Today, the US Patent and Trademark office awarded Apple a utility patent that covers the use of the mouse cursor that changes according to the context of the task it is engaged in. Called a “Dynamically Changing Cursor for User Interface,” patent number 8,230,366 describes the functionality of the on-screen mouse cursor when it changes to the familiar spinning beach ball, the green plus symbol when copying files, or the red number of items being moved from one disk to another.
The patent itself discusses several configurations of such a “hybrid cursor,” like it does here when talking about the plus sign bubble notification cursor:
A different form of hybrid cursor can be associated with a copy operation. FIG. 8A illustrates one example of such a cursor. In this example, the tail of the normal cursor is again replaced with a bubble. However, the bubble has a “plus” sign within it, to indicate that a copy of the dragged object will be made. In addition, the bubble preferably has a distinctly different color from that of the hybrid drag icon, such as green. As a result, the user can readily distinguish between drag operations that will cause an object to be moved from one location to another, and drag operations that will result in a copy of the object being made.
The other types of abstract cursor are defined in the summary abstract, as follows. The hybrid wait cursor references the “spinning beach ball of death,” while the other forms allude to the plus sign and number bubbles, respectively.
“When the application is busy and operating in the background, a hybrid wait cursor is displayed that indicates to the user the busy state of the application and the user’s ability to interact with operating system elements or other applications regardless of this busy state. Other forms of hybrid cursors are disclosed that indicate the results of a drag operation, and quantitative data pertaining to objects being dragged.”
It’s fun to see a patent for features we’re already well into using on our Macs, of course. The little green plus sign is one of my favorite visual notification systems on the Mac, making it very clear that I’m engaged in a copying activity. That it’s similar across all apps and interactions on my Mac is one of the clearest points of why I’m an Apple user.
This just-awarded patent was filed on October 23, 2003, which shows you the length of wait time on these things. Imran A. Chaudhri is credited as the inventor, and Apple the Assignee.