News Column

Patent Issued for Manipulating Labelled Data for Data Entry in Management Applications

July 29, 2014



By a News Reporter-Staff News Editor at Information Technology Newsweekly -- From Alexandria, Virginia, VerticalNews journalists report that a patent by the inventor Bauchot, Frederic (Saint-Jeannet, FR), filed on March 18, 2004, was published online on July 15, 2014.

The patent's assignee for patent number 8782508 is International Business Machines Corporation (Armonk, NY).

News editors obtained the following quote from the background information supplied by the inventors: "Before computers, numerical analyses, particularly financial ones, were usually prepared on an accountant's columnar pad or spreadsheet, with pencil and calculator in hand. By organising data into columns and rows, spreadsheets afford the rapid assimilation of information by a reader. The task of preparing a spreadsheet on paper, however, is not quite so fast. Instead, the process tends to be very slow, as each entry must be tediously calculated and entered into the spreadsheet. Since all calculations are the responsibility of the preparer, manually prepared spreadsheets are also prone to errors. Hence, preparation of spreadsheets by hand is slow, tedious, and unreliable.

"With the advent of microcomputers, a solution was forthcoming in the form of 'electronic spreadsheets.' Better known simply as 'spreadsheets,' these software programs provide a computerised replacement for the traditional financial modelling tools: the accountant's columnar pad, pencil, and calculator. In some regards, spreadsheet programs are to those tools what word processors are to typewriters. Spreadsheets offer dramatic improvements in ease of creating, editing, and using financial models.

"A typical spreadsheet program configures the memory of a computer to resemble the column/row or grid format of an accountant's columnar pad, thus providing a visible calculator for a user. Because this 'pad' exists dynamically in the computer's memory, however, it differs from paper pads in several important ways. Locations in the electronic spreadsheet, for example, must be communicated to the computer in a format which it can understand. A common scheme for accomplishing this is to assign a number to each row in a spreadsheet, a letter to each column, and another letter to each sheet (or page) of the spreadsheet. To reference a location at column A and row 1 of the second page (i.e., the upper-left hand corner), for example, the user types in 'B:A1'. In this manner, the spreadsheet defines an addressable storage location or 'cell' at each intersection of a row with a column within a given page.

"Data entry into an electronic spreadsheet occurs in much the same manner that information would be entered on an accountant's pad. After a screen cursor is positioned at a desired location, the user can enter alphanumeric information. Besides holding text and numeric information, however, spreadsheet cells can store special instructions or 'formulas' specifying calculations to be performed on the numbers stored in spreadsheet cells. Such spreadsheet cells can also be defined and named as a range as long as they are arranged as a connex set of cells. A typical example of such a named range simply corresponds to a regular table found in an accountant's pad. In this fashion, range names can serve as variables in an equation, thereby allowing precise mathematical relationships to be defined between cells. The structure and operation of a spreadsheet program, including advanced functions such as functions and macros, are documented in the technical, trade, and patent literature. For an overview, see e.g., Cobb, S., Using Quattro Pro 2, Borland-OsbomeIMcGraw-Mll, 1990; and LeBlond, G. and Cobb, D., Using 1-2-3, Que corp., 1985. The disclosures of each of the foregoing are hereby incorporated by reference.

"Electronic spreadsheets offer many advantages over their paper counterparts. For one, electronic spreadsheets are much larger (i.e., hold more information) than their paper counterparts; electronic spreadsheets having thousands or even millions of cells are not uncommon. Spreadsheet programs also allow users to perform 'what-if' scenarios. After a set of computational relationships has been entered into a worksheet, thanks to imbedded formulas for instance, the spread of information can be recalculated using different sets of assumptions, with the results of each recalculation appearing almost instantaneously. Performing this operation manually, with paper and pencil, would require recalculating every relationship in the model with each change made. Thus, electronic spreadsheet systems were invented to solve 'what-if' problems, that is, changing an input and seeing what happens to an output.

"Electronic spreadsheet files have thus become today the tool of choice for manipulating data, most of the time numbers, and computing output information from input information which may occupy hundreds or thousands of row data records. The most classical and obvious example corresponds to a vertical table constituted by a plurality of horizontal records, and structured according to vertical fields. When a table is initialised within electronic spreadsheet files, the user has to specify for each table record the different fields belonging to the table. Some field are 'input' fields which will receive row data, while other fields are 'output' fields which will result from the input fields according to some formulas. The initialisation of input fields is most of the time difficult to automate as they are generally corresponding to different samples of a given variable. Nevertheless input field data are easy to specify as the user is just asked to type a value within the spreadsheet file. The initialisation of the output fields is less combersome as the same relationship (in fact a formula) is used across different records, so that the initialisation of a field within a given record can be copied onto the other records. Nevertheless as the data to be specified is a formula (instead of a row data), the complexity comes from the strict syntax to be followed when specifying formulas. The present invention proposes an original system and method for assisting the spreadsheet user to intialise the output fields of a table part of an electronic spreadsheet file. The proposed method outscore some conventional means already available in the field of electronic spreadsheets.

"MS Excel

"The Excel tool from Microsoft corporation includes means allowing a spreadsheet user to use a table label as the argument of a function. This feature is interesting in the sense that it relieves the spreadsheet user to master the way range of cells are addressed within an electronic spreadsheet. Nevertheless it presents the drawback of being only used as function arguments, requiring thus that the spreadsheet user do master the function call syntax. This feature is illustrated in the FIG. 3A showing some text extracted from the MS Excel on-line help.

"Lotus 123

"The 123 tool kit from Lotus Corporation defines the concept of SmartLabels. They allow user to associate a label with a function according to a predefined relationship. Facilities are made available within 123 to manage such relationships (for creating, editing, or cancelling them). This feature is interesting in the sense that it only asks the spreadsheet user to learn the SmartLabels (which are very intuitive, like the label 'total' to sum the various elements of a given field) instead of the function syntax. Nevertheless it presents the drawback of only facilitating the specification of function, but without specifying arguments other than using the reserved word 'list' to represent a range of cells. So the interest is limited to conventional functions like summing, or averaging a range. The FIG. 3B shows an extract of the on-line 123 help articulating the SmartLabel usage, whereas the FIG. 3C illustrates the corresponding SmartLabel Editor interface.

"The limitations of the conventional tools introduced here above become quickly unbearable when an 'average' spreadsheet user (or simply a spreadsheet beginner) wishes to quickly build tables without having to master the syntax of the formula language available within the electronic spreadsheet environment."

As a supplement to the background information on this patent, VerticalNews correspondents also obtained the inventor's summary information for this patent: "It is an object of the present invention to provide a system and method for computing values of output columns in vertically arranged tables having input columns and output columns and allowing labelling of any column, by entering mathematical expressions of both numbers and/or variables, the input column labels being used as variables.

"It is an object of the present invention to provide a system and method for computing values of output rows in horizontally arranged tables having input rows and output rows and allowing labelling of any row, by entering mathematical expressions of both numbers and/or variables, the input row labels being used as variables.

"It is another object of the invention to have a unique data entry step and a good computing time.

"These objects are reached by the use of a method for data entry into the content of cells belonging to an output field, said data being expressed as a mathematical expression of the cell contents of at least one input field in a data multi dimensional table used by a data management application, said table comprising cells arranged as a grid of records and fields, each cell corresponding to the intersection of one record with one field, each cell being identified by a cell address and comprising a cell content, said table having one specific record in which each cell content is entered as a unique character string label identifying each table field, said method comprising the steps of entering labels corresponding to the at least one input field and a label corresponding to the output field, said later label being expressed as the mathematical expression of said labels of said at least one input field; parsing the label of the output field into a mathematical expression by identifying the numeric operands, the operators and the at least one existing input field label; translating in the mathematical expression, the at least one existing input field label into the address of the cell containing the at least one input field label; and, for each cell of the output field, pasting in the cell content the translated mathematical expression and replacing in said pasted mathematical expression each cell address of the at least one input field label by the cell address of the at least input field belonging to the same record.

"These objects are also reached, according to claim 2, by the use of the method of claim 1 further comprising the step of replacing the output field cell contents by the computed mathematical expression applied to the cell contents corresponding to the cell addresses of the at least input field belonging to the same record.

"These objects are also reached, according to claim 3, by the use of the method of anyone of claim 1 to 2 further comprising the steps of repeating the preceding steps to compute the content of the cells of any additional output field in the table, wherein said content can be expressed as a mathematical expression of the cell contents of at least one input field.

"These objects are also reached, according to claim 4, by the use of the method of anyone of claim 1 or 3 wherein the step of parsing the label includes a transformation of the cell content type from a character string into a computable mathematical expression.

"These objects are also reached, according to claim 5, by the use of the method of anyone of claims 1 to 4 wherein the mathematical expression comprises complex operators developed as functions in the data management application.

"These objects are also reached, according to claim 6, by the use of the method of anyone of claims 1 to 5 further comprising an initial step of selecting the input and output fields forming the data multidimensional table in a larger data multidimensional table.

"These objects are also reached, according to claim 7, by the use of the method of anyone of claims 1 to 6 wherein after the step of entering labels, the following steps are executed only if a further step of starting computation of the cell contents of the output field is triggered.

"These objects are also reached, according to claim 8, by the use of the method of anyone of claims 1 to 7 wherein the fields and records are respectively the columns and rows if the data multidimensional table is vertically arranged or are respectively the rows and columns if the data multidimensional table is horizontally arranged.

"These objects are also reached, according to claim 9, by the use of the method of anyone of claim 1 to 8 wherein the specific record in the data multidimensional table is respectively the top record in a vertically arranged table and the first left record in a horizontally arranged table.

"These objects are also reached, according to claim 10, by the use of a data processing system comprising means adapted for carrying out anyone of the steps of the method according to anyone of claims 1 to 9.

"These objects are also reached, according to claim 11, by the use of a computer program product comprising programming code instructions for executing the steps of the method according to anyone of claims 1 to 9 when said program is executed on a computer.

"To ensure automation and good response time, the user of method or the system of the invention will delimit in a table, the areas which will be dedicated to these specific manipulations of data. This will drastically limit the amount of computing resources to the minimum and thus will not jeopardize response time.

"A huge advantage of the solution of the present invention is to provide a simple way of entering data: there is no need of knowing any programming language and syntax of the data management tool because the functions are expressed as intuitive expressions based on simple mathematical expressions which is a universal language.

"Furthermore, with the solution of the invention, one can take advantage of the functions already provided with the data entry tool of the data management application or functions developed by the programmers and introduce them in the mathematical expressions for creating or modifying a row or a column. It is true that with `old generation` tools such as ICU, not programmable, the set of functions is limited, but with `new generation` tools such as data entry tools for spreadsheet programs, the set of function is unlimited.

"The preferred embodiment described a labelled Table Field Manager which can be used in a spreadsheet program such as MS Excel or Lotus 123. This solution can be advantageously implemented in a graphical tool such as ICU or in any data entry module used in data management applications such as DB2.

"The advantage of solution of the invention is that when the output column or row cell content contains the mathematical expression of the cell content addresses of the input fields, each time the input field cell contents change, the final computed value from the output column will be changed because each cell of the output row or column keeps a historical record of the way the values have been computed. When the data management application cannot support mathematical expressions in the cell content, at least the output column or row label stays in the form of the mathematical expression and thus, keep a historical record of the way the values have been computed.

"Finally, it is noted also, that the use of the label names for computing output column or row values according to the solution of the invention can be known internally to this table (or part of table) on which the computation is done. By implementing the method as a specific module of the entire data management application, there is no interference with the other labels which are given and used during the execution of the other part of the entire data management application."

For additional information on this patent, see: Bauchot, Frederic. Manipulating Labelled Data for Data Entry in Management Applications. U.S. Patent Number 8782508, filed March 18, 2004, and published online on July 15, 2014. Patent URL: http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO1&Sect2=HITOFF&d=PALL&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsrchnum.htm&r=1&f=G&l=50&s1=8782508.PN.&OS=PN/8782508RS=PN/8782508

Keywords for this news article include: Information Technology, Information and Data Management, International Business Machines Corporation.

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