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A company named Appsbar has obtained a US utility patent on code generation as used for creating cross-platform apps for mobile devices: US8261231. This patent was filed for on Feb 14, 2012. Since I definitely recall various solutions for this prior to mid-February of this year, I am opening up a call to collect prior art, to help anyone looking to get this patent re-examined or otherwise invalidated.

The main claim is:

  1. A system for allowing users to develop mobile applications that are capable of being compiled to run on a plurality of mobile operating systems associated with various mobile devices, the system comprising:

    • a computing device having physical memory storing instructions that cause the computing device to:

    • provide a mobile application development platform adapted to assist users with the development and customization of mobile applications;

    • receive from a user a request to develop a mobile application through the mobile application development platform;

    • receive from the user an application property selection comprising an indicator of an application category associated with the mobile application to be developed by the user;

    • determine a plurality of customizable components based, at least in part, on the received application property selection, the plurality of customizable components pertaining to a functionality, design and content of the mobile application;

    • send information causing the plurality of customizable components to be presented to the user;

    • receive from the user a plurality of customizable component selections pertaining to the plurality of presented customizable components;

    • associate application data with the mobile application based, at least in part, on the plurality of customizable component selections received from the user, the application data being stored on the physical memory and including:

    • at least one application component representing user-defined functionality to be provided by the mobile application,

    • at least one design element representing a user-defined design characteristic associated with the presentation of the mobile application on mobile devices, and

    • at least one content element representing user-defined content to be accessed through the mobile application;

    • determine at least one set of target mobile devices on which the mobile application is to be executed;

    • generate compiled data for the mobile application based on the application data using build tools associated with a mobile operating system, the mobile operating system being associated with the at least one set of target mobile devices; and

    • generate a configuration file comprising an identifier for the mobile application, the configuration file being adapted for transmission to, and execution on, a mobile device associated with the at least one set of target mobile devices;

    • wherein the identifier enables the retrieval of at least a portion of the compiled data by the mobile device from a remote storage location in response to the mobile application being installed on or executed by the mobile device.

The Techdirt article that brought my attention to the patent cites the now-defunct Whoop as being a possible prior implementation of this technology, also pointing to this article on Whoop. Note that the Techdirt link to an About.com list of tools does not really fit the patent -- while the non-Whoop entries in that list represent cross-platform mobile development, they do not represent code generation of the style claimed in the patent (IMHO, IANALNDIPOOTV, etc.).

Related to the Techdirt comments as presently written:

  • App Inventor, cited by some as prior art, does not create cross-platform apps, as of now (and therefore would not be prior art even if it gets this capability in the future)
  • "I wrote an app to do this on the Apple Newton" probably also did not create cross-platform apps

I will amend this question from time to time with prior art that I uncover -- if you have additional prior art, please contribute an answer!


Here are some candidate services that may represent prior art:

  • AppBreeder was written up in articles dating as far back as January 2010. It offers code generation for multiple mobile platforms based on the user choosing a starting template ("determine a plurality of customizable components based, at least in part, on the received application property selection").

  • GENWI dates back to at least June 2011 (based on date of YouTube interview with Robert Scoble). It too offers code generation for multiple mobile platforms based on the user choosing a starting template.

  • MobileAppLoader dates back to at least June 2011 (based on date of my note referencing them, plus their blog goes back to at least July 2011; they also cite changes in their system's behavior from March 2011). It too offers code generation for multiple mobile platforms based on the user choosing a starting template (in their case, pricing is also determined by this choice of category).

  • Yapper dates back to at least May 2010 (based on date of InformationWeek article). It offers code generation for multiple mobile platforms, though it is unclear how strong their template support is

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I have to wonder what constitutes code in the context here as well? Why for example do you not consider PhoneGap to be prior art for this? It is my understanding that PhoneGap is able to generate both HTML5/CSS along with native extensions? Would this not fit the bill? –  bigtunacan Nov 19 '12 at 2:16
    
@bigtunacan: If you read the patent, particularly Claim 1, there are specific characteristics of the code generation (e.g., user chooses an application category, which determines a set of modules that the user can then choose from) that developer-focused code generators typically will not meet. PhoneGap certainly doesn't. –  CommonsWare Nov 19 '12 at 11:15
    
@commonsware, the term "code generator" does not appear in the claims or anywhere in the patent as far as I can tell. It may well be an accurate description of the functionality enabled by the claim, but I think you may be unnecessarily limiting the scope of your search (and disregarding otherwise helpful answers) by focusing on that term. Also don't forget about obviousness - just because someone points you to a single reference that doesn't have every featured from the claim doesn't mean you should disregard it. –  Jay Smith-Hill Nov 21 '12 at 19:02
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12 Answers

GLBasic certainly fills the bill of prior art for this. It's a lesser known platform that is primarily used for game development, however it can be used for traditional app development as well. Developers create applications in a proprietary Basic dialect that at compile time generates a native application for the desired platform. At present it targets the following platforms.

  • Windows
  • Mac OSX
  • iOS
  • Android
  • Web OS (Palm Pre/HP Touchpad/etc...)
  • Canoo
  • GP2X
  • GP2XWIZ

Future support is planned for HTML5 and Windows Phone 8

The current release was released on Sept 13th of 2011, but this platform has been around much longer.

You can find more information via wikipedia here GLBasic on wikipedia Or at the official home page here GLBasic.com

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Does GLBasic offer a code generator? If not, I fail to see how it is prior art for this patent. –  CommonsWare Nov 17 '12 at 19:15
    
It is a code generator at it's core. Essentially it offers a DSL using a Basic syntax that generates native C++ for each platform. Example here is for the iPhone I would "compile" my GLBasic project and the result would actually be an Xcode project in native C++. I would then open that project on my Mac and compile again and publish to the App store. You can find some information to this effect on their news page glbasic.com/main.php?lang=en&site=news under the section titled "iPhone license panic". This product definitely fits the bill. –  bigtunacan Nov 17 '12 at 19:43
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Illumination Software Creator was first published May 12, 2010, and the author discussed his idea on the Linux Action Show for most of the first half of 2010.

ISC is a graphical development tool that builds programs from basic "blocks." The software produced within the tool can be published to several different platforms, including Python on Windows/Mac/Linux, as native iOS apps, Android apps, HTML5 apps, and to other targets.

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In May 1995, Qt was released publicly, a cross-platform GUI for C++ (already a cross-platform language), which enabled an application written once to be deployed on both Linux and Windows. Support for Mac OS X was added in 2001, making it tri-platform. (Source: Qt History.) The Qt project spawned many GUI builders similar to the one described in the patent application, of which Qt Designer was built into an IDE.

In December 1996, the Java Foundation Classes (now called Swing) for Java were announced, and these allowed Java applications to write the same GUI for multiple platforms with the same code, while maintaining native look-and-feel. Netbeans has included a GUI builder from at least version 5.0, and the project (Project Matisse) has been under public development from at least 2005.

In March 2009, PhoneGap was revealed, a framework that enables a single HTML+CSS+Javascript application to be deployed to iPhone, Android and Blackberry, while still utilizing native functions (and therefore, more advanced than simply a browser)

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None of these are code generators. Also, Java Swing is not used on mobile devices (at least as far as "mobile devices" is generally used as a term and for the sorts of "mobile devices" you think of nowadays). It is possible that there is a Qt code generator that powers mobile devices that might be relevant, though we'd need to track one down. Any code generators targeting PhoneGap would be relevant, assuming it was before the February 14, 2012 filing date. Regardless, thanks for the contribution! –  CommonsWare Nov 17 '12 at 14:49
    
@CommonsWare Dreamweaver feeding PhoneGap? It generates Decent HTML+JS+CSS and has many starter website templates. See html.adobe.com/edge/phonegap-build/features.html –  Magicianeer Dec 1 '12 at 7:18
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"The present application claims benefit to U.S. Provisional Patent Application No. 61/472,609, which was filed on Apr. 6, 2011." Does that mean you are looking for prior art before April 6, 2010?

Might a laptop be considered a "mobile device" and therefore any operating system it runs be considered a "mobile operating system" for the purpose of satisfying the patent claims? Even if people usually mean phones, tablets, and PDAs when they say "mobile devices" would a laptop be close enough to make it prior art or make it obvious to do the same thing on a modern mobile device?

Would then a Java development environment used to produce a Java applet that runs in a web browser after being downloaded from a remote web server have all the elements of the claims? That would make any Java development environment that can produce an applet for a web site be prior art.

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Wordpress.com's various blogging tools and mobile apps. Their application domain is different than described in the patent, but the patent said theirs were examples only. Those examples are easily replicated.

You setup an account on wordpress.com, pick a style of website (blog, photoblog, meeting board), pick a theme, pick some widgets if you want, add some content (always the hardest part).

The Wordpress apps display and edit your website when you are offline. Wordpress.com allows multiple-editor accounts. The ability to interact with your website while offline, plus the ability to grant other users similar access to the same website make it viable for building and distributing simple mobile applications. Example: a limited-distribution photo sharing app.

Wordpress has code generating ability-- The Export tool gives you your content in XML form that you can redeploy elsewhere. This XML combined with the open-source wordpress.org is your entire mobile app and distribution platform in source form.

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Marmalade SDK (previously Airplay) has been around since well before the filing date. Cross-platform support for Android, Blackberry and iOS (among others):

https://www.madewithmarmalade.com/marmaladesdk/supported-platforms

From their site: https://www.madewithmarmalade.com/about-us/overview

Marmalade is a trading name of Ideaworks3D Limited, which was originally founded in 1998. The unique technology behind the Marmalade SDK was developed between 2005 and 2008 and battle tested through the development and deployment of high profile games such as Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy, Need for Speed and Resident Evil to mobile devices. The SDK was launched as ‘Airplay SDK’ in late 2009, before becoming Marmalade in June 2011.

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Simulink by MathWorks has been doing Code generation for years (I used it in 2002).

Their generator was designed for embedded systems -mobile micro controllers. It could even be customized to add platforms!

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I think Titanium may be a good candidate for prior art. Written by Appcelerator which has been going since 2006 (http://www.appcelerator.com/company/).

Titanium provides a write once compile native application for multiple mobile platforms (including Android, Blackberry, iOS - http://www.appcelerator.com/titanium/).

The SDK is open source but the development environment is a paid for application.

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I believe Norwegian company mBricks have been developing cross-compilation tools that have existed far longer than that.

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Do you have references to publications, or to products that were sold and that are likely to contain prior art? –  Gilles Nov 20 '12 at 17:15
    
I'm on vacation so I can't investigate further atm, but I'm sure they'll answer if you send them a mail and ask them. –  hanspeide Nov 21 '12 at 3:46
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Metismo's Bedrock (now webMethods Mobile Designer has been around since at least 2007. It allows the user to build a mobile application in J2ME and Bedrock can generate code in Java, C++, C#, or ActionScript, which is then compiled for a variety of platforms.

In addition to compiling J2ME into an app for one of these platforms, the user also gets fully generated code in the platform's language.

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Around 2001 I built a system that allows the creation, customization and deployment of mobile applications for both Windows and BlackBerry. The creation of such environments is quite easy as most tool chains out there allow you to call compilers from the command line (.net, java), and given that now configuration files and the like are generally simple text its quite easy to do. I would also site Xamarian's tool set that allows for the development of mobile applications with compilation on Android, and IOS with some support for windows phone. In my opinion compiling and deploying to mobile is no different then compiling and deployment to desktop.

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About 50 patent documents and a similar number of non-patent documents are listed on the face of this patent The prior art considered included patents from RIM, IBM, Apple and Yahoo. –  George White Oct 19 '13 at 8:00
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presentation/ gui/ theme maker http://www.hollywood-mal.com/index.html

logo creator for mobile phone (presentation of mobile) http://aminet.net/package/mus/misc/ringtonetools

This patent is nothing new. just because the developer adds porting code to a new 'device' does not make it any new to a farmer creating a new shovel with extra grooves that digs in a new land of man made soil called newsoil.

a shovel is still a shovel - it cannot be reinvented to do a job on something new eg ne type of soil.

a gui/theme app/software and any porting software (for any platform/desktop) is the shovel

They existed for years, nothing new

using a new shovel to dig in new type of soil does not make it unique

same as any gui/theme software that targets any new future DEVICE is NOT new.

Its same as saying i invented a new shovel, extra lining of titanium (does not exist in world) because i am digging somewhere new EG MARS. New soil in Mars is different % minerals, we call in MarsSoil (TM).

I dont care WHERE any shovel digs - its not new techology.

we dont care ANY theme/gui/presentation software converts/ports or 'made to work' or 'improved to work' with any 'device' now or future. Process is same.

Another cross platform SDK/ converter/ porting software is :

http://www.amigahistory.co.uk/amigade.html

Amiga DE / Elate

run once port to any other device including mobile http://www.amiga.com/about/history/?t=anywhere

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Patent law is a considerably complex and sometimes contradictory topic. New shovels are invented all the time and a new material to be shoveled or a new context in which to do the shoveling could motivate a structural change to the shovel. This is exactly what patents are all about. This was granted in July: Dual grip angled handled shovel US 8491024 B2 –  George White Oct 23 '13 at 18:31
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