Spotted on WAP Today was this piece of news about a patent claim by Geoworks on aspects of WAP and WML. Geoworks have a page devoted to the claim and have written a detailed white paper. The patent was issued in 1994 and according to the abstract is:
A method for invoking a user interface for use with an application operating in a computer system which involves providing in the computer system a generic object class that corresponds to a class of function that is to be performed using the user interface; specifying in the application instance data in the form of a generic object specification that corresponds to the generic object class, the instance data including attribute criteria and hint criteria; providing in the computer system at least one specific user interface toolbox and controller that operates in the computer system to provide a selection of possible specific user interface implementations for use in performing the class of function; and providing in the computer system at least one interpreter that corresponds to the at least one specific user interface toolbox and controller.Now what does that all mean. At least we have the white paper which does go some way to clarifying it:
The Geoworks Patent is based on modern programming techniques where it is better to write application programs to a generic user interface specification rather than to a specific user interface specification. Before the invention of the Geoworks Flex UI, programmers would either implement an application’s user interface with a specific interface toolbox, thereby binding their application to that system and its limitations, or they would implement the interface in terms of a least-common-denominator abstract interface that didn’t allow their application to take advantage of any of the strengths of the systems on which the application would run. The Geoworks Flex UI took a different approach.Hmmm. Sounds suspiciously like a web browser to me. Read the full paper for more of the same. They also handily provide a table listing who is likely to infringe this patent: WAP-Enabled Wireless Telecom Services, WAP-Enabled Mobile Devices, WAP Microbrowsers, WAP-Enabled Servers, WAP Application Development Tools, Packaged WAP Applications, Custom WAP applications and Consulting, WAP ASPs, WAP sites. I think that just about covers the whole industry.
At the core of the Geoworks Patent is a unique abstraction of a program’s user interface. An application’s interface is defined in terms of generic user interface elements. Each element has a set of attributes that define its basic characteristics, as well as a set of hints, which give higher-level semantic information that tells the system the designer’s intentions.
When the application is run, an interpreter uses the attributes, hints, and the location of the generic user interface element to determine how the element can best be represented, given the features of the specific user interface. The attributes specify requirements that must be met, while the hints suggest characteristics the specific implementation may have, but they are not requirements; the specific user interface need only make a “best effort” to adhere to them. The generic elements are passed to a controller in the specific user interface to realize the generic element, using elements from the specific user interface toolbox, under the instruction of the specific user interface interpreter.
The licence fee for the patent is $20,000 per annum, but generously they state in a footnote: Companies with annual gross revenue of less than $1 million may be eligible for a fee waiver.. So that’s OK then, just 2% of revenue to host a WAP site.There is one saving grace though: there are only two patents – US and Japanese. Europe, WAP powerhouse that it is, isn’t covered. Of course this can only be good news for us Europeans: while the US and Japanese markets dry up under the terms of this patent, us GSM types will be forging ahead making the best use of our WAP phones.