Friday, June 24, 2005

AND THERE WAS MUCH REJOICING . . . The USPTO has been on a roll lately in terms of reexamination of patents percieved to be overbroad and obvious.

One such patent recently dinged at the USPTO was 6,442,574, which was acquired by SBC (from the late Ameritech) titled "Structured Document Browser." Back in 2003, there was a buzz in the software community regarding this patent after SBC tried enforcing the patent and there were calls to collect invalidating prior art.

The patent dealt with a structured document browser that includes a constant user interface for displaying and viewing sections of a document organized according to a pre-defined structure. The structured document browser displays documents that have been marked with embedded codes that specify the structure of the document. The tags are mapped to correspond to a set of icons. When the icon is selected while browsing a document, the browser will display the section of the structure corresponding to the icon selected, while preserving the constant user interface.

Claim 1 reads as follows:

1. A method for navigating a document comprising a plurality of sections, the method comprising:

(a) displaying a document with a browser comprising a user interface;

(b) displaying a plurality of selectors in the user interface of the browser and not in the document, the plurality of selectors automatically configured to correspond to a respective plurality of sections of the document regardless of what section of the document is being displayed;

(c) receiving a selection of one of the plurality of selectors;

(d) continuing to display the plurality of selectors after the selection is received in (c); and

(e) displaying a section of the document that corresponds to the selector selected in (c).

Well after 2 1/2 years, the USPTO - after a commissioner-ordered reexam - issued a final rejection on the remaining 6 of the original 20 claims recited in the patent. The folks at Slashdot are smiling and happy - there is however, a possibility of appeal, or that some magical amendmendment coud reopen prosecution. However, final rejections in reexam practice requires the blessing of a patentability review conference, so chances are this patent is toast . . .

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