AmiCOUR IP Group News and Opinions

New IP in IT: Gadgets, Widgets, Clouds, Portals And Lots Of Sharing

January 2010

Here is a copy of our Viewpoints article as submitted and reprinted with our permission in LES Viewpoints.

By Scott Bechtel 

The IP in information technology is constantly changing, and so are the rules. If you have a personalized iGoogle home page, you are using “gadgets” even if you’ve never heard of them before; and, as you surf away, you’re bound to run across an odd looking “tag cloud.” In the open source IT world, your personalized iGoogle gadgets may not be from Google at all. A few years ago, Google opened content development to anyone with enough moxie to invent new gadgets for the rest of us to use and enjoy. A chance to appear on the Wal-Mart of Web pages was enough incentive to generate more gadgets than anyone would use in a lifetime. Google provides a free gadget software developer’s kit or SDK. When a gadget has 250,000 users, its inventor can claim mainstream gadget success.

Every gadget, non-Google “widget,” or “applet” is really a mini Web page using eXtensible Markup Language or “XML” folded into a HyperText Markup Language or “html” wrapper. In plain English, nearly every displayed piece of data has a hidden label to tell other gadgets what the data really is; for example, a last name or an area code, and so on. This lets gadgets and applications talk to one another and get it right. Think of it as having Google provide the picture frame while gadget content providers supply the picture, which the providers can change as often as they like, provided they include the XML map showing how to put it all together.

When a gadget is loaded onto the iGoogle home page, it simply floats to its proper place and looks like it belongs there. It all works beautifully because of a simple software architecture which Google didn’t develop. You see, in 2005, Yahoo acquired a 2003 startup called Konfabulator. Entering “Konfabulator” into Google patents generates a mere handful of IP returns, including a few pending patent applications. These guys invented this clever way of creating personalized Web content using a bunch of “applets.” The applets individually did things like look up stock prices or what time it was. In the end, everything worked equally well on Macs or PC’s and on most browsers. When Google adopted the applet technology, calling them gadgets, ubiquity followed. Yahoo quietly landed a 2007 copyright notice buried in iGoogle’s home page source code. Take a look, it’s there. The code also cites a “BSD licensed portion” referring to software originally owned by the Regents of the University of California (developed at Berkley) licensed under a “permissive free software license.” The net result is that iGoogle users are transparently viewing content from one of the largest volunteer creative teams in history, having generated the software equivalent of the Smithsonian Institute archives in just a few short years. If you have a Web site, sell a product, or provide a service, you need gadgets.

Corporate intranets are shifting to the widget model. Understanding the motivation is easy: Parts buyers can view a work portal widget showing their pending deliveries, shop floor managers can see work in progress on their widgets, and research scientists can have a widget with the links to key publications. Every employee is still on the same page when it comes to viewing the “management feed” sitting alongside the company calendar showing paid holidays. When people need to collaborate, XML formatted widgets speed the workflow and help do the paperwork. The system gets the job done while being simple and easy to create, and if one widget breaks the rest will widget on without it.

Intellectual asset managers will be using workplace IP portals with their roots in the 2003 Konfabulator applet architecture. Instead of plowing through Web visitor logs, tag clouds will graphically tell which patents are being viewed by licensing prospects. IAM’s will update their Web-based offerings using a content generation widget. Smart widgets will help find potential licensing candidates, and other widgets will display patent evaluations or even 5-star Web ratings, which may come from multiple evaluators logged into their own IP portals. Transaction widgets will manage the names and legal information for potential licensees, even helping to handle the paperwork.

When the widget invasion arrives, there still won’t be a widget that negotiates IP deals or sits for the patent bar exam. We’ll just be a lot more efficient. And, when you mention widgets, many people are still going to ask: “What’s a widget?” 

© 2010 AmiCOUR IP Group, LLC.