ToRCHI presentation on User Interface patents

Toronto Regional Computer-Human Interaction Group, ToRCHI

The Toronto Regional Computer-Human Interface group presents a panel on “UI Patents: Pleasure or Pain?” tonight at 7:00 p.m. Panelists: Gordon Kurtenbach and Jin Li; moderator,, David Modjeska.

here’s been a lot of talk recently about software patents, and in our area, particularly UI patents: Are they legitimate, helpful, pleasant, efficient? The debate rages on, while UI patents are filed in large numbers. Large corporations are particularly active in this area.

The panel will attempt to answer some of the basic questions; outline the process of invention and filing; and take positions on key issues.

The two panelists are Jin Li, a User Experience Lead at the IBM Toronto Software Laboratory, and Gord Kurtenbach, Director of Research at Autodesk. The moderator will be David Modjeska, a free-lance Information Architect in Toronto.


Gordon Kurtenbach – The Real Evils of Patents
When it comes to the subject of patents in user interface, the cliché image is of the innocent designer being blocked, by a patent, from using something which benefits the user. Beyond this cliché image are the complexities of creating and using patents. In the course of being an inventor on several dozen user interface patents, I’ve made some observations: answering the question “what exactly did you patent?” is difficult; dramatically unique inventions are just as hard to patent as small incremental improvements. User interface inventions require quite a bit of savvy to appreciate and understand; doing a good patent is much like going to the dentist—it’s not pleasant but you need to do it.

Jin Li – Grand Ideas and Myths
A patent is a mechanism for protecting intellectual property and encouraging innovation. For UI designer and researchers, patents provide a way to capture expertise, foster professional growth, and generating substantial value. The patenting process starts with brainstorming and invention; moves on to elaboration and expression; continues to formalization and filing; and (with luck) concludes with a patent granted by law. At IBM, patents have strategic importance. Accordingly, the company’s internal processes support inventors and have given IBM a significant place in the IP landscape. For UX (User experience) design, UI patents don’t need to block creativity, but can rather enhance and facilitate it.


Jin Li
Jin Li is a User Experience Lead at the IBM Toronto Software Laboratory. His work involves the full development cycle of software design, from user requirements gathering to beta testing. In particular, he gathers, analyzes and translates user requirements and usage scenarios into software and user interaction designs for application development tools and Web enabled applications. Jin holds and has filed numerous UI patents. Jin holds a MSc. in Computer Science (HCI option) from the University of Toronto. Jin is currently pursuing a PhD degree part-time in Human-Robotic Interaction in the medical domain. He can be reached at

Gord Kurtenbach
Dr. Gord Kurtenbach is Director of Autodesk Research, focusing on 3D interactive graphics with research in the areas of interaction technologies, modeling, animation and rendering. Prior to Autodesk, Dr. Kurtenbach was a researcher at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center and Apple Computer’s Advanced Technology group. He received his Ph.D. from University of Toronto in Computer Science and has published many research papers in important publications, as well as holding many patents involving human computer interaction. Gord’s areas of research include human-computer interaction input devices; bi-manual input; high degree of freedom input, menuing systems; UI for 3D graphics; human motor control and perception.

David Modjeska
David Modjeska is a free-lance information architect in Toronto. He holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of Toronto, and has conducted research on information visualization in Toronto and in Umeå, Sweden. In addition to being a university lecturer at the University of Toronto, David has worked in industry in several roles: usability engineer and technical writer at IBM, and software engineer at Adobe Systems and at SPC. While at IBM, he filed several UI patents. David has also published a number of research papers in the HCI and visualization areas.

Note: ToRCHI is the Toronto chapter of ACM SIGCHI.

I’m back in Ontario

Yesterday I got up at 5:45, breakfasted, drove the 245 km from Revelstoke to Kelowna, returned a car and a camera to the rental company, and caught a plane to Toronto. I’m glad I bought a sandwich and some juice beforehand because the return flight didn’t include a meal (although the outgoing trip did). The return is with the prevailing winds and is almost and hour shorter.

I came to Revelstoke to celebrate a cousin’s (non-religious) wedding on Saturday:

newly married couple in Revelstoke, British Columbia

About bloody time!

Canada is following the example of South Africa and will strike a Truth and Reconciliation commission to bring light and air to the terrible treatment of Native Canadian children in residential schools, which were mostly run by churches. They were meant to bring British culture and education, not to mention salvation, to the children but they ended up oppressing and abusing them.

Judge LaForme has been selected to lead the commission.

As noted before, the schools did not even take precautions to prevent tuberculosis from spreading between the children.

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