Saturday, December 11, 2004

Auto-Complete Patent

Dan Crevier got a patent from his work on Mac Outlook Express:

The system and method of the present invention automatically provides dynamically generated completion information for facilitating user input of e-mail addresses or contact information. This completion information is developed from a “data store” comprised of multiple data sources such as previously sent or received e-mail, and other types of electronic files such as word processor or spreadsheet files. The present invention monitors and uses the information in the data store to automatically store, track, maintain, and organize data entries in a dynamic “resolution list.” As a user begins to input an e-mail address or contact, the present invention can either automatically complete the entry using a most probable result from the resolution list, or can display a list of likely matches from which the user may select the desired e-mail address or contact.

Hopefully, I’m just bad at reading patents, because it sounds like a lot of current programs—from Mail to LaunchBar—might be covered by this.

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The key passage making this patentably unique is probably the part "and other types of electronic files such as word processor or spreadsheet files."

Using previous mail as a source for completion entries is not unusual, nor would using an address book, or even filesystem files. But grabbing email addresses from word processing documents and spreadsheets is a bit unusual, I should think, and probably a function of Microsoft being the vendor of the whole application suite.

Prior completion implementations haven't really done that, as far as I'm aware. They don't usually reach into the documents belonging to other applications, because that isn't trivial to implement. Even Microsoft probably doesn't pull email addresses out of documents from non-Microsoft formats.

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