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AN OVERBROAD PATENT ON ELECTRONIC COLLECTION OF ITEMS - This patent claims the idea of... an electronic collection of items! 10 minutes of your time can help narrow US patent applications before they become patents. Follow @askpatents on twitter to help.

QUESTION - Have you seen anything that was published before Dec 3, 2003 that discusses the elements described in the claim below:

TITLE: COMPUTING DEVICE FOR SEARCHING, IDENTIFYING, AND DISPLAYING ITEMS IN A COLLECTION

Patent US7363309

"Method and system for portable and desktop computing devices to allow searching, identification and display of items in a collection" seems to be a dangerous patent. Programmers do this kind of thing regularly.

Claim 1 requires each and every step below:

A field-useable guide in the form of a portable computer device for identifying natural items observed by a user from a collection of natural items, comprising:

  • a housing for the portable computer device, the housing containing a programmed microprocessor, data storage, a display screen and a user input,

  • means in the microprocessor and data storage for displaying to the user a series of selectable attributes which vary among natural items in the collection of natural items, each attribute having one or more data types in which a plurality of values for the attribute are stored in the data storage, the values for the series of selectable attributes being in a plurality of the following data types stored in the storage for presentation to the user in a search conducted by the user:

    (a) descriptive text,

    (b) number values,

    (c) color images of natural items in the collection of natural items,

    (d) sounds produced by natural items, in the case of a group of animals as the collection of natural items,

    (e) moving pictures of natural items, in the case of animals as the natural items of the collection,

    (f) color samples for matching to a feature of an observed natural item of a collection of natural items,

    (g) silhouettes representative of groups of natural items within a collection of natural items, and

  • search means associated with the microprocessor for enabling and prompting the user, on the display screen, to perform a step-by-step elimination search to identify a natural item observed in the field by selecting one of said attributes, reviewing the various values presented by the portable computer device as possible values under the subject selected attribute for the natural item observed in the field, then selecting one said value for the selected attribute, then selecting another of said attributes, reviewing the values presented as possible values for said another selected attribute and selecting one of the values, and continuing the stepwise elimination search to further reduce the number of possible natural items in the natural items of the collection, the search means progressively eliminating non-matches from a list of possible natural items in the natural items of the collection,

    and including elimination means associated with the microprocessor for eliminating further said attributes which become irrelevant or redundant after selection by a user of a particular value for a said attribute, and further including means associated with the microprocessor for eliminating certain of the values under particular said attributes which values become irrelevant or redundant as choices due to prior selection of particular aid values under one or more previously selected said attributes,

    whereby the elimination means, in the step-by-step elimination search, assures against a null result of the search.

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8 Answers 8

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Based on a quick read, the claims seem to be related to a mobile field guide device for identifying wildlife ("natural items" -- the patent seems to be focused on birds), by narrowing down a list of candidate "natural items" by interactively filtering the list based on attributes selected by the user ("step-by-step elimination"), along with the added limitation that the process must return at least one search result ("assures against a null result"). In addition, the claim specifically calls out the types of data that constitute attributes of the wildlife -- "descriptive text", "color images", "silhouettes", etc. as identified by points (a) - (g).

That's pretty specific, and very far removed from the kind of thing programmers do regularly. (Well, at least I don't; But then I'm also not writing birdwatching apps.) I suspect you assumed the scope of the patent was defined by its title rather than the claims.

I'm guessing relevant prior art would be found in the area of field guides, paper-based as well as electronic, for birdwatchers and other wildlife identification.

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Thank you. I did assume that the patent was defined in part by the title. –  GaTechThomas May 29 '13 at 3:20

This is a marginal improvement over the old "animal game" dating to at least 1973 and evolved successively since then. In fact, the 1973 version learns from its failures. The key idea is a stored list of questions that will divide the search space with every answer. The new one above has added pictures and other media than text questions.

http://pdp-11.trailing-edge.com/rsts11/rsts-11-013 - see animal.bas.

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A successive process of elimination using the attributes of a collection of images is the basis of the board game "Guess Who?" which has been sold by Milton Bradley since 1979. In this game players try to identify a selected face in a collection, by questioning each other about facial attributes and eliminating faces from the collection based on the answers.

http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/4143/guess-who

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guess_Who%3F

The word "plurality" in the patent application seems to be an attempt to obfuscate the simple concept of a "list". Searching lists based on characteristics of items in the list is a common programming practice, central to every database application in existence.

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I assume it didn't have a microprocessor or make sounds? –  George White Jul 25 '13 at 21:48

From 1984 http://www.retrogames.co.uk/more/on/details/019229

http://www.computinghistory.org.uk/det/21727/Birdwatch/

It isn't really a game as such. We used to use this when I was in primary school on the BBC Micro computer, before 1988 (before my sister was born). The application would ask you to record how many of what sort of bird you saw. Kind of a simple datalogging application.

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This sounds like an electronic, integrated parts catalogs. That have been around forever in defence, mining and other areas where people find replacement parts by using visual properties as filters. There are many situations in industrial environments where terminology or literacy or lack of documentation means this is the most practical way to query a collection.

These can also be called exploded parts catalogs. This is one product but there are many more.

http://www.multicat.com/multicat-catalogue-building-and-maintenance

Products like this have been available since at least the 1990s, probably earlier.

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From Oct 2000, the Grass Weed Identification Key on the Virginia Tech website appears to partially match the claims in the patent.

Current site: http://www.ppws.vt.edu/weedindex.htm and
http://web2.ento.vt.edu/servlet/wid?table=grasses
Earliest copy in Internet archive (Oct 2000):
http://web.archive.org/web/20001029190649/http://whizlab.isis.vt.edu/servlet/wid?table=grasses

The site consists of an interactive questionnaire, with descriptive text and color images such as is described in US7363309, for identifying grass weeds. It is not possible to verify every screen in the Oct 2000 site in the internet archive, as servlet-generated pages have not been archived. However the launch page, and its description of the system, linked to above has not changed between Oct 2000 and today.

At each stage of the identification process, only options are presented which are relevant given the options selected on previous screens. Again, this matches the claims in US7363309. For example, if in response to "What type of root system does your weed sample have?" we select:

  • "a fibrous root system", the invention asks "At maturity, approximately how wide are the leaf blades on your weed sample?".
  • "tubers", the invention asks "Does your weed sample have a ligule".

This Oct 2000 invention therefore anticipates and invalidates these parts of the claims in US7363309:

displaying to the user a series of selectable attributes which vary among natural items in the collection of natural items, each attribute having one or more data types in which a plurality of values for the attribute are stored in the data storage, the values for the series of selectable attributes being in a plurality of the following data types stored in the storage for presentation to the user in a search conducted by the user:

(a) descriptive text, ...

(c) color images of natural items in the collection of natural items,

search means associated with the microprocessor for enabling and prompting the user, on the display screen, to perform a step-by-step elimination search to identify a natural item observed in the field by selecting one of said attributes, ... and continuing the stepwise elimination search to further reduce the number of possible natural items in the natural items of the collection, the search means progressively eliminating non-matches from a list of possible natural items in the natural items of the collection,...

The addition of extra multimedia types in the US7363309 patent are obvious to me, as a person ordinarily skilled in the art. The same applies to encasing the system in a mobile terminal.

It would be interesting to find out if Virgina Tech have access logs from 2003 and earlier which show access from early mobile web devices.

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Perhaps not as relevant as other examples, but it sounds like something Google Goggles could do.

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Google Goggles did NOT come out before Dec 3, 2003. –  Ron J. Jul 24 '13 at 12:16

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