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10/13/2010
06:02 PM
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Apple Awarded Text Message Filtering Patent

It's a censorship tool and a grammar-teaching tool, all rolled into one.

Apple has been awarded a patent for a way to control objectionable text messages.

The patent, titled "Text-based communication control for personal communication device," was filed in January, 2008, and was granted by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office on Tuesday.

Apple's invention, which may or may not ever find its way into an actual product, aims to stem the scourge of offensive texting.

"One problem with text-based communications is that there is no way to monitor and control text communications to make them user appropriate," Apple's patent states. "For example, users such as children may send or receive messages (intentionally or not) with parentally objectionable language."

The patent also notes that the informal nature of text-messaging may encourage poor grammar.

Apple's patent proposes a system to remedy the situation, in conjunction with a parental control application.

The system's success depends on enforced grammatical correctness. As the patent notes, text messaging is difficult to filter because there's so much shorthand. Blocking dictionary words doesn't work because abbreviations like LOL and its ilk may not be in a standard dictionary file.

To avoid this problem, Apple's system can police bad grammar. The patent proposes filtering text messages by disallowing the use of non-dictionary words. The patent also suggests its grammar enforcement mechanism could be used as an instructional aid for teaching Spanish, for example. However, given the rates at which most text messages are billed, there are probably more affordable ways learn a foreign language.

It appears that the attorneys who drafted this patent don't have much experience with text messaging because the patent suggests that "LOL" is an abbreviation for "lots of luck," rather than the more widely accepted "laughing out loud."

But even if the patent's authors are out of touch with the medium they propose to tame, there are sure to be Apple customers who would welcome the ability to limit what children, or employees, can include in their text messages, particularly given the hype surrounding explicit text messages, also known as "sexting."

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