In recent days, some tech bloggers and news sites created a bit of an uproar when they reported that Microsoft had applied for and received a patent for “page up” and “page down” functionality.
“Put this in the category of ‘you gotta be kidding me,'” the GigaOm blog said.
“Yup, it’s theirs now,” said Gizmodo.com. “They called it. You can’t touch it. And if anyone takes issue with the clear fact that Microsoft invented hitting a button to skip to the next page of text, you’ll have to take it up with the principal and/or Microsoft’s parents.”
Some sites pointed out that page up and page down buttons have been part of computer keyboards since the early 1980s.
Microsoft’s patent isn’t quite that simple, however. It’s not for page up/down functionality on a computer keyboard — it’s more specific.
Some critics will still debate whether Microsoft’s invention is truly useful or worthy of a patent, but the Microsoft claim focuses on functionality intended to allow easier navigation when using page up and page down. Microsoft’s patent allows people using page up and page down keys to go to the same exact place on the next page as they were on the last page, no matter how much the page has been zoomed in or out.
Try this: Take a typical PDF or a Word document and zoom in by 200 percent. Then hit page down. Does the document go to the next page? Do you care if it doesn’t?
“Contemporary computer systems and programs provide great flexibility in viewing a document, including jumping to hyperlinked locations in the document, zooming in and out of the content, allowing a user to jump to a desired page by indicating a desired page number …” the Microsoft patent document says. “However, pressing the Page Down or Page Up keyboard buttons to navigate content provides sometimes unexpected results for many viewers.”
The patent allows readers to scroll through a document and hit the same spot on the page, useful for when readers want to examine headers or footers on every page of a document, the patent description says.
“When a user wants to consistently review a particular area of each page … the user has to use multiple key presses per page, unless the user can tolerate (and is knowledgeable enough to know to set) a zoom percentage that causes a Page Up or Page Down to jump the precise amount,” the patent document says.
Microsoft says its patented functionality significantly improves user experience, at least for some readers. People claiming Microsoft was patenting page up and down keys may have read only the abstract portion of the patent without reading the rest of the patent application, said Michael Marinello, Microsoft’s director of public relations.
“To be absolutely clear, Microsoft is not trying to patent the ‘page up/page down’ function on a keyboard,” Marinello said. “Instead, the company’s technologists and patent attorneys … believe we’ve come up with a way to improve overall user experience.”
Marinello declined to list specific applications for the patented technology, citing “a number of business and competitive reasons.” But the patent describes “specific, new techniques for incrementally navigating through paginated content,” he added.
Some commentators, however, recognized Microsoft’s patent went beyond the page up and page down buttons and were still unimpressed.
“Have you ever been [upset] that your Page Up button didn’t go up an actual physical page (instead of just going up one screen)?” said Silicon Alley Insider. “If you have, then you’ll be happy that Microsoft … put three engineers to work solving that problem and now they’ve been granted a patent.
“So if you don’t know how to set a zoom percentage, and you can’t tolerate the current Page Up/Page Down functions, then you’re probably ecstatic,” Silicon Alley Insider added. “The rest of [us] will shake our heads …”