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Saturday, October 20, 2007


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USPTO's patent pages are a total mess. By images, they mean TIFF images. Well, Firefox doesn't natively support TIFF images. TIFFs are fairly standard for scanning text, as far as I know (my scanner has a preset profile to output TIFF for black-and-white text scans). I'm sure they scanned all the patent papers as TIFF, and now just decided to "embed" all those as images. Literally. Within "embed" tags, which probably causes the QuickTime plug-in to kick in to try/fail to handle it.

On the other side of the problem, there's been a longstanding Firefox bug report on TIFF support ( https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=160261 ). With the typical arrogance of open-source developers, the response is "TIFF isn't standard on the Web, so we don't care about it." LibTiff is right there and freely available to embed. Blah.

Safari (on Mac OS X at least) has native TIFF support, and by some magic, it renders...badly, in a tiny scrollbox. But at least it renders.


hello anonymous.

good to know they are serving TIFF scans. and maybe TIFF support in browsers might be nice, but it definitely is something that someday might happen (but more likely not), than something you should count on today. so publishing images as TIFF on the web today really is not a smart choice. i was unaware of the fact that quicktime may have registered as a plugin to handle TIFF, but even though i can see the plugin starting, it does not work for me.

safari does display something, thanks for the advice. but as you said, the images are displayed with scrollbars and they are not very usable.

i can understand your argument about firefox being a bit too lazy about supporting more media types, but TIFF really is not high on the list of things to be supported for general web content.


Well, if you cared to read the instructions :p


"PTO's full-page images, nearly four terabytes overall, are stored ... in an image file format called "TIFF"... This is the format which is required by the international standards to which all patent offices must conform ... due to the volume of the image data, available funding, and other technical considerations, PTO cannot convert these images to a format more popular on the Web ..."

So they always scan in TIFF because "international standards" force them to. And they have no money and infrastructure to convert to something like, I dunno, PNG. I mean, would it really require -that- many more servers to run ImageMagick on the TIFF before serving a request?

With neither IE nor Firefox supporting TIFF natively, this seems rather ... problematic. I wonder how difficult it'd be to add a new image renderer to Firefox.


hey yiming. i don't want to read "instructions" for web pages, i want them to just work, and i think this is a reasonable thing to ask for when working with pretty simple documents containing text and images.

and if there are international standards for image formats for patent offices (is that even true?), i am wondering why there apparently aren't any standards about rejecting ridiculous patent claims that they otherwise definitely would be following...? wouldn't that be a bit more important than image formats?

and yes, adding a tiff-to-png converter is not really rocket science and would probably not generate a lot of server load. but on the other hand, if they made their web site useful and usable, they would get so many more users that they actually might run into serious problems with the increase in traffic... (that's probably the "other technical considerations" part.)


I saw your page at http://dret.typepad.com/dretblog/2007/10/us-patents-onli.html and was wondering if you have seen http://www.FreePatentsOnline.com ? This site allows free patent searching, PDF downloading, annoting documents and sharing them between users, free alerts, and more. I thought the link might be a good resource to add to your site.

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