Google Patent Application on Converting Spreadsheets to Web Applications

Google Spreadsheets have their roots in the technology of 2Web Technologies, who developed an application called XL2Web.

In June of last year, an announcement on the Official Google Blog answered the question, “Whatever happened to 2Web Technologies?” Last week, a patent application on spreadsheets, assigned to Google, was published at the US Patent and Trademark Office.

I can’t find an “official” statement that 2Web Technologies officially joined Google, even though the Google Blog post above mentioned that the 2Web team was working with Google.

The assignment of the patent application to Google seems to confirm the acquisition (that and Jonathan P. Rochelle being listed as a “Google Product Manager” for the Google Docs and Spreadsheets team in their blog).

I also hadn’t realized that you can embed Google Spreadsheets in Web pages. (I’ll be using this.)

Here’s the patent application, which covers the conversion of conventional spreadsheets to on line, web-based spreadsheets.

Converting spreadsheet applications to web-based applications
Invented by Jonathan P. Rochelle, Micah G. Lemonik, Farzad Khosrowshahi, and John Danaher
US Patent Application 20070162840
Published July 12, 2007
Filed: November 18, 2005


A networked version of a spreadsheet application can be automatically created from an existing “conventional” spreadsheet. In one implementation, a server may obtain a data file, where the data file represents a networked version of a spreadsheet application that was converted from the “conventional” application and the data file defines characteristics of the networked version of the spreadsheet application including logic and interactivity attributes of cells in the networked version of the spreadsheet application.

A remote request may be received from a client to access the networked version of the spreadsheet application. In response, the server may transmit a document to the client that represents a portion of the networked version of the spreadsheet application that the interactivity attributes specify as being displayable to the client.

6 thoughts on “Google Patent Application on Converting Spreadsheets to Web Applications”

  1. Very heavy stuff. I feel like my head is going to crack open. Nonetheless very informative.

  2. The patent application is a tough one to get through if you want to delve into the finer details of how that conversion takes place. Too much legal language mixed in with the technical details.

    I am still looking forward to trying it out soon – need a good blog topic that involves using a spreadsheet.

  3. The patent contains too much legal language, but its intent is clear. It’s interesting, because it’s very close to something I implemented several years earlier, and used at Bristol University for Web-ifying economic models written in Excel. The following is a quote from my The Spreadsheet Autopublisher on the biz/ed site for online educational economic models:

    The Autopublisher is an experimental service for teachers and others who would like to publish their spreadsheet models on the Web, but do not have their own Web sites. It takes a spreadsheet submitted via the submissions page and convert it into code which can be run by our Web server. it also generates an input form and an output page which will show the result of running the model. All you need to do is to write your spreadsheet, put some commands in it as labels to tell Autopublisher how to format the Web pages, and submit it.

  4. Hi Jocelyn,

    As a patent, I would expect nothing less than for it to be filled with legalese. I don’t think we can get past that.

    It is interesting that you came up with something so close to what Google describes in their patent. I’ve tried Google spreadsheets a couple of times, and they just weren’t robust enough for what I was trying to do.

  5. Hi Bill,

    Much of the “legalistic” appearance of Google’s patent is in the grammar and sentence construction, rather than the words used. The vocabulary is not difficult, for someone used to computing but not patent law. But the way the words are put together is. It also hides the meaning. Is that really necessary? Perhaps whoever drafted it just isn’t a good writer. We were always taught to write good clear English, and my teachers would be ashamed if one of their ex-pupils had turned out such a mess.

    But as far as its contents goes, are Google entitled to claim for themselves something that I implemented and published several years earlier? Didn’t they search prior art properly? It would be ironic if Google – of all people – failed to do a proper search.

    I agree about Google spreadsheets. One example: their MATCH function doesn’t implement wildcards. This stopped me getting some of my applications working on them.

  6. Hi Jocelyn,

    I think there’s a linguistic formula that a lot of patents follow that make them more difficult to understand than they should be. Some sections need to be presented rather generally, so that a patent can be applied to more situations than the examples they provide, and some wording is probably included less for its clarity and more for the fact that it has been litigated and ruled upon enough so that it might have a specific legal meaning as interpreted by courts in the past.

    Patent examiners are required to search and attempt to find prior art, but they aren’t always successful.

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