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Apple Files Patent for Translucent Windows 845

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the nobody-does-it-better dept.
jpkunst writes "John Kheit at Mac Observer reports on US Patent Application No. 20040090467, published on May 13, 2004, in which Apple filed a patent application for 'Graduated visual and manipulative translucency for windows.'" Begin the hunt for prior art! It's a challenge to find a non-Apple translucent window that isn't just a snippet of desktop wallpaper pasted in the background.
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Apple Files Patent for Translucent Windows

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  • by Cyberllama (113628) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @09:28AM (#9160850)
    Or are we all going to change our stance because its Apple?

    It'll be interesting to see how the opinions on Slashdot differ from if any other company tried this sort of garbage.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 15, 2004 @09:33AM (#9160902)
      It's sad that the world's coming to all these patents but if Apple doesn't patent this some other company might. Given Apple's involment in the open source community with Darwin, http://www.opensource.apple.com/ , I would rather see them with a patent for this than some company based on patents only.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 15, 2004 @09:45AM (#9161008)
        It's sad that the world's coming to all these patents but if Apple doesn't patent this some other company might.

        No, that's a mistake a lot of people make. If Apple really did do it first then no one else can patent it anyway (prior art).

        The whole idea of patenting software (especially "look and feel" shit) is retarded.
        • by roady (30728) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @10:03AM (#9161142)
          If Apple really did do it first then no one else can patent it anyway (prior art).

          This is not true.

          The proof being that it it was, we wouldn't be looking for prior art in the first place. Don't expect the guys at the patent office to do it correctly.

          That said, it is far easier to get a patent than trying to fight somebody suing you for patent infringement and trying to prove you have prior art.

        • by Xhad (746307) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @10:03AM (#9161143) Homepage Journal
          No, that's a mistake a lot of people make. If Apple really did do it first then no one else can patent it anyway (prior art).

          Ideally, that's what's supposed to happen. In the real world, someone might get a patent passed even if they're not legally entitled to it, then force Apple into a litigation battle to prove prior art that will cost them money whether they win or lose...whereas if they get the "defensive" patent, they can simply say, "We patented this too, and we patented it first," which is simpler.

          • by Erore (8382) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @10:48AM (#9161415)
            I'll preface this by saying I really know nothing much about patents or patent litigation.

            But, if company X really wanted to get a patent for defensive reasons, then why not get the patent through a shell company whose sole purpose is to hold patents neutrally.

            I mean, we could have a company called Openpatents. Apple, IBM, Sun, Microsoft, and so on could file for patents through this organization and the organization would be patent holders. The charter of the organization would be to make sure that the ideas of these patents remain open and freely available to everyone. They will "fight" against other companies that try to create infringing patents, but they don't care if anyone else uses the actuall techonology.

            So, a company like Apple, in the case of this translucent window thing could file for the patent through Openpatents. By doing so we would all know that they don't intend to be evil b*stards with th e patent, instead they just want to make sure they don't get screwed when Microsoft files the patent next year.

            If Apple files the patent through the regular process, then we know that they are reserving the right to sue people latter on who try to impinge upon the patent.

            • by kalidasa (577403) * on Saturday May 15, 2004 @11:42AM (#9161724) Journal
              Because Openpatents wouldn't have done the work. Sure, you could file for the patents on your own behalf and then *transfer* them to such an organization, but Openpatents wouldn't have standing to file the patent itself.
              • by tepples (727027) * <tepples AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday May 15, 2004 @12:36PM (#9162059) Homepage Journal

                I am neither a patent agent nor a lawyer, but I have read about the patent process and learned the following:

                U.S. patent applications always name one or more individual inventors, and they usually name an assignee. Engineers' employment contracts typically require an employee to name her employer as assignee in any patent on an invention developed with the employer's resources. The shorthand "Foo Corp filed a patent for the baz process" means "An employee of Foo Corp filed a patent for the baz process, using a patent lawyer retained by Foo Corp, naming Foo Corp as assignee."

            • by MyDixieWrecked (548719) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @12:07PM (#9161900) Homepage Journal
              I believe you can request a patent anonymously, which is precisely that.

              I remember there being an article about a pharmecudical (yeah, I can't spell) company that got one for some treatment so that no one else would be able to patent it and it would be openly available and published.

            • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 15, 2004 @01:05PM (#9162233)
              But, if company X really wanted to get a patent for defensive reasons, then why not get the patent through a shell company whose sole purpose is to hold patents neutrally.

              I mean, we could have a company called Openpatents.

              What you do instead is to publish your invention. That way, you don't have to pay the fees to the patent office or to the specialists who typically write the acual prose of the application; but nobody else can patent it.

              (Yes, I have invented things and had US patents issued for them. I have also published some inventions.)

        • by AmericanInKiev (453362) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @11:42AM (#9161723) Homepage
          What is stupid is failing to realize that computers are just another medium, and that "fading one image into aother image" has been a common practice since the first slide projector was built.

          Having experimented with every imaginable transition, I would suggest that none is so natural as the gentle fade. Perhaps because it mimics to some extent the sliding of the sun behind a cloud - thus "fading one scene into another" naturally.

          From this shared experience we project "fading" into amorphic examples "Summer fading into fall".
          "Love fading", fading youth etc.

          But the quintessential fade - I believe is caused by the sun passing behind a cloud - that noticible relief - or some times chill and the effect it has on the emotions as a result of frequency of the change relative to the bodies ability to accomodiate change without notice has this marked effect which we cary into our language and seek to replicate in the virtuality of the computer.

          AIK

          • by TerminalInsanity (720167) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @01:35PM (#9162361) Homepage
            3. The computer system of claim 1, further comprising: a cursor control device for coordinating user input via a cursor displayed in said graphical user interface; wherein said cursor operates on contents of said window when said window is in said opaque state, and said cursor operates on objects underlying said window when said window is in said first translucent state.


            They are trying to patent the ability to turn one window transparent, and manipulate the windows under it, without the transparent window 'dropping' below the ones you are manipulating.

            I dont think that type of thing has ever been done before...

            Perhaps software patents should have a much shorter life span? (say, 3 years?) it would give the company that 'discovered' it time to develop the 'technology' first, but wouldent blanket the whole computing industry for too long
        • If Apple really did do it first then no one else can patent it anyway

          Well, NO if they did, they would have had to do it before 1990, when I saw it done by people working at Cambridge University Maths Lab, and whoever did do it first, the patent would have run out by now.

          • by jkabbe (631234) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @02:30PM (#9162625)
            Well, NO if they did, they would have had to do it before 1990, when I saw it done by people working at Cambridge University Maths Lab, and whoever did do it first, the patent would have run out by now.

            If you invent something and keep it secret but do not follow through on the invention by publishing it or selling it (or otherwise making it public) or file for a patent you have abandoned your invention. Someone who comes along later and invents the same thing is entitled to a patent on that invention.

            The lesson is, if you invent something and don't want a patent you have to publish.
      • by swb (14022) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @10:35AM (#9161317)
        ...so typical, it almost seems like a troll. I believe this is what the grandparent poster [slashdot.org] was looking for.

        but if Apple doesn't patent this some other company might. Given Apple's involment in the open source community with Darwin, http://www.opensource.apple.com/ , I would rather see them with a patent for this than some company based on patents only.

        This is the usual Apple apology. Apple is the "good" company, and otherwise "bad" behavior is OK for them to pursue, since an evil company [microsoft.com] might patent it first, and we all know that Apple never does anything evil. Oh, and they're involved in open source, too, which makes them even more of a "good" company, unlike some other evil [hp.com] companies [ibm.com] who aren't involved in supporting open source at all.

        It's all fairly typical of the excuse making by Apple followers who otherwise masquerade as FOSS zealots in other threads.
        • by dustmite (667870) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @09:15PM (#9164546)

          This is the usual Apple apology. Apple is the "good" company, and otherwise "bad" behavior is OK for them to pursue, since an evil company might patent it first, and we all know that Apple never does anything evil. Oh, and they're involved in open source, too, which makes them even more of a "good" company, unlike some other evil companies who aren't involved in supporting open source at all.

          I'm afraid I don't see the problem in this.

          Like people, companies are neither "good" nor "evil", but have bits of both. However some people have lots of good and a little evil, others have lots of evil and not so much good. Microsoft have done gazillions of "evil" things and very few good things. Apple however are mostly good. We accept companies that are mostly good, and even forgive them the occasional transgression.

          Is that so hard to understand?

          It's the same with people. If your girlfriend mostly pleases you, then you don't mind so much if she pisses you off once in a while - in fact you see it as normal in a relationship. But if she pisses you off very often, and is hardly ever nice, then you start to dislike her and after a while show her the door, and at this point every little annoying thing she does makes you angry, because she has no "goodwill capital" left to burn, and she doesn't deserve forgiveness because she hasn't tried to be nice.

          Sorry, but I don't see the problem with that, nor with that something similar should apply to how we perceive and tolerate companies in our lives.

        • by AvantLegion (595806) on Sunday May 16, 2004 @01:41AM (#9165425) Journal
          People are not afraid of Apple holding patents, because Apple doesn't have a track record of abusing them.

          You misunderstand what the "bad" behavior is. Holding the patent isn't it. It's what gets done with it.

    • Uh, well (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 15, 2004 @09:41AM (#9160981)
      Last I checked the anger around here doesn't seem to be outrage at companies holding patents. It's outrage at companies using patents.

      Apple patents practically everything they work with but very, very, very rarely uses any of these patents. In fact if you look at their intellectual property actions, some of them are kind of morally dubious but they almost never involve patents. Even when they're making legal threats against things which actually violate patents they hold-- for example, Aqua skins for other OSes-- they tend to choose to base their legal complaints on means other than patents, other forms of intellectual property.

      Since history shows that Apple tends not to use patents they hold, I don't see any problem with them holding a bad patent. This is probably just the old "defensive patent" technique, where someone patents something just to make sure no one else can claim it was stolen, or to build up a "patent shield".

      Of course, it's very easy that someday all the big software companies could choose to start using their defensive patents offensively, and the patent shields would become a shieldwall blocking any small companies from entering the business. But at the moment that's just a hypothetical, and Apple has no more or fewer frivolous patents than any other large software company, pretty much. We don't get pissy at those other such companies, for example IBM. Therefore not getting pissy at Apple would appear to be the consistent thing to do?

      But the prior art search is still a good idea! It's good to have these things as clearly documented as possible in case spurious claims ever did wind up happening.
      • by Sanity (1431) * on Saturday May 15, 2004 @10:00AM (#9161114) Homepage Journal
        The existence of a patent can have a chilling effect on innovation, even if you don't use it (would you build your house on a remote-control landmine - even if the person that planted it promised they wouldn't press the button?).
        • by Twirlip of the Mists (615030) <twirlipofthemists@yahoo.com> on Saturday May 15, 2004 @10:32AM (#9161299)
          The existence of a patent can have a chilling effect on innovation

          That is the most specious argument I've ever heard.

          The possibility of acquiring a patent, and thereby a guaranteed source of revenue, is what spurs innovation.

          I know that this is going to piss a lot of people off, but I'm gonna say it anyway because I believe it's true: the people doing the innovating, software-wise, are the people who are doing it for profit. Yes, there are exceptions; there are amazing and wonderful innovations that have arisen from people who were doing it just for fun. We even have a name for this kind of thing: "serendipity."

          But for the most part, the profit motive is what drives innovation. Patents are essential to that process.

          This whole "Send out the dogs! Begin the search for prior art! Kill the pigs! Fly, my pretties, fly!" thing is sickening. It's disgustingly hostile to people who work for a living to make new things, and it arises from nothing more than a misguided meme that ownership is immoral and must be stopped. It really bugs me, ya know?
          • by sydb (176695) * <michael@w d 2 1 . c o .uk> on Saturday May 15, 2004 @10:51AM (#9161437)
            ownership is immoral and must be stopped

            Ownership of ideas relating to software is immoral and must be stopped.

            The major barrier to entry in the field of software development is inherently intellectual, not financial. I don't need to spend money on scarce resources like raw materials and factories to produce software; I need time, a computer, and a brain. Therefore the natural initial outlay for software development is much lower than for the production of tangible goods.

            This means that the development of software is not inherently restricted to those with money - rich people, and companies.

            This is good for society - a wealth of intellectual commons is created, because it can be done by just about anyone with the motivation, time and know-how.

            Patents in software place an artifical barrier on software development, raising the bar to those with the money to license patents - rich people, and companies. This restricts growth of the intellectual commons, and restricts how people with the motivation can spend their time.
            • by Fnkmaster (89084) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @12:08PM (#9161903)
              Hmm, scarcity of resources is part of the equation, but it's not all of it. Computers are tools, like a machine shop or CAD design tool, and brains and skill are human resources.


              I should point out that the development of designs for many kinds of real-world products is not restricted inherently to those with lots of money either. If you have skills in mechanical engineering, designing a real-world patentable product is no harder than it is for a good software developer to code up any variety of software products - and they use the same tools you mention, brains and computers. A lot of people on Slashdot seem to think software development is inherently easier because they understand the process, and they don't understand other engineering processes. You don't need to actually manufacture anything to obtain a patent on a design for a physical product either (and yes, perhaps that should be a point up for debate too, but I'm talking about the way the system was designed from the outset).


              The real difference seems to be that other types of patents are usually subjected to greater scrutiny, AND critically that product development and release cycles outside of the software world are much, much longer (you can design products till the cows come home, but getting it to market and seeing if people want it takes much more time - getting software to market involves putting it up on your website, buying some ads, etc.). Software gets dumped on the market so fast due to the lack of need for machining, tooling, production line setup, and so on, that the industry is 10 steps ahead by the time a patent gets issued, and the ideas behind the patent were so broadly disseminated and used it's quite difficult to figure out who's ideas they even were in the first place. And if you could attribute ownership to them, what damage does it to the market to force lots of products already on the market off because Joe Schmoe happened to get his application to the patent office first (often seemingly patenting something he saw in some other software product or paper first).


              So instead of rewarding true innovation, software patents seem to reward patent squatters who track market trends, find a popular product that seems to be doing well, and then patent the innovations that product brought to bear whether or not they actually created that product. The creators, often as not, don't patent it themselves first because they don't perceive what they did as patentable. Then you get things like e-commerce or hyperlinks being issued patents that nobody knows about or takes seriously for years, such that an entire economy has been built around it which is put at risk, and many people's jobs and livelihoods can be ruined.


              Incidentally, I don't know if the solution is to get rid of them entirely. But clearly software patents are broken as they exist right now.

          • by Jerf (17166) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @10:54AM (#9161451) Journal
            The possibility of acquiring a patent, and thereby a guaranteed source of revenue, is what spurs innovation.

            This is the theory.

            It is shockingly short of evidence that it actually motivates anyone in the software industry, if you discount mere assertion like your post.

            The software industry was thriving before patents were allowed, and there's no particular evidence they help any actual innovaters now, either, except again, mere assertion.

            And you still don't answer the possibility that it both spurs and retards innovation... and given the lack of evidence that patents have helped anyone in the software domain (where by the time you have the patent it's old news anyhow), whereas the evidence of patents being used to quench innovation lies in nearly every lawsuit ever filed w.r.t. software patents (the majority of the large cases have been submarine patents, or patents for which the justification for the lawsuit boggles the mind), the bulk of the evidence would seem to be on the "quench" side.

            (Like the one-click patent, when Amazon sued B&N: Did B&N still Amazon's code in the night? The systems are more likely night-and-day different, to the point that experience on one would only be marginally useful in understanding the other, yet since Amazon apparently patented an entire concept, B&N had to stop using their one-click implementation. Note, in passing, this is another failing of the patent system in the software domain: Patents are supposed to encourage alternate implementations of similar things, but that's not possible in patents. See here [jerf.org] for expansion on that point.)
          • I for one have no objection to patents in general, but I do object to overly broad patent claims on software algorithms. Patent law is clear: you can't own an idea, only a specific implementation. Before the information age, this was a clear distinction. But with software, the difference is not clear at all. After all, any software implementation ultimately comes down to a series of ideas, expressed as computer code.

            For this reason, I believe it is inappropriate to allow patent claims on software; we
          • by roard (661272) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @11:26AM (#9161639) Homepage
            The possibility of acquiring a patent, and thereby a guaranteed source of revenue, is what spurs innovation.

            Wrong. It's the idea, but it's not what actually happend. In fact, patents were NOT created to incite inventors to invent, because, face it, inventor invented things well before patents. Patents were created as a tradeoff with inventors, because at the time (industrial revolution), there was a big problem : inventors invented things, but kept the recipe secret, to have an edge over the competition. Thus, patents was a deal with governments : "give us the secret (the patent) and you'll have a state monopoly for a certain period". Patents were created so inventors explained their invention. Patents were NOT necessary as an incentive to innovate, but as an incentive to SHARE the discovery with the society.

            Now, in our modern world, you should perhaps understand that it's quite rare to have people looking for patents in order to understand a discovery. Nineteen century patents were wonderfully done, for most of them. Now patents are legal giberrish totally encrypted for a normal engieneer. In fact, in most companies, the motto is to NOT look at patents, for fear of legals battels. Explain to me then what's the goal of patents !

            Plus, in the case that interests us, it's not "normal" patents, but Software patents. With software patents we're in a totally different realm, the one of pure thought. Instead of describing a method of doing something, people now describe the idea of doing something. This shift is absolutely scary. Add that the fact that the application process is incredibly bad (many patents are accepted dispite prior art, or dispite an innovative part), and the fact that the software "industry" innovations works at the scale of months or a few year, not the twenty-something years awarded by a patent... And you have a BIG problem as a software engineer. Frankly, look at the actual history of software engineering and show me how many cases where a patent actually profited to the whole industry ? (and even if it could happend, is it worth the price ?) And, will you argue that the software industry perfectly innovated before software patents ?

            In fact, if software patents were 1) awarded by real experts 2) limited to say, 4-5 years 3) and submarine patents were illegal 4) and describe actually a method and not an idea, then, yes, perhaps software patents would be a good incentive to innovation (even if we innovate perfectly without them). But face it, it won't happend, and with their current state, they actually do more harm than good. I also fear something, if SP pass in EU, big companies will have a clear field, and I think that's when the situation will run amok.

            But for the most part, the profit motive is what drives innovation. Patents are essential to that process.

            Sure, but protifs rarelly involves patents.

      • Re:Uh, well (Score:5, Interesting)

        by dhovis (303725) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @10:06AM (#9161162)

        for example, Aqua skins for other OSes-- they tend to choose to base their legal complaints on means other than patents, other forms of intellectual property.

        Actually, in the case of the Aqua skins, I believe Apple's complaints had to do with copyright and trademark, not patent. In fact, I think the Aqua skins that they C&D'd were ones that actually copied the bitmaps of the elements directly from the files in MacOS X, which is pretty clear copyright infringement. I believe that Apple doesn't care if people try to recreate the Aqua look on their own, they just don't want people copying their files.

      • Re:Uh, well (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ad0gg (594412)
        Last I checked the anger around here doesn't seem to be outrage at companies holding patents. It's outrage at companies using patents.

        WTF website your been reading? Any time there's article about microsoft filing a patent, people go on a rampage. When was last the time you saw MS use their patents? Most of the large companies file defensive patents, IBM, Microsoft, Sun etc. Yet slashdot gets all stir crazy whenever its microsoft.

    • by segfault_0 (181690) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @09:41AM (#9160983)
      Nope its still bad.

      I can understand why though, without their GUI to set them apart what do they really have to offer? With Linux making some slight headway into the desktop market, and appearing to be ready to take up Microsoft slack if and when it appears, Apple will be hard pressed over the next few years to solidify their stance on such issues as much as possible.

      Not to mention that Microsoft will patent everything [eweek.com] if Apple doesn't. Are they competeing with software or patent portfolios... or is there a difference these days?
    • by Raven42rac (448205) * on Saturday May 15, 2004 @09:57AM (#9161095)
      I love Apple. But come the hell on, a patent on transparency? Why not a patent on the one-button mouse? Or little jewel looking buttons. Isn't imitation the sincerest form of flattery? I, for one, would think I was doing something right if someone emulated a design I made. This is not a fundamental part of the OS or anything, so I think it is a waste of time. If all these companies would stop worrying about patenting buttons or hyperlinks or transparent windows, the computing world would be a better place. This post was written on a 12" PB G4 1GHZ, so I am no Apple basher.
  • by Y! (109179) * on Saturday May 15, 2004 @09:28AM (#9160853)
    https://sourceforge.net/project/shownotes.php?rele ase_id=142811

    Trillian also has it, but I don't know when they added it. I thought win2k also had it built in when it came out.
    • This isn't just regular transparency. I know people don't read the freaking article, but this is it in a nutshell:

      *** WINDOW GETS MORE AND MORE TRANSLUCENT AS IT'S USED LESS ***

      It's the time dependency which is the invention they're patenting here.
  • by aardvarko (185108) <webmaster.aardvarko@com> on Saturday May 15, 2004 @09:29AM (#9160856) Homepage
    Yeah, I've got some windows with graduated transparency that can be manipulated. They're in my FREAKIN' CAR.
  • Enlightenment (Score:4, Insightful)

    by canolecaptain (410657) * on Saturday May 15, 2004 @09:31AM (#9160873)
    I know that the enlightenment window manager had translucent windows in the late 90's. Anyone have a time stamped picture from way back then? Perhaps in the internet way back archives...
    • Re:Enlightenment (Score:4, Informative)

      by .com b4 .storm (581701) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @07:34PM (#9164114)

      I know that the enlightenment window manager had translucent windows in the late 90's

      To the best of my recollection, those translucent windows only showed the desktop background, not other windows that were behind the translucent ones. I'm not sure if that counts in this case - I haven't looked at what Apple is patenting here. But none of the translucent windows I saw on Linux showed anything but the background. Contrast this to Apple's Terminal app, which shows windows underneath. And this translucency is real-time: if the window is playing video or something, it shows through.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 15, 2004 @09:33AM (#9160893)
    See MacSlash [macslash.org] for more of them
  • by ErnstKompressor (193799) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @09:33AM (#9160905) Homepage
    and the announcement that Longhorn will feature a heavily translucent interface -- Aero Glass [geeknewz.com]?
  • by LaserLyte (725803) * on Saturday May 15, 2004 @09:36AM (#9160932)
    I only briefly skimmed the article, but it seems to me that this isn't as broad as it initially seems.

    The translucency can be graduated so that, over time, if the window's contents remain unchanged, the window becomes more translucent. In addition to visual translucency, windows according to the present invention also have a manipulative translucent quality. Upon reaching a certain level of visual translucency, user input in the region of the window is interpreted as an operation on the underlying objects rather than the contents of the overlaying window.

    So, the windows fade with time (if they are not used much), and the windows below are phased above the fading window... Rather than just plain old tinted windows.

    I personally have never experienced anything like this, it sounds like it could be useful... or maybe I'm just behind the times :)
    • MOD PARENT UP (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 15, 2004 @09:45AM (#9161010)
      Yes, someone who RTFA!

      For crying out loud, they are attempting to patent a very particular behavior of a window. One that I have NEVER seen used in an OS or app before, so I doubt you will find prior art specific enough to invalidate the patent.

      This does do something interesting though... give people a peek into what is coming up in MacOS X 10.4
    • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Saturday May 15, 2004 @09:50AM (#9161038) Homepage Journal
      Mod parent up, and mod submitter of the story and approving editor (Hi, CN!) down. This is not about translucent windows, it's about translucent windows used in a certain specific way. It's going to be a lot harder to find prior art for this one.

      jpkunst, I know you were in a hurry to get a story submitted to and accepted by slashdot. I can imagine the scene now; Palms moist, you rush to type a compelling, FUD-spreading (same thing, around these parts) story which will be sure to get your story accepted! And in your mad rush, you don't even bother to read the patent application. If you're going to link something, you should really read it in its entirety to find out if it contradicts your story.

      If you want to complain about Apple patenting translucent windows, perhaps you should examine U.S. Pat. No. 5,949,432 [uspto.gov], entitled "Method and Apparatus for Providing Translucent Images on a Computer Display", which is referred in Patent application 20040090467 (your link.) This patent was granted September 7, 1999 (filed April 11, 1997.) That appears to be a patent on software transparency by blending layers done by the CPU, which is to say it does not compete with hardware transparency.

      True laziness [oreilly.com] is a virtue. Your brand, however, leaves something to be desired.

      • prior art (Score:4, Interesting)

        by hak1du (761835) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @10:38AM (#9161336) Journal
        It's going to be a lot harder to find prior art for this one.

        Yes: that's because it's probably a bad idea. People have looked at use/time-dependent changes of window state or appearance before, but they have never become popular. You can probably still dig up some prior art from the HCI literature if you really care. Many bad patents are just not worth fighting, however.
        • Re:prior art (Score:3, Interesting)

          by drinkypoo (153816)
          Personally, I would like a windowing system whose windows sank or rose to different levels, reordering themselves based on which applications had the most interesting content. Applications steal focus all the time so that wouldn't change anything; Perhaps in a system like this you could more easily enforce a rule about applications not stealing focus. The focussed application would always be pulled immediately to the top, with a title bar button provided to send it back to its rightful place in the hierarch
      • by KingJoshi (615691) <slashdot@joshi.tk> on Saturday May 15, 2004 @10:38AM (#9161342) Homepage
        To focus on whether they're patenting translucent windows, or time-dependent translucent windows misses the point!

        It's almost like someone saying, "They're not patenting priority-queues, they're only patenting priority-queues that are sorted by integer value which holds when the job started." Oh great, that just makes it so much better. Yeah, I know there is a big difference between data-structures and specific implementation of some idea that uses multiple algorithms and data-structures. But you should still get the point.

        Copyright already covers specific implementations. The patents are unnecessary.

        I mean, you have DirectX and OpenGL as competing APIs and one of them gets vertex shaders, but then the other isn't allowed to. That'd just be retarded (again, even if my analogy is inaccurate, the point remains).

        As a computer scientist, I read papers regarding many ideas and algorithms on how people attempted to and did solve problems. I use their knowledge and I try to work off of it. The idea that some company or person can patent such a trivial difference is absurd.
    • So we go from click-through EULAs to click-through windows

      What they seem to be suggesting would make windows that shouldnt be in the foreground move to the background by sinking through any more active windows behind them, but which would be stopped by clicking the window before it reached a lower transparency than the window behind it

      It'd be a bitch to get used to but immensely useful once you understood it.. think mail.app coming up nearer the top level as an email arrives while a safari window of
    • by Twirlip of the Mists (615030) <twirlipofthemists@yahoo.com> on Saturday May 15, 2004 @10:36AM (#9161326)
      So, the windows fade with time (if they are not used much), and the windows below are phased above the fading window...

      More importantly, once the window fades "enough" (for some arbitrary and time-dependent value of "enough") it becomes transparent not only visually, but also to user input. You can click "through" it, in other words, once it's faded to a certain point.

      I'm having a hard time figuring out exactly how such a feature should be used, but it's not hard to imagine how it could be used.
  • by Monx (742514) <MonxSlash@expand ... es.com minus cit> on Saturday May 15, 2004 @09:39AM (#9160963) Journal
    Hey everybody, this is NOT a patent on translucent windows. It is a patent on fading windows. That's right, it covers windows that fade over time as their content remains static. Once their translucency reaches a certain point, they no longer receive focus from user input, instead it passes to the underlying UI elements.

    Imagine if your console log was set to full screen, but behaved in this manner. As long as nothing is logged the window gradually fades out and you can use your other windows. As soon as something is logged it becomes more opaque and accepts user input again.

    I suppose more people click on patent articles if they sound ridiculously easy to find prior art for or otherwise abusive, but this one actually sounds innovative.
    • by CarrionBird (589738) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @09:59AM (#9161111) Journal
      It's a small (but useful) addition to an existing concept. The code itself is protected by copyright, so the only use for getting a patent for this is to prevent anyone else from advancing thier UI.

      Patents are supposed to be for specific implementations, not conecpts. In software specific implementations (the code) are already covered by copyright and trade secrets. Here it is being used to say that noone but Patentholder may make something that does X. Only in computing do we allow such control of concepts.

      What if everything was done this way? "Sorry FooCo has a patent on cars with three doors, you can't put that rear door on your truck." "Sorry BarCorp has a patent on methods of displaying text on a screen, you'll have to stick with the teletype or license from them."

      This is why software patents just don't make sense.

      • I'm not a huge fan of software patents myself. I'm not 100% against them either, though. I just think they need to be better controlled. I don't think that its fair for someone to plunk down the cash (and effort) to do R&D and come up with a great idea only to have some one else rip it off. That's unfair.

        Imagine if you spent a year of your life developing a new task scheduling algorithm. You incurred expenses, etc because you were inventing and developing rather than working a 9-5 job. You donate this to Linux and the community loves you. Then Microsoft says "Hey, that's a neat idea" and implements it in Windows. They didn't copy it, obviously since the apis are different. Copyright offers no protection here.

        Another example: Apple pays some of its developers to solve a UI problem, namely how to display speech recognition confirmations without reducing the usable focus-space of the screen. These developers work hard and come up with the idea that was so poorly summarized by the editor who posted this article. Microsoft steals the idea and uses it to compete with Apple. What motivation does Apple have to continue innovating? If they think of something neat (spending money to do so) then their competition will just re-implement it but with out the burden of paying for R&D.

        Copyright is broken. It lasts too long and only protects against duplication of content, not of methods.
        Patents are the only other option. They need to be fixed too, but they are currently the only reason that companies can justify R&D spending. They are also the only way for inventors to reap a reward for their work. The patent system needs to be updated to fit better in a world in which implementing an invention can be done in digital form rather than the slower manual way, but some protection for inventors must be retained.
      • by /dev/trash (182850) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @10:54AM (#9161456) Homepage Journal
        The horse is already out of the barn. Closing the door now, just looks silly.
    • by Jeff DeMaagd (2015) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @10:39AM (#9161355) Homepage Journal
      Heh, this is Slashdot.

      I'm not sure Slashdot editors ever RTFA, if they do, those that do never apply critical thinking about the subject at hand. Slashdot editors don't really even edit much either, it seems. The best most of them do is pick of which stories to post a dupe.
  • by pohl (872) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @09:39AM (#9160966) Homepage
    Everybody RTFP so that you know what you're actually hunting for. Finding a translucent window isn't quite enough...

    Methods and systems for providing graphical user interfaces are described. overlaid, Information-bearing windows whose contents remain unchanged for a predetermined period of time become translucent. The translucency can be graduated so that, over time, if the window's contents remain unchanged, the window becomes more translucent. In addition to visual translucency, windows according to the present invention also have a manipulative translucent quality. Upon reaching a certain level of visual translucency, user input in the region of the window is interpreted as an operation on the underlying objects rather than the contents of the overlaying window.

    Yes, software patents are evil...so lets do the right thing and not claim that every transparent xterm hack qualifies as 'prior art'.

  • by Phanatic1a (413374) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @09:45AM (#9161005)
    This isn't simply "translucent windows." Hell, you can do that in WinXP and 2000 with third-party software. This is different:

    "Information-bearing windows whose contents remain unchanged for a predetermined period of time become translucent. The translucency can be graduated so that, over time, if the window's contents remain unchanged, the window becomes more translucent. In addition to visual translucency, windows according to the present invention also have a manipulative translucent quality. Upon reaching a certain level of visual translucency, user input in the region of the window is interpreted as an operation on the underlying objects rather than the contents of the overlaying window."

    If you're going to go looking for prior art, that's what you need to find: windows that become more translucent as more time passes where you're not doing anything to them, and that eventually become so translucent that when you go to click on them, you're instead able to click on desktop objects behind the window.

    While I don't think that this is particularly deserving of a patent, it is neat, and so far as I can tell, novel. It's not just "translucent windows."
    • by Frambooz (555784) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @10:03AM (#9161144) Homepage
      I've used an application (Jeskola Buzz [buzzmachines.com]) that had an extention that determined the translucency of windows based on their history.

      Jeskola Buzz is a program that allows you to create music, so usually you have 5+ sub-windows open with all the controls for your synths, samplers and effects. The most recent window was fully opaque, whereas the window that had been open for the longest grew more translucent every time a new subwindow was opened. Time was not taken into account, and when clicking any subwindow (even the almost fully translucent ones) put them on top of the stack, making them fully opaque again.

      Closest thing I've seen to this.

    • Microsoft Outlook 2003 has time-dependant translucent windows which notify you of new incoming mail messages. You can move your mouse over the window, causing it to be opaque - or you can move the window out and allow it to slowly become more and more transparent, eventually disappearing. This window also contains delete, open and flag message (IIRC) option buttons.

      Not sure if this completely corresponds with the "Upon reaching a certain level of visual translucency, user input in the region of the window
    • by mrpull (112590)
      Trillian has an option to "Fade alert windows out (uses transparency)". The Trillian popup notifications fit that description very well.

      mr.
  • by voss (52565) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @09:48AM (#9161026)
    translucent windows. Its a system where windows become more translucent as time goes on, and you can actually work with the window underneath.

    This is not obvious, and simply having windows that are translucent probably not violate this patent.

    Translucency is simply a color modification is not patentable. What they are talking about is a process for adaptive translucent windows that alter not just appearance but condition as well.

    That being said...most software patents suck.
  • by gsfprez (27403) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @09:53AM (#9161064)
    Microsoft, IBM, and others have been stockpiling their software patents for years.. and now of late, it seems, that Apple has decided to join the fray.

    I just want to know when we're finally going to go nuclear (nuculer?) with the back and forth patent infringment suits - because that's when the shits really gonna hit the fan.

    And i wonder - has is not already begun? IBM, while clearly in the right wrt SCO and Linux begs the question... they "launched" a few tactical nukes in that little debate with their 8 or so patent infringment suits... while we cheer them on... should we not do so with a bit of trepidation?

    Software patents are screwy and stupid... and its not going to take much pushing and shoving for all hell to break loose...

    or is that for all lawyers to start raking in the dough as the cost of the judicial branch makes the US military budget look like a blip on the radar. We'll have to start cloning humans just to make enough lawyers.

    Do you think that it will be "Global Thermonuclear War", where one side who's far less defenseless as SCO will actually shoot back - and then everyone starts shooting at everyone with patent infringment suits? Or will it be more gradual?

    Either way... i think i should ditch this communications and networking gig, and go become a lawyer.... it soon may be the only actual viable non-outsourced job left in America by 2010.
  • by Markus Peter (13998) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @10:03AM (#9161140) Homepage
    Disclaimer: I'm equally opposed to software patents as everyone else here is, I just want to corrent some misinformation here.

    I do not want to spoil the fun here, but this patent is in fact not about translucent windows, so anyone here posting about prior art in the respect is basically Off Topic.

    Instead, the patent basically describes the overlays Apple has been using for certain system functions like increasing/decreasing brightness (whenever you press the corressponding buttons on the keyboard an overlay shows up, displaying the current volume, and then slowly fades away again unless you press the key again). The patent exactly describes the Apple OSDs, even if maybe in a bit of general way, so it could probably be applied to similarly behaving ordinary windows.

    A comparable programm would e.g. be "xosd" and prior art would probably be best searched for in TVs and other appliances using on-screen-displays.
  • by hak1du (761835) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @10:34AM (#9161312) Journal
    Apple isn't patenting "translucent windows", they are patenting a specific method for choosing to make windows translucent. The method seems pretty hokey to me (windows automatically become more translucent over time and eventually let events pass through), and probably has horrible usability problems. I can just see the support calls: "but my Microsoft Word window was there a few minutes ago, and after I came back from getting a cup of coffee it was just gone".

    In this wonderful world of software patents, the patent may be valid, but it is not relevant to anything real.

    If you want to read about good uses of translucency in user interfaces, see this survey from 1994 [psu.edu] (long before OS X).
  • by MosesJones (55544) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @11:01AM (#9161492) Homepage

    In 1992 I was working on a Radar Display project which used Barco graphics generators on Sony 20kx20k displays with two screens, front and back.

    The back screen held the flight information, and the front held the information windows. It was possible to make the front windows fade to invisible if required (outline only left). Sounds like a graduated window to me.

    This was an absolute piece of piss in X using the PEXLib extensions BTW.

    Having transparent or translucent windows was pretty common in Radar Display system, both commercial and military.
  • sigh... (Score:4, Funny)

    by geoffspear (692508) * on Saturday May 15, 2004 @11:23AM (#9161622) Homepage
    If slashdot was around when Edison was alive, someone here would claim that his lightbulb patents were invalid because the sun was prior art.
  • Hardly! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rspress (623984) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @11:32AM (#9161671) Homepage
    Apple must do this. If you look at the "new" features of longhorn, nearly every one has been done by Apple for years with OS X. Apple has been using translucent windows, expose window management, drop shadows for windows and auto discovery networking....all of which MS announced as breakthrough technologies that THEY are rolling out in Longhorn. These are just a few examples there are more.

    Apple has been bitten once my MS knocking off the GUI and other Mac elements. This time around it will not be so easy. Remember it is also up to Apple if they wish to enforce this patent, or with whom they wish to enforce it.
  • by rdean400 (322321) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @11:34AM (#9161684)
    Judging by the abstract, the window needs to be inactive for a certain time before becoming translucent, and the translucency becomes greater the longer the window remains unchanged.

    I don't think any software patents are good. However, *if* software patents are permissable, this is a novel application of a concept and I would think that the implementation meets the standards for patentability.

    I still don't think it should be patentable, however.
  • RTFP! (Score:5, Informative)

    by ThisIsFred (705426) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @12:56PM (#9162178) Journal
    It's not a patent on translucent windows, it's a patent for using graduated levels of translucency instead of active/inactive window coloring schemes. From what I've read, it appears that the longer you go without performing actions in the window, the more translucent it becomes, to the point where you can "click through" it and input into whatever object is underneath.

    This particular interface feature would be incredibly annoying and confusing to people with less than perfect eyesight, so I hope that Apple defends its patent and that it never appears outside of Apple's software.

    If it was simply an attempt to patent translucent windows, it would be easy to knock down. Some games use translucent pop-ups in their interfaces via D3D / OpenGL.
  • Hey. (Score:5, Funny)

    by blair1q (305137) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @03:07PM (#9162809) Journal

    Do you suppose Microsoft patented Transparent Government and that's why we can't have one?

If the facts don't fit the theory, change the facts. -- Albert Einstein

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