Thursday, July 12, 2007

Your Design Is Infringing On My Patent: The Case Against User Interface and Interaction Model Patents and Intellectual Property

The problem with patenting a UI ...

"Imagine, if you will, that you’re working for a small Web-application startup. For the sake of argument, let’s say the company wants to build a Web-based application to help product marketers and brand managers—the primary user group—manage and maintain the digital assets for their company’s products and services.

Further assume the application would also allow users to publish updated digital collateral to the distribution channel—that is, resellers such as retail stores and ecommerce sites who sell a company’s products.

The startup has asked you to create a user interface for this Web application, and you’ve struggled for weeks to come up with an elegant, efficient way for users to quickly and efficiently upload, manage, and publish a wide variety of digital collateral, including product box shots, spec sheets, warranties, coupons, rebates, and so on.

Once you’ve carried out your contextual inquiries, identified the customers’ terminology, and done some participatory design sessions, you design the interaction models and create workflows and some medium-fidelity wireframes. Of course, you do some formative testing with a lo-fi prototype and find that your design does well. Really well, in fact.

You’re elated. Just a couple of optimizations to the workflows and some terminology tweaks, and you’re ready to apply a visual design. You hand off your detailed wireframes and functional specification to the visual designers and development group, feeling satisfied that you’ve done a great job of meeting users’ needs and satisfying your stakeholders.

Fast-forward a year and a half. You receive a notice from a law firm. You’re being subpoenaed. It turns out the now-successful startup is being sued, because certain aspects of the application’s user interface—your design—have “infringed” on several patents that purport to have “invented” the process of managing large groups of files and publishing them to various locations via the Internet."    (Continued via UXmatters)    [Usability Resources]

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