Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. Even if I was, not all lawyers are versed in patent law. That said...

Method and apparatus for displaying a thought network from a thought's perspective


A method and apparatus for organizing and processing pieces of interrelated information (or "thoughts") is used with a digital computer. The invention employs a graphical user interface to facilitate user interaction with highly flexible, associative "matrices" that enable users conveniently to organize digitally-stored thoughts and their network of interrelationships. Each of the thoughts may be affiliated with one or more application programs, such as a word processing or spreadsheet utility, or an Internet browser. Users are able conveniently to select a current thought along with any applications or content associated with that thought by interacting with the graphical representation. That representation is automatically reoriented about the selected thought, and is revised to reflect only those thoughts having predetermined relations to that current thought. Users can easily modify the matrix by interactively redefining relations between thoughts. Further aspects of the invention include techniques permitting automated generation of thought matrices, delayed loading to facilitate navigation amongst thoughts without undue delay due to bandwidth constraints, and matrix division and linking to allow optimal data structure flexibility. Finally, the present invention is interoperable with computer networks including the Internet, and offers an intuitive scalable methodology for the navigation and management of essentially immeasurable information resources and knowledge bases that transcends the limitations inherent in traditional hierarchical approaches.

The patent was filed on July 14, 1997.

The key thing to realize here as one tries to digest the abstract or wade through the claims in the patent itself is that this deals with thoughts. While this does bear some passing resemblance to E2 - "a matrix comprising the plurality of thoughts and further compromising a plurality of network relationships among the thoughts" if one replaces "thought" with "writeup".

Ultimately, thats it - just that first claim out of 36 claims and that is dubious at best. Lucy Sherriff of theregister wrote a short article about it (url below) that summarizes it as "operation of code that mimics the human thought process". Furthermore she raises the issue that this patent is essentially upon any process that can be represented by flow charts or in a non hierarchical structure (shoot, with that statement, I've got to pay royalties for my website).

The present invention enables users to organize information on a digital computer in a flexible, associative manner, akin to the way in which information is organized by the human mind.
Now, before one starts getting the attack lawyers out of their kennels, realize that the idea and pure abstraction cannot be patented. Of the things that can be patented are processes and compositions of materials. Clearly, neither www.thebrain.com nor E2 is a composition of materials. When reading the claims and about it becomes very clear that E2 is not infringing upon the process of the patent to model human thought.

One major problem is that the USPTO no longer has the expertise or manpower to evaluate the enormous volume of patents it receives each day. The current policy in the patent office is to accept the patent and then let the lawyers settle it as to if its a reasonable patent if and when it actually gets challenged.

Such challenges do happen - in 1993 the Encyclopedia Britannica's patented multimedia CD-ROMs (now with hyper-linked text!) was thrown out. Another company to lose a patent is Netword (the use of keywords instead of web addresses), while P3P was derailed until the patent was thrown out. Patent number 5,491,779 which claimed to invent the 3-D pie chart was thrown out.

When it gets down to it - personally, I'm a tad bit more interested in patent 5,965,809 - "method of bra size determination by direct measurement of the breast". Meanwhile I'm preparing my defense of cat toy from patent 5,443,036 - "A method for inducing cats to exercise consists of directing a beam of invisible light produced by a hand-held laser apparatus onto the floor or wall or other opaque surface in the vicinity of the cat, then moving the laser so as to cause the bright pattern of light to move in an irregular way fascinating to cats, and to any other animal with a chase instinct. "


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