You know Jakob Nielsen's old saying "users don't scroll?"
September 28, 2001 4:46 PM   Subscribe

You know Jakob Nielsen's old saying "users don't scroll?" Maybe it's because you'd be violating his patent if you did. You got mail? Nope, that's also Jakob's patent. When was the last time this site updated? Again, don't ask or you could owe Jakob. Did I misspell anything in this post? Don't hit the spellcheck button, or it's violation time again. And that's just the tip of the scary patent iceberg. Is it a good idea for Jakob to have all these patents on basic internet application functions?
posted by mathowie (23 comments total)
way to go jakob you cheap whore.
posted by jcterminal at 4:48 PM on September 28, 2001

I also forgot to ask why. Why does Jakob have any of these? Was it a condition of his employment at Sun? Was it an ego stroking thing? Why?
posted by mathowie at 4:50 PM on September 28, 2001

Is it a good idea for Jakob to have all these patents on basic internet application functions?

do you honestly think someone will answer "yes" to that question?
posted by eyere at 4:52 PM on September 28, 2001

I wonder if this one means he can potentially sue browser makers for implementing the title tag and alt tag popups?
posted by mathowie at 4:54 PM on September 28, 2001

This was semi-covered in his interview with Slashdot:

You are the holder (or co-holder) of quite a number of patents. Can Open Source software builders who construct, for example, something that "prints a hyperspacial document" or "updates visual bookmarks" expect to be hearing from your attorneys?

The literal answer is no, since "my" patents are actually not mine but owned by the company I worked for at the time. I cannot speak for the attorneys of Sun since I don't work there any more. But it is pretty standard for big computer companies to get as many patents as they can for basic reasons of self-defense: if somebody tries to come after you then you can fight back with your own patents. That usually does not mean that the company wants to go after smaller companies unless they attack first.

Deflect, spin, rinse, repeat...
posted by jackstamp at 4:56 PM on September 28, 2001

I work for a company (CH2M HILL) that has patented an stuff (such as air-high-purification), then let others use the patents for a nominal (very, very nominal) fee.


So that other companies didn't patent the technologies themselves and force everyone to pay huge amounts of money for technology that should be largely available.

It is possible that Jakob patented these so that no-one would ever go on weird lawsuit rampages (ala British Telecom). Unlikely, but possible.
posted by Neale at 5:01 PM on September 28, 2001

I hate Jakob more then Harry Knowles. He's all preachy... what are his credentials besides interface design? Interface design revolves around UI for programs (pretty sure on this). The web is a whole different thing. If he was an art major, illustrator, graphic designer, et al I'd have more respect for him. Also if users don't scroll, why do I see extensive use of scroll bars on his web page?

Not to mention on his bio page the small text at the very bottom of his bio page with different spellings of his name.
posted by geoff. at 5:05 PM on September 28, 2001

That is actually extremely common in the industry, and it is indeed done primarily for self defense. I used to work at Tektronix, way back when, and one time Texas Instruments started flexing its muscles about something-or-other. It turned out that Tektronix had acquired a company called Sintra who owned some basic patents about electronic calculators. What it amounted to was that at that time everyone who wanted to make an electronic calculator either had to license the Sintra patents (through Tektronix) or patents from HP. Tek had been licensing those patents for a dollar per year, and TI was then a big maker of calculators which needed the Sintra patents.

So Tektronix quietly let TI know that if it didn't shut up, Tek would cease licensing it and shut TI's calculator product line down. And TI did shut up.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 5:08 PM on September 28, 2001

Geoff: when you manipulate a web page, you're driving a piece of code that lives on a web server. The fact that the UI lives on your machine and the application logic lives on the server is irrelevant - that's been true of the X Window System for decades, and nobody accuses that of being a "whole different thing". Web design has a lot to do with program UI design; excessive emphasis on the "it's just like print, only interactive" point of view seems to be what makes web pages unusable. (Excessive emphasis on the "it's just like a program" point of view merely produces functional, boring pages - a far less serious problem...)

posted by Mars Saxman at 5:16 PM on September 28, 2001

Previously covered:
"I think Jakob Neilsen owns patents for some sort of hyperlinks. I need to reread his patents page to figure out which ones are the more idiotic ones." [here]

"I believe Jakob Nielsen owns a patent for any e-mail system with a built in 'confirmation' system. That is.. you can specify that you want to get a confirmation that the other person has received the e-mail, even if they don't reply to it." [here]
Has Jakob sued anyone in defense of his patents, yet?
posted by tamim at 5:23 PM on September 28, 2001

this gets at the larger issue of whether existing patent law is good for the technology/Internet industry. If I remember correctly, right now you can patent almost any new technology -- the patent office has far too little staff to look into every claim closely enough. Moreover, some companies' and individuals' strategy of patenting everything they come up with discourages innovation in the long run -- other companies can invest millions in open-ended research only to discover that the new technologies they invent are similar to others that someone else patented before, and they're out of luck.

Moreover, often the party holding the original patent doesn't even have a clue what it might be good for. This is particularly tricky when it comes to patenting discoveries in genetics -- a drug company might discover a great gene therapy technique (which might save millions of lives) but not pursue it because someone else owns (or might own) a patent on some aspect of it.

I can only recall the generalities here, though -- if anyone knows the specifics, I'd be interested....
posted by mattpfeff at 5:26 PM on September 28, 2001

the patent office should 'hire' slashdot or some other community as a research team [mob]. Instead of distrubuted computing, it would be distributed research.
posted by th3ph17 at 5:35 PM on September 28, 2001

[whoops, forgot to patent the idea]

Wide Area Distributed Research Mob
(c)2001 th3ph17, MeFi patent pending
posted by th3ph17 at 5:38 PM on September 28, 2001

th3ph17, while I would question the sanity of anyone who would hire SlashDot to do anything other than drive a lot of traffic to their site, there's always BountyQuest.
posted by jaek at 5:46 PM on September 28, 2001

*Yawn.* Routine Jakob bashing. These patents are old news, no different than any other patents tech people and companies hold. This is only news should Jakob try to enforce one.
posted by fleener at 6:17 PM on September 28, 2001

mathowie, what else do you think about Jakob's dogmas? Have you read his book? Seriously. I'm curious.
posted by greyscale at 9:05 PM on September 28, 2001

mathowie, what else do you think about Jakob's dogmas? Have you read his book? Seriously. I'm curious

Yeah, I've read his book. For the most part the things he says are generally right, but what I really object to is the way he says them. He'd say something like "all pages should be white and links should be blue" as if it's an edict from on high. Where professionals that work every day on the web would say "best background and link color? that would depend on the type of site, the intended audience, the goals, etc" I've never heard Jakob say "it depends" and acknowledge there are no absolutes in anything, only compromises.

If you want to learn about usability, read Steve Krug.
posted by mathowie at 9:13 PM on September 28, 2001

mathowie I agree. Thanks for responding.
posted by greyscale at 9:23 PM on September 28, 2001

Not only is Steve Krug's book an excellent source of information on usability, it is one of the most usable books I've read about any subject. I'm also impressed with the National Cancer Institute's pages on usability regarding web sites. For an even broader view of usability, there's a great site on univeral usability.

Regarding patents, it's definitely getting out of hand. A nice summary and analysis of the law can be found on a page entitled The Patentability of Internet Business Methods:
A Systematic Approach to Evaluating Obviousness
. But even with scholarly legal approaches towards solving the patent system's problems, abuses do happen. For instance, in May, a man in Australia received a patent for a circular transportation facilitation device.
posted by bragadocchio at 12:24 AM on September 29, 2001

curious -- when do these patents expire? i forget how long one gets to hold these things ... 7 years?
posted by meep at 4:20 AM on September 29, 2001

I think patents are more in the 20 year range, aren't they? Prozac's patent just expired, and it's been on the market since the 80s.
posted by tankboy at 8:04 AM on September 29, 2001

In the United States, the length of a patent protection varies depending upon the type of patent; a utility patent is now 20 years, a design patent is 14 years, and a plant patent is 20 years.

When the patent was applied for can also make a difference - patents filed in 1994 or earlier may be good for only 17 years instead of 20. Delays that occur before the issuance or before the expiration of the patent may also add to the time - so if it takes 8 years before a patent is issued, the expiration could be 28 years from the date of filing, and would mean that the patent's protection ran for 28 years.

There are also maintenance fees involved in some types of patents that, if they aren't paid can cause the patent to expire early. Some types of patents can expire as early as four years after issuance for failure to pay maintence fees.

The effect of the expiration of a patent? Once it expires, the invention is in the public domain.
posted by bragadocchio at 11:29 AM on September 29, 2001

>>I also forgot to ask why. Why does Jakob have any of these? Was it a condition of his employment at Sun? Was it an ego stroking thing? Why?<<

Actually my grandfather and father-in-law have several patents from their careers in chemistry and mechanical engineering. Quite a few of those patents were for trivial modifications of production processes. At least from their descriptions it looked like filing for patents was pretty much standard operating procedure for corporate research and development. If you have an idea that looks new, you file a patent. Perhaps it will be a cash cow, perhaps not. Either way you sign away your intellectual property rights at the door so even though your name is on the patent.

But I don't know if anyone actually bothered to read any of the links, but none of the patents cited belong to Jakob Nielsen. Instead the "assignee" is listed as Sun Microsystems, Inc.. This means that Nielsen doesn't get anything from those patents other than a line on his resume and a bunch of old paystubs. He can't "sue" or "enforce" the patents. And in fact, it is likely that Sun Microsystems, Inc., can sue Jakob Nielsen if he should ever use the technology described in the patents.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:47 PM on September 29, 2001

« Older Never post another Onion link again!   |   Oysterhead Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments