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Scribbling On Digital Photos 134

JagsLive notes a patent application filed in the US by Nokia for a way to 'scribble on the back' of digital photos. Nokia's approach is similar to the iPod's Cover Flow, except that Nokia users will be able to flip through their snaps, select one, and then turn it over and annotate the back just using SMS-like text entry. The scribble becomes an integral part of the saved photo.
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Scribbling On Digital Photos

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  • An integral part of the photo, like Exif? Why didn't I think of that?

    Perhaps they are patenting the GUI flip? No one has done that before, except a GUI for every OS years ago.

    I know, it's a patent for a computer system that does all of the above! Brillian1.

    Someone please end software patents.

    • by BitterOldGUy ( 1330491 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @08:35PM (#25019415)
      laws, but in regards to software patents, I have to agree with you. I remember a day when software was covered by copyright and only copyright. So, if you could do the same function, only with completely different code, you had no problem. Of course now, with patents, "Hello world" could have been patented when it was first written. Or to extrapolate to physical inventions, Diesel would have run afoul of the internal combustion engine patents - if he didn't when he came out with his invention - my business history is a little fuzzy in this area.
    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @08:48PM (#25019547)

      Hey, it's a great idea! Photographers especially are going to love it. They'll be able to jot down the f-stop, aperture, time, date, camera, lens, whether they used a flash... you could even tag your photo with GPS coordinates! Imagine the possibilities!

      Er, or go to Flickr and look at them realized.

    • by Repton ( 60818 )

      It says "SMS-like text entry". Maybe they're enforcing text-speak :-)

    • So correct. I slapped together a scribble application in a matter of hours just a month ago and thought nothing of it. Admittedly it was for fire inspections on the Pocket PC so they could jot down the location / rough floor-plan of certain items, but it isn't that much of a stretch to apply it here. This does not fit into the 'not obvious to someone skilled in the art' clause of getting a patent at all.
    • by Speare ( 84249 )
      Now, if they had allowed scribbled "ink" to be stored in the EXIF, that might be interesting. Yes, you could see how to do it: take the ink bitmap or vectors for the annotation, uuencode or otherwise mime-like wrap it, and then stick that into the EXIF. But have you actually done it? That's non-trivial and non-obvious (until it's described). That would have been interesting. I just hope this posting serves as prior art to kill any such filing in the future.
      • by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @12:06AM (#25021095) Homepage Journal

        Exactly what I was thinking. Oh, and of course, I was also thinking that the place to do this is on REAL CAMERAS, not crappy cell phone cameras. Have a touch screen on the back of your DSLR and write with a stylus. That would actually be useful. This is a complete and utter waste of the patent office's time and energy.

        Basically, this is a beautiful, easy-to-understand example of why software patents are inherently wrong. First, it ensures that a potentially useful technology will only be available on the most utterly useless hardware. Second, it stifles further innovation in this area and harms the market as a whole by producing a host of competing standards that will not be interoperable. Third, it harms the public good by denying them access to what appears to be nothing more than a trivial lipstick-on-a-pig treatment to the EXIF comment tag because most people are locked into their phones and couldn't switch to Nokia even if they wanted to. Finally, it guarantees that few peope will bother to use the technology even on Nokia handsets because the people they send the photos to won't be able to decode the notes....

        Repeat after me: Thou shalt not patent thine file formats, nor thine XML dialects, nor thine EXIF tags.

      • by Sparr0 ( 451780 ) <> on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @02:19AM (#25021935) Homepage Journal

        why uuencode or mime? exif can contain binary blobs. see jpeg thumbnails.

      • by WNight ( 23683 )

        Non-obvious? How? Doing this (the simplest thing) avoids them having to interpret your scrawl, and use the thumbnail functionality built into the exif format.

        Maybe you just aren't a good judge of triviality...

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DustyShadow ( 691635 )

      An integral part of the photo, like Exif? Why didn't I think of that?

      Perhaps they are patenting the GUI flip? No one has done that before, except a GUI for every OS years ago.

      I know, it's a patent for a computer system that does all of the above! Brillian1.

      Someone please end software patents.

      First off, this is a patent application. That means it has not been granted yet. Second, I don't believe the problem is cause by software patents. The problem is that the examiners at the USPTO have very little time (I think less than a day per application) to decide whether to grant it or not. That usually isn't enough time to decide if there is prior art. Of course, this "invention" seems pretty obvious to everyone here. But who knows what kind of background the examiner has...

      So my point is that there m

      • by richlv ( 778496 )

        It's a problem with the entire system that can be fixed only by giving the USPTO more resources.

        or getting rid of software patents ?

    • I am intrigued by you application of the Exif-comments tag for the use of comments and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

    • Indeed, I think they have just patented a methaphor.

    • Besides, I can very well see being exciting virtually flipping my first 10 "photographs" to "see" what is written on the "back".

  • by Anonymous Coward

    How is this a novel invention? It sounds like little more than a graphical way to represent metadata.

  • PenguinScribbles. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Ostracus ( 1354233 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @08:14PM (#25019171) Journal

    I seem to remember an experimental Linux desktop that allowed you to flip a window and annotate on the back.

  • Wow... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by geekmux ( 1040042 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @08:14PM (#25019177)
    Steg with a patent. Seems that even 5-year old ideas can be "new" when wrapped with juicy patent goodness!
    • by Pofy ( 471469 )

      Any old idea can turn into a new patent simply by adding "with a computer" or "on the internet" to the old idea. I thought that was common knowledge...

  • by modemboy ( 233342 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @08:14PM (#25019183)

    Man, I thought we were past the days of "well established process" + "the internet" or + "a computer" = brand new shiny patent.
    Clearly the patent office hasn't learned anything, and apparently we have yet to exhaust the pool of basic processes that can be "reinvented" for a computer. Sad.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bgillespie ( 1228056 )

      Hey now, it's not directly the patent office's fault... yet. They do it wrong from time to time (I understate), but until it's more than just an application, don't go casting false aspersions.

      Although one must note that the history of the patent office of granting shoddy software patents probably does contribute to the piles of dreck that show up at their doorstep. After all, companies basically have to file for stupid patents in order to remain competitive against other companies with stupid patents.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        Similar to all the totally unbelievable scams you get in email today. You ask yourself if anyone is dumb enough to fall for that.

        Usually the answer is no. But someone was dumb enough to fall for a different scam but this is a shoddy imitation of it.

        I also love how all of them mention God like 8*10^32 times because they think we're all religious wackos in America (to be fair, statistically...)

    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @08:49PM (#25019559)

      We are. Now it's "+ a smart phone."

      Geez, keep up, hey?

  • Being able to attach descriptions to digital photos isn't a new concept. It may not have been done before on phones, but that's miles away from being significant enough to warrant a patent.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by pilgrim23 ( 716938 )

      now if it only came equipped with a bot who could sit through tedious hours of Uncle Fred and Aunt Tillie's vacation at Atlantic City and toss out pithy random thoughts to write on the back of each one. Think of the advances in civilization we would have!

  • Prior art de luxe (Score:1, Redundant)

    by sunny256 ( 448951 )
    We've had this for years. It's called EXIF data and file comments. I doubt my sloppy handwriting adds value to the data.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mcsqueak ( 1043736 )

      We've had this for years. It's called EXIF data and file comments. I doubt my sloppy handwriting adds value to the data.

      Exactly. Furthermore, I somehow doubt Nokia's photo flip/comment idea will be used by every device you view pictures on. What happens when you take a picture with your Nikon camera and then post it on Facebook, or send it to your in-law's email address? Will the comments show up as text below the image if the 'flip' function is not suppoted? EXIF is already wildly supported. This to me seems rather silly and pointless.

      Note to application designers: just because you can do it "real life", doesn't mean you

      • Note to application designers: just because you can do it "real life", doesn't mean you need to be able to do it on the computer. Please please please don't invent a "digital" Polaroid where I have to 'shake' the images with my mouse to have them show up on my screen...

        No, that would be ridiculous. Instead, you have to move your photos to the digital darkroom and run them through carefully mixed solutions to fix the image, hanging them up on a clothesline under the glare of a red light.

        • No, that would be ridiculous. Instead, you have to move your photos to the digital darkroom and run them through carefully mixed solutions to fix the image, hanging them up on a clothesline under the glare of a red light.

          I thought we did that already in Photoshop!

    • The JPEG standard itself (without EXIF) actually has a has a rarely used comments field. I built a web store management system that used it to caption photographs in the early 90's.
  • by compumike ( 454538 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @08:24PM (#25019299) Homepage

    Yes, this is crazy, but from reading the comments I think there are two things that need to be separated.

    1) This is bad because there is massive prior art,
    2) This is bad because it is a patent on a software concept.

    Which one is it? Number one seems to indicate legitimacy of the current patent system, and number two does not -- very different ideas, but I think slashdotters are conflating the two at the moment.

    Hey code monkey... learn electronics! Powerful microcontroller kits for the digital generation. []

    • Can we say this is bad because it is a patent on a software concept that has massive prior art?
      • Can we say this is bad because it is a patent on a software concept that has massive prior art?

        No, because it's not a patent. It's just a patent application.

    • by Nursie ( 632944 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @09:04PM (#25019697)

      There's a third -

      This is bad because it's trivial.

      Utterly trivial. The combination of something obvious (annotating pictures, been done since photography came around) and combining it with a little gui flip-trick. FUCKING WOW. I'M IMPRESSED.

      This is just dumb.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by amirulbahr ( 1216502 )
      Number two implies number one implies number two?
    • I think the key is that both #1 and 2 are correct. Patent clerks evidently think anything performed by a computer is completely separate and distinct from the physical world, and creative.

      They've lost their minds.

    • by lysergic.acid ( 845423 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @10:21PM (#25020345) Homepage

      i think you're missing the point.

      any moderately intelligent computer user sees how absurd this patent is because this is a trivial and non-innovative function. it's like patenting a drop down menu, 1-click checkout, or a pop-up window.

      patents were legally established to encourage innovation in a way that rewards inventors but would ultimately serve the public good. that is why they were designed to give inventors a financial incentives to provide ingenious solutions to complex problems, which would then be released into the public domain after the patent expired. and in this way, the patent system would nurture the spirit of innovation and grow the public corpus of technological knowledge.

      you can't claim a patent on self-apparent software features because they are obvious to any programmer who is looking to solve the same problem and thus do not qualify as personal inventions. whether it there is prior art plays no importance in this issue.

      if it's an obvious feature, and it's a common problem, then of course there will be prior art. but that's an incidental result. a patent for an obvious solution to a trivial but uncommon problem would be equally invalid regardless of whether there is prior art or not. so it has neither to do with prior art nor any fundamental issue against software patents.

      patents as these contribute nothing to society, nor do they add anything of value to the public corpus of human knowledge shared by our society.

      • It seems that half wit managers think everything they see coming from their "genius" workers is new and patentable. Any school child with an IQ below moron would be able to come up with Nokia's "ingenius" solution.

        Surely, attempting to patent something that is so obvious should actually atract huge fines, since even a patent application will waste an examiners time.

        Any computer application that just duplicates something from the analogue domain is plainly not patentable. This includes the mathematics/ar
        • by KGIII ( 973947 ) *

          First I will say that I'm a fan of the patent system in theory. In practice, in today's environment, I think it is flawed. However...

          It seems that half wit managers think everything they see coming from their "genius" workers is new and patentable. Any school child with an IQ below moron would be able to come up with Nokia's "ingenius" [SIC] solution.

          Err... They didn't. What do you base that assumption on? That they have the skillset? They have the code and mentality?

          I don't know what world you live on but on this one I am a parent, a good one it seems, and the best I can get is asking them, "Why did you call the teacher 'an idiot' loud enough so that she could hear you?" To which they respond, "I don't know, because she i

          • by WNight ( 23683 )

            You're asking your kids questions you already know the answer to. They called the teacher an idiot because they are, and because calling someone what they are is stress relieving compared to trying to stifle it. The same reason you'd call someone an ass.

            Instead of trying to trick them in some way, where they need to come up with a complex enough answer about human interactions to satisfy you, ask what their teacher did to justify it. You could then ask if they thought the world would work very well if every

            • by KGIII ( 973947 ) *

              Show me a primary school student writing this level of software. I'll wait.

              • by WNight ( 23683 )

                To the degree that you could input that resolution, one of my first program on the school's Apple //+, in the early 80s, was to let you trace a series of shapes (moving the cursor, tracing a line) and play the shape back, save it, etc. One of the popular things people did with it was write their own name, in a 40x25 attempt at cursive writing.

                It would be *far* easier to do this today. Open a canvas, accept mouse input and plot a pixel everywhere it's been, save the resulting image file by simply asking it t

      • Here's a note for what it's worth. I didn't read your post -- which I probably would otherwise have read, as it seems pithy enough -- because I couldn't be bothered to wade through the uncapitalized sentences. You might consider it a missed opportunity for someone to appreciate your thoughts. You also might not, up to you. :-)
    • Why can't it be both? We know the second, but the first is a practical means of getting as close to the second as we can for this patent.

    • It's not conflation. It's the A-Team classic pincer manuever.

    • I don't think there's any conflict in saying "You aren't playing by your own rules, which are stupid in the first place."

    • by Tom ( 822 )


      You can't seperate these two, really. The problem with software patents is the prior art thing. Software is like LEGO - you build new and cool things out of old and boring pieces. Except that in Software, your final result then becomes another LEGO piece for the next guy.

      Patents break the way that software evolves through and because of prior art. That's why they are bad.

    • by plumby ( 179557 )

      There is a third option somewhere between the two - even if it's not actually been done before, it's a clearly obvious extension of something that been (storing graphical metadata rather than just text metadata).

      Assuming that you agree with the idea of patents at all, there is possibly a place for software patents (there's plenty on here who will call foul when a company "steals" an idea that a small developer has just brought to the market) but if there is it needs to be for something a little more origina

  • Already exists. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Boogaroo ( 604901 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @08:28PM (#25019329) Homepage

    This already exists as EXIF comments in the jpegs. I can add these remarks and sort them using the comments in most modern photo viewing programs.

    The only "innovation" I can see here is the fact it makes a nice animation flipping the photo over. Hardly patent-worthy.
    Seriously, we need to have people that grant patents with some experience in the field they're granting patents.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by geekmux ( 1040042 )

      Seriously, we need to have people that grant patents with some experience in the field they're granting patents.

      Next thing you know, we'll be asking for those running for President of the United States to have like, you know, some real experience.

      Thank you, I'll be here all night.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Seriously, we need to have people that grant patents with some experience in the field they're granting patents.

      It hasn't been granted yet. It has simply been applied for, according to the summary. Patents do get denied sometimes (though definitely not as often as they should).

    • Does EXIF support an image? I'm not saying this is patent worthy, but its capabilities aren't truly covered by all of EXIF if EXIF only contains text. If I understand "scribbling" correctly, that would mean I can draw (basically append an image to my existing photo). Say I want to draw a map on how to get to this place where the photo is taken. I don't think EXIF currently supports that today.
      • that's not what they are talking about.

        scribble in this case, means they want to annotate using an sms-style text entry.

        EXIF certainly supports that. I don't believe nokia's patent will be granted.

        • by xigxag ( 167441 )

          No, it's more than just EXIF/SMS data ... the second link mentions using a stylus to scribble something in one's own handwriting.

          My own feeling is there is enough here which is non-obvious to easily be patented, if it turns out it hasn't been done before.

          Other options are:

          It has been done before, in which case someone can come up with prior art, the end.
          It hasn't been done before, because it's too stupid. In which case, no harm no foul if it's patented.

          Finally, I'd like to point out as others have done in

          • by WNight ( 23683 )

            And simple trivial things don't deserve patents... So while they could stuff a graphic of your handwriting into the thumbnail, so could anyone. It's what anyone would do, if asked to develop a handwriting image tagger.

            It took no brainpower to generate the idea and deserves no protection. Their first-mover advantage is all they have, and all they deserve.

      • by richlv ( 778496 )

        should every data type that could ever be put in, let's say database, be patentable ?

        "patent for putting sound in dabase"
        "patent for putting picture in dabase"
        "patent for putting smell signature in dabase"
        "patent for putting visible colour range in dabase"

        and, um, to answer your original question, exif metadata tags include thumbnail ;)

  • Spore beat them to it, and of course others too. Spore's png files also has the creature's save file in it as well, probably located just beyond the end of the file png's file. You can literally drag and drop a png picture from a webpage into spore and it'll add it.

    Hardly a novel idea. Pretty much any combination file type encompasses this patent. Adding text to a picture is by far the most basic usage possible.
  • by pintpusher ( 854001 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @09:18PM (#25019821) Journal

    Until it can make 8x10 color glossy photos with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was...


    output to a braille tty, well then, I'm just not interested.

  • How about somebody give the dust time to settle on this thread and then send it to the USPTO for their enlightenment?

    • It's only an application, and if it isn't laughed out of the USPTO, we need disband the USPTO.

      • by macraig ( 621737 )

        They're well past the point of that decision, aren't they? They've approved applications for so many moronic patents at this point that no one can keep track, not even them. I say we send them our "advice" purely on the reasonable assumption that they still haven't learned how to do a competent job of it.

  • What does it look like? A 3D animation of a photo flipping over? Amazing how a tech bubble can make the smallest piece of software be worth billions & billions of dollars and employ thousands of people.

  • Boy, that's just what I want to do when I'm on the run... take the time to flip the phone over, take out a stylus, and sloooooooowly scrawl a note using archaic gesture that might or might not be legible later.

    What I'd rather have is voice recognition in the phone that will annotate the photos for me. *snap* "Goose Rock Beach at sunset." *snap* "That tea shop on Front that I want to check out later." etc.

  • Every software company that has an 'idea' will file a patent with the knowledge that the USPTO has so many idiots working for it that it would grant a patent for a 'character-based communication system comprised of a graphite based inscription utensil and fibrous, cellulose based, recording medium'.
  • by Mr. Roadkill ( 731328 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @10:00PM (#25020191)
    Whether we like them or not, software patents have become a familiar and potentially damaging part of the legal landscape.

    Nokia obviously want to use this feature in their software, and don't want to be sued. Nobody else has staked out a claim for this particular concept, so Nokia filed a patent. If it's granted, Nokia get to use this feature and can claim a little bit of money from anyone else who chooses to do so. If it's knocked back on the grounds that it's obvious or that there's prior art and it's therefore unpatentable, then Nokia still get to use that feature without the risk of being sued. They win either way.
  • PalmOS (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    The very first thing which came to my mind is PalmOS. Its media viewer allows one to add a comment to the picture (saved in an annoying non-standard format; why can't it use EXIF?), by simply chosing "Info" on the menu while viewing it and filling the comment field. And you can even say it's "scribbling", since it's Graffiti 2.

    It doesn't have a flip effect, but adding a flip (or worse, rotating cube) effect to something shouldn't be enough to make it original.

  • Several phones, such as the V 402-SH (from year 2004) enabled the user to annotate pics shot via the phone. That is only halfway to the other side of the photo. Sharp also had in Dec 04 cellphones with haptics, with auto rotating displays, and with displays that turned silver ro normal an Harajuku girls could pretty-up without looking for a separate mirror. I saw/felt these first-hand in Tokyo. The USPTO better wake up and stop taking greed money, or else...

  • This was in Sun's LookingGlass interface already. (Among other things.)

    Too many patent lawyers, too few salt-covered bullets.

  • But Nokia is so short sighted. Far too attached to the physical world. I will at once file a patent for displaying different data depending on how the photo was flipped. Left to right, right to left, up/down, down/up and of course depending on the weekday and the current moon phase. Oh boy I will be soooo rich.
  • Maybe I missed it in the patent text, but this would be much more interesting if it was a way of inserting metadata by minutely altering encoding of a jpeg image. There's plenty of room for noise in a jpeg file, and this way the pictures could be posted and copied elsewhere whilst maintaining the notes *and* compatibility.
    • Still would not be worth a patent. This technique is called steganography and certainly nothing new.
  • Open a photo in Irfanview, press i and select Comment, now you can scribble as if you had a next gen Nokia.

    It just requires a new plug in to make the gui do a flip and display an empty sheet of paper with textures and all.

    Nokia; simplicity at management level.

  • I think we're all agreed that this is an absolute non-idea (displaying metadata - WOW!!!). But the post doesn't say that - it's reported as though it might be of interest to slashdotters. I'm intrigued because it was also reported in New Scientist as though it was some kind of big new idea and I thought exactly the same thing when I read it there - WTF!! Is it a plant by some tricksy press department or something?
  • This sounds like an overall bad idea. Having comments ("scribbles") attached to a picture is a great idea. We've already got that - the exif comments field.

    Now why take a good idea like having comments with a picture, and apply a physical restriction like flipping the picture over? By making people flip the picture over, they're making it impossible to see the comments and also see the picture at the same time.

    While it is a 'known' metaphor from the physical world, it's a bad one that restricts usability

    • I would not say it is so bad as you make it sound. It is just another type of eye-candy like transparent or wobbly windows. Some like things like that, others hate them. Nevertheless, trying to patents this is ridiculous.
      • by WNight ( 23683 )

        No, this is eye-candy that specifically separates the photo from the comments, making sure that no matter how big of a monitor you have you cannot see both critical elements at once. As such, it is broken.

  • How is this different, other than in hand-waving verbiage, than the comments you could add/embed in a GIF?


    • How is this different, other than in hand-waving verbiage, than the comments you could add/embed in a GIF?

      It's not. It's just a user interface to a comment field. A user interface that's got prior art in Croquet and Project Looking Glass.

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