Sliced Bread or Otherwise

13 Sep, 2006 By: Kenneth Wong

Can a method for presenting 3D data be considered an invention? According to the U.S. Patent Office, in the case of QuadriSpace, the answer is yes.

Originally filed in August 2002, QuadriSpace's patent application waded through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's sluggish review process for almost four years. The delay was inevitable because the Patent Office must determine if arts exist that could challenge the claim submitted.

QuadriSpace 3D publishing software is designed for use with manufacturing, architectural and other digital content. Patent approval was finally granted to QuadriSpace in June 2006 and applies to the creation, editing and display of a 2D page-based document that includes interactive 3D views. The patent makes the company's "system and method for presenting three-dimensional data" -- something it has been marketing since 2001 -- a protected invention.

In the interim, other products have emerged, some boasting features and components similar to those found in QuadriSpace products. So what exactly does patent 7,068,269 mean to the budding 3D publishing industry?

Standard Part of Business
For some, patents have become a gold mine -- in the case of Intergraph, for example, an inexhaustible one. Citing alleged infringement of its patented Clipper CPU design, Intergraph sued a list of computing powerhouses -- including Intel, HP, Dell and Gateway -- and collected settlements and judgments ranging from $10 million to $225 million each.

Brian Roberts, president of QuadriSpace, says, "We view the filing of the patent as a standard part of business that would protect our unique products and our investment in creating a market for an innovative set of products. QuadriSpace has been developing and marketing 3D publishing products for a number of years and we are pleased that our innovation was validated by the patent office." Roberts would not comment on the patent's implication for the wider 3D publishing market.

The System and Method
The abstract of the patent reads: "The invention relates to a system and method for presenting data such as CAD data. ... The presentation method includes a set of one or more pages upon which objects are arranged. The objects may be associated with models, images, text or buttons. For example, an object may be a walkthrough object associated with a 3D model. The method also includes a means for synchronizing data sets. For example, a 2D floor plan may be synchronized with a 3D walkthrough. Further, the system includes a means for determining collisions and climbing of an actor in a first person walkthrough object."

The user interface in QuadriSpace Pages3D Professional is built on now-patented technology.

This may not seem like a technology breakthrough or a radical way of visualizing CAD data now, but, Roberts reminds us, "It was a radically different way of presenting CAD data [at the time of the patent application]. In 2006, the concept of a 3D document is more apparent, and the market is beginning to show mainstream acceptance."

Expansion of QuadriSpace's Universe
QuadriSpace Presenter debuted in 2001 as part of the QuadriSpace AEC Presentation Suite and was favorably received by the AEC community. In 2003, the company targeted the MCAD market with the same technology. (For AEC- and MCAD-specific perspectives, read Cadalyst's QuadriSpace Presenter 2.3 and MCAD Tech News #117: QuadriSpace Presenter Pro.)

"3D publishing is not particularly prevalent in manufacturing," observed Ken Amann, director of research for market watcher CIMdata. "One of the issues is that we haven't had really good tools for easy creation and dissemination of 3D published documentation. It's an area we think will grow significantly, because there's a lot of value in getting 3D data into documents, particularly in creating interactive documents where you can rotate and explode the models -- for example, technical service documents." CIMdata's assessment is supported by the recent efforts of Adobe: The digital document market leader has begun cultivating software -- and enthusiasm -- for 3D publishing in the manufacturing arena.

In August 2006, QuadriSpace released new versions of its flagship products : Publisher3D and Pages3D, bundled as the QuadriSpace Document3D 2006 Suite. "Our 2006 family of products are being adopted across the PLM landscape," states Roberts. "Uses range from product catalogs and manufacturing instructions to technical documents and training presentations."

QuarkXPress for CAD
Whereas 3D viewers such as Actify SpinFire or Informative Graphics' Brava! enable users to visualize and annotate CAD files for collaborative purposes, QuadriSpace offers a slew of layout tools for publishing multipage presentation-quality digital documents with embedded 2D, 3D and animation files. Most CAD viewers give users the ability to import a 3D model into a fixed window. With some, hyperlinking one view to a table or an external site (for example, the manufacturer's home page) is possible, but the final print output is limited to a predefined format. Adding more sophisticated functions, such as an executable animation sequence, may require JAVA script writing.

On the other hand, QuadriSpace products let users define the model display window's position and dimensions, specify text box attributes and add many other aesthetic treatments typically available in graphics applications. Its use of layout templates and master pages to display certain graphic elements (such as a company logo) throughout the entire document, for instance, can be traced to similar features in 2D publishing programs. The software has been compared to PowerPoint or QuarkXPress for good reasons. Even the new product names, Publisher3D and Pages3D, acknowledge its debt to these venerated presentation and publishing packages.

In Pages3D and Publisher3D, animation sequences can be strung together using a series of snapshots. As with standard CAD viewers, QuadriSpace products do not require users to own the original authoring CAD program. The import feature recognizes industry-standard 3D formats such as Inventor, SolidWorks, Pro/ENGINEER, IGES and more.

Any Way You Slice It
Some inventions endorsed by the Patent Office might raise eyebrows. Take, for example, patent 6,874,409, which refers to the "method and apparatus for making commercial crust-less sandwiches. ..." Simply put, it's a machine that mass-produces crustless bread pockets with fillings. Is it breakthrough technology? Some might say so. Others might quibble over its sanctity as an invention.

Is QuadriSpace's 3D presentation method an invention? The U.S. Patent Office believes it is. Others might disagree. But few can deny that the now-patented underlying technology is the foundation for a series of 3D publishing products that have garnered many praises from industry press and analysts.

About the Author: Kenneth Wong

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