AN OVERBROAD PATENT ON DISPLAYING ICONS - This application from Samsung seeks to patent the idea of... changing icon appearance based on their frequency of use! 10 minutes of your time can help narrow US patent applications before they become patents HERE

QUESTION - Have you seen anything that was published before Dec 9, 2011 that discusses:

  1. Storing FREQUENCY OF USE of screen icons; and
  2. Modifying the APPEARANCE OF AN ICON based on its FREQUENCY OF USE;

If so, please submit evidence of prior art as an answer to this question.. We welcome multiple answers from the same individual.

EXTRA CREDIT - A reference to anything that meets all of the criteria to the question above AND ALSO modifies ICON SIZE or ICON SPACING based on frequency of use of an ICON.


Summary: [Translated from Legalese into English] A method of displaying icons on a screen which involves displaying multiple icons, storing the frequency of use of each icon, and modifying how the icons appear based on their frequency of use. Yes, the applicant wants to patent any kind of modification to icons based on frequency of use.

  • Publication Number: US 20130152017 A1
  • Application Number: 13/674,833
  • Assignee: Samsung Corporation
  • Prior Art Date: Seeking prior Art predating Dec 9, 2011
  • Open for Challenge at USPTO: Open through Dec 13, 2013

Claim 1 requires each and every step below:

A method for creating a graphic user interface (GUI), comprising:

  1. Displaying a plurality of icons on a screen;

  2. Storing a frequency of use of each of the icons displayed on the screen; and

  3. Changing an external appearance of at least one icon on the screen from among the plurality of icons to reflect the frequency of use of the at least one icon.

In English this means:

A method for modifying icons displayed on a screen, comprising:

  1. Displaying multiple icons;

  2. Storing the frequency of use of each icon

  3. Changing the appearance of at least one icon based on frequency of use of that icon.

Good prior art would be evidence of a system that did each and every one of these steps prior to the Dec, 2011.

You're probably aware of ten pieces of art that meet this criteria already... separately, the applicant is claiming a method using all of the steps above and AND ALSO modifies ICON SIZE or ICON SPACING based on frequency of use of an icon.

"A method of resizing icons based on frequency of use" screen shots from Samsung

What is good prior art? Please see our FAQ.

Want to help? Please vote or comment on submissions below. We welcome you to post your own request for prior art on other questionable US Patent Applications.

  • See @Freddy's Tree Mapping link. This is pretty much exactly that.
    – orokusaki
    Jul 22, 2013 at 16:10
  • I'm new at this, but there seems to be ample prior art (@Witold Bolt's reference from 1996 seems most compelling to me) to challenge this. Micah, are you planning to file this with USPTO? Jul 23, 2013 at 12:31
  • Brandon, Yes - Ask Patents reviews all of the proposed prior art below and prepares and submits the best ones electronically to the USPTO to make a clean and (we hope compelling) case. Any user can up-vote multiple answers as a signal to us that the specific prior art looks good and I'd encourage you to do that if you feel someone's answer is helpful. Thanks for participating, Brandon. Jul 23, 2013 at 13:01

24 Answers 24


Microsoft Excel 2000 did this. Source:

The Excel short menus show the most popular commands. You can always get to the rest of the commands by clicking the chevron at the bottom of a menu to display the full menu. As you continue to use Excel, frequently used commands move to the short menus and unused commands move to the full menus.

"Displaying a plurality of icons" -- In Excel 2000, each menu item consisted of an icon and text describing the icon.

"Storing the frequency of use..." -- Yep, Excel did that

"Changing an external appearance of at least one icon on the screen from among the plurality of icons to reflect the frequency of use of the at least one icon." -- Excel moved the icons to the "short menus," thus changing their position on the screen so that they appeared sooner. Although you could argue that the icons had the same appearance, just in a different position, the next step to actually modifying the physical appearance of the icon itself to make it more prominent in some way other than position should be obvious.

  • I got here because of your tweet by the way, and it's great
    – Chao
    Jul 22, 2013 at 15:58

Also look at this research article: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF00126652 ("Design and evaluation of an adaptive icon toolbar" published in 1996). In the abstract we see:

This paper describes the decision-making algorithm implemented in the bar. It also describes the bar's self-adaptive behavior of displaying the frequency of each icon's use through the icon's size. Finally, we present some encouraging preliminary results of evaluations by users.

  • 1
    While I'm too cheap to shell out for the full article, this abstract seems to describe exactly the same behavior. Kudos! Jul 23, 2013 at 0:45
  • I've found yet another paper on this topic: cecs.uci.edu/%7Epapers/icme06/pdfs/0000381.pdf published in 2006. In abstract they say: "the proposed design entails the scaling of visual components that are displayed according to their degree of relevance to the user, or in other words, their probability of selection by the user." Jul 23, 2013 at 11:38

Tag cloud was my first thought too, although the typical tag cloud isn't based on the number of times click on an item in the cloud, rather the number of times the keyword appears somewhere (in the article, website, etc.)

Although, I did find this implementation of a tag cloud (http://www.solspace.com/docs/tag/cloud/) that does provide that functionality:

Furthermore, the tag cloud can be weighted through different methods, such as how many entries are assigned to them, or how many times they've been clicked.

The change log for that (http://www.solspace.com/docs/tag/change_log/) references 'clicks' in 2011, but its not entirely clear when the feature was implemented.

  • 2
    Personally I think the tag cloud has the best chance of invalidating this. Whether or not 'clicks' are used in order to measure the frequency seems irrelevant. The only thing that seems a bit different is that the frequency used in a tag cloud may not be only the frequency of a particular user, but rather the entire user base.
    – Cory Gross
    Jul 22, 2013 at 15:55

Wikipedia contains a page on Tag Cloud:


from June 7, 2005.

From the Patent Application:


From the Wikipedia article:

the more commonly used tags are displayed with a larger font or stronger emphasis

this implies the storage of storing the frequency of use and then modifying the appearance of a link based on that frequency.


I have been writing systems that do this since around 1999. Various papers describing these, e.g.:

Dron, J., Boyne, C., & Mitchell, R. (2001). Footpaths in the Stuff Swamp. Paper presented at the WebNet 2001, Orlando, Florida. Describes how topic tags grow and shrink according to number of clicks. But these were words, not icons.

Dron, J. (2005). Epimethean Information Systems: harnessing the power of The Collective in e-learning. International Journal of Information Technology and Management, 4(4), 392-404. (at http://inderscience.metapress.com/content/m500trq0ebr0w5wg/) describes how icons representing websites as iconic buildings grow and shrink according to number of clicks. Includes a screenshot showing this in action. The wording that describes this is: "A representation of overall site popularity is provided by making the virtual buildings larger or smaller depending on relative frequency of visits. "

A search on stigmergy or social navigation should reveal dozens of others from me and from other people.


isn't that basically a tag cloud? as the tags get more popular they become bigger.


Wouldn't this be considered a TreeMap? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tree_map with Frequency of use as its value?


A list of recently used applications is probably enough to invalidate this patent application. It essentially displays the frequency of use of an application. If it's unfrequently used, it will fall out of the list. If it's frequently used it will be included. Exclusion/inclusion in the list is the same as changing appearence as visible/invisible is a change in appearence as far I can tell.

For example, Windows XP released in 2001 has one of these list.

  • It isn't a patent, just an application so far.
    – George White
    Jul 22, 2013 at 15:53
  • Right, got confused. Updated the comment, Thanks. Jul 22, 2013 at 16:31

Crazyegg does exactly this. It (1) stores frequency of use of icons on a webpage and (2) changes their appearance to reflect it, with a frequency of use heatmap.

Heatma.ps also does this but for Android apps instead of webpages.


Not just Excel, Word as well, probably the whole office suite. Just replace 'icon' with 'menu item', and it describes the behaviour of the menus in Office since version 2000.

Now how is an icon different from a menu item? Both are areas on the screen that can be selected to activate a function. With Office 2007 the menus were rearranged and transformed into ribbons, which are in fact rows full of icons. So icons and menu items are basicly the same concept, just a newer version of it.


More generally, this goes under the name "adaptive user interfaces", i.e., user interfaces that adapt automatically to the user as opposed to "adaptable user interfaces". One example from 2004 (1):

As it learns more about the user’s behavior, SUPPLE adapts the contents of the dynamic sections of each window. The dynamic content may include duplication of functionality which exists elsewhere in the UI (e.g., adding widgets for controlling two-sided printing on the main print dialog window) or navigational shortcuts in the form of buttons or hyperlinks that take the user to a different part of the UI that normally would require several clicks on links, tabs, buttons, menus, etc.

So that's even more general than Excel 2000 menus implementation.


I could swear I've played games where you can only buy, say, 10 of the same item, after you've bought 10 the icon becomes greyed out. Can't think of a specific game though, but isn't that "changing appearance of icon based on frequency of usage"?


Many forum softwares use this kind of concept. It changes default thread icon to "hot thread" icon when there is larger thread activity.

Just take a look at the footer here : http://forumserver.twoplustwo.com/32/beginners-questions/. Thread icons change color to red for "hot threads".


Apple has some patents in that way. The writing scheme has a generalist approach that can overlap the current patent application.

A computer user interface is provided which allows a user to adjust the size of icons based upon a user's preference or based upon a characteristic of the objects that the icons represent. When the icon sizing is performed according to a user preference, a relative sizing scheme or an arbitrary icon sizing scheme can be employed to variably size icons. Providing the ability to size icons in such a manner allows users to represent a user's categorization of object importance, for example.



Here's an interesting paper from 2010: Speeding pointing in tiled widgets

It's a study on how to do dynamic resizing in response to cursor movements, but the "Future Work" section has this:

We are in the process of exploring variants of expansion strategies to determine promising approaches to endpoint fa- cilitation with expanding targets. While the KEP is currently not sufficiently accurate, it may be possible to increase the reliability of the KEP by combining its probabilities with ad- ditional information. For example, histories of command us- age or user task modeling could allow the calculation of set of priors on the underlying interface widgets. This would allow the KEP to identify the maximally likely target within a candidate set using two independent probability distribu- tions – one from command use and one from motion kine- matics.

(KEP is a specific target prediction algorithm in the paper)


There was an idea just for that to be implemented in Ubuntu. It was written down in 2010. The original web site doesn't work, but there is a Google Cached version: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:iRTDbzbkXWoJ:brainstorm.ubuntu.com/idea/25263/+


This patent refers to an implementation of a "visually weighted list". The most common implementation of a visually weighted list is a "tag cloud".

Human-Computer Interaction - INTERACT 2009: 12th IFIP TC 13 International Conference, Uppsala, Sweden, August 24-28, 2009, discussed the concept, in reference to a tag cloud implementation of such a list in detail on PG 819.

"A tag cloud is a visual depiction of words, called tags, which is typically used to describe the contents of a web service. It consists of a visually weighted list of tags arranged in a certain layout. Tags are usually hyperlinks in form of single words that lead to a collection of more elaborated issues. The weight corresponding to their relevance or popularity within a context is charactized by one or more visual features for each word, such as font size, color, intensity, position or a combination of such features. The most used layout strategy is alphabetical sorting of tags, but other principles such as importance based-or spatially optimized have been proposed and used. Recently semantic layouts, i.e. the clustering and display of tags according to their semantic relatedness, have attracted a lot of attention. Tag clouds have been for various tasks such as searching, browsing, recognizing and impression formation about a subject."

I interpret this patent to be a different implementation of a visually weighted list, that adjusts size and spacing of icons, instead of text based on popularity within the context of how many times they are used.


Published at least as early as March 1, 1996: "This paper...describes the bar's self-adaptive behavior of displaying the frequency of each icon's use through the icon's size."

Debevc, M., Meyer, B., Donlagic, D., & Svecko, R. (1996). Design and evaluation of an adaptive icon toolbar. User Modeling and User-Adapted Interaction, 6, 1-21

The full article is behind a paywall. The abstract explicitly teaches the "displaying" step and the "changing" step. It does not explicitly teach the "storing" step, but the full article may. In any event, storing of values is inherent to sorting them, especially when expecting to sort the values again when they change. When prior art anticipates a claim except that it is silent as to an inherent characteristic, it may be used in a rejection under both 35 USC 102 and 103 (a "102/103" rejection). In re Best, 562 F.2d 1252, 1255 n.4, 195 USPQ 430, 433 n.4 (CCPA 1977). Thus, even if the full article does not explicitly teach the "storing" step, the abstract alone should be enough to reject claim 1 of the '833 application.


Apple's dock icons could be said to be already using this technology, which would constitute prior art.

Depending on activity, dock icons can be "badged" with a number. This badging changes the appearance. The number might indicate pending activities (such as incoming email), or other things. The important part is "other things", because what the number represents is entirely up to the programmer of a particular application. I have no doubt that some programs alter the badge number based on "frequency of use". I do not know of a specific example but it should not be too hard to find one.


The TED site uses the same idea long before Dec 9, 2011.


You have various filters to resize the images by - most viewed, most commented, most popular this month...


In basic HTML any image or icon which is also a hyperlink will be rendered with a coloured border (usually blue). When the frequency of use of that link increases from zero (ie it is clicked once) the border colour changes (usually to purple).


Status indicators like perhaps those in Big Brother and other tools used for the network operations center (NOC) space are likely candidates to express this kind of behavior. Process control systems overall like to show current status and indicate flow volumes or energy expended in various eye-catching ways. I don't believe I saw an exact match of this in the early 80's in process control systems I worked on, but there were several competing systems at that time that used character graphics to support their status display rendering repertoire; some of the characters were programmable and icon-like in behavior.


Windows 7 start menu changes ordering of items based on the frequency of their use.

  • 2
    "Modifying the APPEARANCE OF AN ICON based on its FREQUENCY OF USE", not modifying the order of appearance.
    – Ron J.
    Jul 23, 2013 at 12:58

I work for UAHuntsville in contract for US Army in support of their APATS effort. We have been using the changing of displays images to denote conditions for motor vehicles for some time. This patent request is "obvious to anyone" forget to those of the profession. The USTPO should deny this application because this is Standard Operating Procedure for programming.

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