Back when I worked at IBM, there was a push to have more patents. They gave classes about what was valuable and how to best present new ideas for the sake of a patent. Until recently, I kept this material. I saw value in the information and always thought that somehow it would help the future inventor in me. Anyways, my friend Monte Copeland and I put together a invention disclosure titled something like “Making OS/2 Multiuser with Named Pipes”. Monte and I had put together a working system that we used in development. The ideas was to have a common server that would host sessions connected over network named pipes to clients. It was great for doing text based transactions. It was also great for sharing a powerful machine within a department. Compiles were much faster and people usually didn’t compile at the same time. This was combined with a sparse tree system with multiple layers to create the illusion of a full source tree even though a few files might be checked out. It was pretty hot for 1990-1991. Too bad we didn’t know how good we had it at the time. We were completely unaware of what Citrix was doing at the time.
We submitted our paperwork. Monte was convinced that nothing good would come out of it. I wasn’t so sure.
Monte was right. IBM published it as an announcement in one of their publications. It was not deemed strong enough for an invention disclosure. I was a bit disappointed and we both learned that IBM was not really that serious about taking in new ideas. Perhaps at the time they were skeptical of the value of software patents. At that point, they were still very much a hardware company. Today, as I see it, they are mostly a service company. From my simple point of view, they just skipped the software phase completely. This doesn’t mean that I think that they wrote bad software. It just means that I think that they never thought of themselves as a software company.
The only time I think they ever tried to change their minds is when they went after the OS/2 effort with full speed ahead. Unfortunately they were still acting as a hardware company. I think the bottom line was how many machines would be sold with OS/2 versus just selling OS/2 itself.
Excuse the digression. There is a point to the OS/2 reference.
When I left IBM in early 1993, I went to Citrix with many hopes. One of those hopes is that I would make a difference and that I would part of a good team. Both of those things came true. During mid 1995, there was a push towards taking the company public. One of the concerns was to create patents for our technology to stake our claims. It was exciting times since none of us had really considered getting patents for the work we had done. After a whirlwind exchange with the patent attorney, we had a handful of potential patents that we could file for. Each one of these would prove to be highly strategic for Citrix and continue to be relevant to this day.
The patent application I worked on with Andy Stergiades was titled “Method and Apparatus for Making a Hypermedium Interactive“. I remember being a bit skeptical about the potential for this given the experience with IBM. Luckily Citrix was a software company that was hungry for patents and actually wanted them. The application was accepted by Citrix and went forward to the Patent Office.
I’m really proud of this particular patent since it the collection of the work I did to bring Citrix to the Internet. The Internet client for WinFrame was a new model and almost instantly got the attention of companies like Microsoft. Instead of just focusing on launching programs from our client interface, it was possible to launch programs across the Internet. This is where the ICA file was born. This is where WFICA32.EXE came from. This is where the beginnings of NFuse and Web Interface came from. It is still fun to remember these early times.
I recently found some old notes I used to explain to the patent attorney. It isn’t hard to see the passion for trying to make a real difference for the company. And even though my hopes where high, the patent attorney took them even higher with the use of words to expand its possible application to technology.
The patent was granted in 2000 which was five years after it was filed. By then I was living in Australia. In fact, I had resigned in 1997 only to return in 1999. I had come back just in time to see the patent become accepted. There was a brief ceremony in Sydney and I was presented a plaque when now hangs in my office. Citrix was nice enough to create a plaque that captures the first page of the patent etched in metal. I guess it makes a good conversation piece if anyone was to stop by. There is so much stuff around the place that I don’t think anyone would even notice. Besides that, my family is used to my mess anyways.
The link above for the title points to a PDF copy of that first application. Perhaps some of you out there will find it interesting. The essential workings described are still in use today with WI. Of course, WI is much more advanced with how it handles the configuration and generation of the ICA files.