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AN OVERBROAD PATENT ON DATABASE VISUALIZATION - This issued patent seeks to patent the idea of... detecting the user’s reading speed and controlling an electronic display! 10 minutes of your time can help narrow US patent applications before they become patents. Follow @askpatents on twitter to help.

Patent: US7089266

Title: Computer systems and methods for the query and visualization of multidimensional databases

I'd be interested in prior art for this patent - seems absurdly broad to me.

QUESTION - Have you seen anything that was published before June, 2003 that discusses:

Claim 1 requires each and every step below:

A method for producing graphics comprising::

  1. determining a hierarchical structure of a first database;

  2. constructing a visual table, comprised of a plurality of panes, by providing a specification that is in a language based on the hierarchical structure of the first database;

  3. querying the first database to retrieve a set of tuples in accordance with said specification;

  4. associating a subset of said set of tuples with a pane in said plurality of panes; and.

  5. encoding a tuple in said subset of tuples in said pane as a graphical mark.

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3 Answers 3

Crystal Reports has been able to query and generate tables/graphs from OLAP cubes for a long time. I'm not sure when the feature was introduced, but here is a review which discusses the feature from June 10, 2005

Lotus Improv introduced the Pivot Table in 1991

A CrossTab Analysis and Reporting (1994) patent already exists.

EDIT: Worst case, you could accomplish all of this with Office '97. Perhaps just with the MS Access Query Designer, and depending on how "graphic" you want to get, use Excel. The "graphics" as described here are just dynamic tables, not even charts.

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I've been a software developer for 10 years and every time I create a program the user interface looks different because the structure of the data is different. Applying algebraic expressions to data is not new, spreadsheets have always done this. Applying hierarchical structures to data is both common and common sense. Using tuples to store data is not new in fact it's rather irrelevant what type and/or combination of data structures are chosen to solve a problem.

Creating a user interface specific to the problem you are trying to solve is what every computer program does. If their user interface is distinctive (as every tends to be the case in user interfaces designed to handle complex data) then it should be covered under copyright not patent. As noted in the previous citing of prior work, using tables, graphs, pivot tables and graphical elements to reference data in a user interface is not a novel invention, just a unsurprising combination of techniques common in the industry.

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Perhaps going to the original source project at the University may provide calls to the prior art needed. Here is the first named inventor Chris Stolte's old Stanford web site.

http://graphics.stanford.edu/~cstolte/

Interestingly the diagrams from the patent in question look identical to what is shown in detail in a project at Stanford called "Polaris." Conveniently he describes the novel features and even states they don't think there is much new here except how the data is visually presented in the UI.

Claim #1 seems to be the meat of the patent claims. It claims the systems queries a relational database, multi-sheet spreadsheet (hierarchical structure), constructs a UI table, and then shows the user multiple rows and columns of the data as a "graphical mark" aggregation in a new table/row type UI. Optionally you can create tabs of data which they refer to as "layers." Basically instead of aggregating data via a pivot table and showing numbers this system will instead show icons in a position in a box on the UI. You can see this visualization in this screen shot.

http://graphics.stanford.edu/projects/polaris/interface_full.gif

You might sort of recognize such a graph and wonder where you have seen it before. I did and then it occurred to me it is a scatter plot matrix graph which is used very widely in financial analysis and the scientific community but probably not so much in business. SAS Institute's software supports this kind of visualization and has for years.

http://support.sas.com/documentation/cdl/en/grstatproc/62603/HTML/default/viewer.htm#a003155769.htm

And SAS even supports an OLAP interface to Microsoft Excel. http://support.sas.com/documentation/cdl/en/whatsnew/64209/HTML/default/viewer.htm#amowhatsnew51.htm

Further claims go on to state you can make changes to the color, size, shape, and symbol used which they previously called a "graphical mark." Nothing novel about that. With further claims of using algebraic expressions to filter the data. They can't be doing anything new much here since the data manipulation is going most likely be limited to what SQL and the OLAP or DBMS system can support.

Stanford Polaris Project http://graphics.stanford.edu/projects/polaris/

The following text is directly from the Stanford site.

Over the last several years, we have been developing Polaris, an interface for exploring large multi-dimensional databases that extends the well-known Pivot Table interface first popularized by Microsoft Excel. The novel features of Polaris include an interface for constructing visual specifications of table-based graphical displays and the ability to generate a precise set of relational queries from the visual specifications. The visual specification can be rapidly and incrementally developed, giving the analyst visual feedback as they construct complex queries and visualizations.

The Polaris interface is simple and expressive because it is built on top of a formalism for describing table-based graphical representations of relational databases. Specifications in this language are compiled by our interpreter into a set of efficient queries and drawing operations to generate displays.

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