometime around 1995.

    I'm sure that a zillion other people have done the same long before me.

    Perhaps there's an aspect of the claim that I'm missing?
  • Prior art ... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jonku ( 472956 ) <jon&rapidgeneral,com> 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. [].

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

    by unfrgvnme ( 304410 ) on Tuesday October 16, 2001 @11:26PM (#2439701)
    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.
  • Re:Sorry IBM (Score:2, Interesting)

    by redcliffe ( 466773 ) on Tuesday October 16, 2001 @11:47PM (#2439777) Homepage Journal
    What they've patented is just a software wizard that does what I just said. That's not innovative enough IMHO to justify a patent.

  • by theancient2 ( 527101 ) on Tuesday October 16, 2001 @11:47PM (#2439778)
    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.)
  • 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.

  • Online Merchant (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Alien54 ( 180860 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2001 @12:05AM (#2439828) Journal
    Heck, there is this bit of software: Online Merchant []

    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 [], 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.

  • ????????/ (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?
  • 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:Interning at IBM (Score:1, Interesting)

    by zandar76 ( 225240 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2001 @12:42AM (#2439927)
    Companies don't always patent ideas with the evil intent of screwing other people out of money. It's fairly common for a company which is under fire from another enity for patent infringement to pull out something like this from their own patent library as a defense/trade. Sometimes a patent which is obviously not enforceable as a money generator will do just fine to deter other, similarly stupid patent claims against the parent company. Any company that ignores opportunities to add to this library is not behaving responsibly to their shareholders.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.*

  • Re:Interning at IBM (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 17, 2001 @01:35AM (#2440045)
    Errr. So your group had a product coming out in less than a year - and they wanted to make damn sure they had defensive patents in-place before the bar date hits???

    How is that bad again?

    And checking every angle. Again, how is that bad? Sounds like good business to me. Often in meetings, really off-the-wall ideas get thrown out. Most turn out to be real duds. And occasionally some will turn out to be awesome.

    Remember, patents are rather expensive to pursue. I bet most of those patent ideas were never executed on.


    btw- if you truly have IBM stock, you'd know the value IBM's patents play in their bottom line. Not just cross-licensing deals, but they also play a big part in building customer confidence and gaining wins. (fyi, customers like the fact that you won't be sued out of the marketplace)
  • Re:What can be done? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by awful ( 227543 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2001 @01:35AM (#2440048) Homepage
    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.
  • by winterlion ( 123214 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2001 @03:53AM (#2440240)
    I believe the original NCSA httpd delivered some templates for producing HTML but not sure.
    Looked on 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...
  • Public Review. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by kanayo ( 311491 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2001 @08:17AM (#2440657) Homepage
    This is so long overdue. We need to have a process in which applications for the issue of a patent are presented to the public for review on a web site before the patent is issued so that cases of prior art may be presented. It isn't easy being perfectly vigilant and informed about developments in technology so as to be better able to separate true and legitimate innovations from ridiculous applications, and indeed the USPTO has goofed up too many times to count.

    We desperately need better public review as such errors are immensely detrimetal to the advancement of society. This is the only way that the interests of the public can be more effectively protected against the horridly selfish and capitalistic schemes of these corporations.
  • Re:Sorry IBM (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Cratylus ( 156571 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2001 @08:21AM (#2440665)
    Not to mention that Microsoft was giving away copies of FrontPage 97 with copies of Windows NT 4.0.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 17, 2001 @09:11AM (#2440835)
    Look at USPTO # 6,163,779
    "Method of saving a web page to a local hard drive to enable client-side browsing"

    Granted almost a year ago on December 19, 2000.
    Why didn't THAT make the slashdot news?

  • Re:Interning at IBM (Score:3, Interesting)

    by peccary ( 161168 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2001 @09:50AM (#2440964)
    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?
  • 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?

  • Re:Sorry IBM (Score:2, Interesting)

    by H9000 ( 529061 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2001 @01:10PM (#2442031)
    IBM please have a look at Topspeeds CLARION
    Prog. Language, it is totaly template based.



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