Publication: Loop interface

Published today is a defensive disclosure of an invention of mine, which I call the “Loop Interface.” Such an interface may be particularly useful to people who are blind or who have low vision and need speech output in order to use technology. The abstract from the disclosure:

Disclosed is a user interface method that allows for quick, efficient exploration and usage of user interfaces by people who cannot see. The interface method is a circular direct-selection interface where many user interface elements are arranged around the edges of a touch panel or touch screen. This makes a circular list of elements that users can touch to get speech output and then activate when they find the desired element. This arrangement can be explored easily but also allows users to efficiently and directly select elements on familiar interfaces.

The problem is that current methods of using screen readers are inadequate. People may use swiping gestures or keystrokes to navigate from element to element, which can be inefficient. Alternatively, on some touchscreen devices, a screen reader might allow a person to tap or drag a finger around the screen to explore the screen via text to speech. This exploration can be challenging because onscreen elements may be anywhere on the screen in any arrangement and might be missed when dragging a finger on the screen.

A visual depiction of the Loop Interfaces in use.
Using the Loop Interface by tracing the edges of the screen with a finger and listening to the text-to-speech feedback.

With the Loop Interface, a person can simply trace the edges of a screen with a finger and get to all elements on the screen. When they become familiar with a particular application, then they can directly touch the desired element without having to navigate through all the intervening options. More details about the Loop Interface are available in the disclosure [PDF]. In the future, I plan to do user testing on a basic version of the Loop Interface.

The defensive disclosure was published today in the IP.com prior art database (IP.com database entry, requires subscription for full content). The publication was reviewed and sponsored by the Linux Defenders program. It will soon be published in freely-available form on the Publications page of the Defensive Publications web site.

Protection of Intellectual Property

Image representing intellectual property law.The impact of some software innovations are big and others are small. However, if another organization were able to secure a patent on that idea or something very similar, one might be barred from using one’s own innovation. This may be particularly bad for innovations in the field of accessibility, which ideally should be available to as many people who need to use the technology. In order to protect an innovation, there are three general options:

  • Obtain patent protection. This option takes several years and is expensive, with attorney fees alone likely costing over $5000 for a very basic patent (Quinn, 2011).
  • Keep the innovation secret (i.e., a trade secret). If your innovation is relatively easy to reverse engineer or figure out, then this offers no protection. Any organization who figures it out could potentially patent it.
  • Defensively publish information. In patent law, anything published as prior art prevents someone else obtaining a similar patent. This publication allows you to keep using your innovation and allows others to benefit from that work. Even large companies and organizations use the defensive publication strategy to protect intellectual property that may not be worth the expense of full patent protection.

More about Defensive Publications

Defensive publications or technical disclosures are a relatively inexpensive way to prevent others from obtaining a patent that covers your innovation. Any type of publication (including publication in a conference proceeding, journal, or even in an online posting) should theoretically prevent someone else from obtaining a similar patent. However, more obscure publications may be missed by patent examiners because of the relatively small amount of time they have to search for prior art (Edge, 2012). Once a patent has been awarded, it is much harder to break the patent because the burden of proof has shifted.

There are several options for more visible publication strategies to establish prior art:

  • Potentially free: http://www.defensivepublications.org/ – Linux Defenders has a program to publicly disclose software to help protect open source software from patent litigation. Submissions are reviewed and edited at no cost to the contributor. If the program decides to publish the submission, it will pay the fees for inclusion in the prior art database kept by IP.com.
  • $225 per submission: http://ip.com/ – IP.com keeps a prior art database that is purported to be regularly checked by patent examiners. For a fee, IP.com will include your submission in this database.
  • $120 (€90) per page: http://www.researchdisclosure.com/ – Research Disclosure keeps a prior art database and publication that has PCT Minimum Documentation status (WIPO, 2005), which means that (by international treaty) patent examiners are to search this database. The company charges a fee per page for publication.

References

  1. Quinn, G. (2011, Jan. 28) The Cost of Obtaining a Patent in the US. http://www.ipwatchdog.com/2011/01/28/the-cost-of-obtaining-patent/id=14668/
  2. Edge, J. (2012, July 4) Akademy: Defensive publications. https://lwn.net/Articles/505030/
  3. WIPO (2005) PCT Minimum Documentation: Comprehensive Review. Geneva: World Intellectual Property Organization. http://www.wipo.int/edocs/mdocs/pct/en/pct_mia_11/pct_mia_11_6.pdf

Note: A version of this article is also posted on the GPII wiki.