Microsoft’s metapaper, “Outlook on paper”

Some people might call me a patent scavenger, but I prefer the term “opportunist”. I sift through dozens of new Microsoft patents every week so you don’t have to. And trust me, I’m doing you a favor. A recent set of patents filed by Microsoft reveals a pretty innovative idea that I think is worth realizing. Whilst the patents refer to it indirectly, it doesn’t take a lot to fill in the blanks. They call it “metapaper“, I call it “paper Outlook”.

Personal information manager (PIM) software like Outlook to schedule events, manage tasks, contacts and communication can be extremely helpful. In fact so helpful people often carry devices such as laptops with them just to have access to this information. Sometimes this can be an inconvenience in certain locations. Which is why some people will print out their schedule and tasks list to take with them instead. This is where these patents come in.


By utilizing a printer and scanner, metapaper enables a new way to interact with PIM software. Instead of just an output with your schedule and to-dos, the paper also becomes an input.

The main difference between your current Outlook printout and metapaper is a printed indicia in the corner of the page, as shown by the datamatrix barcode (1103). Now when you annotate this page and scan it back to your computer, the printer will automatically recognize the identifier and send the contents to your PIM software for OCR processing. The example above has a new appointment (1403) and task (1405) annotated which will be automatically added to the user’s schedule.

Whilst this example is as far as the patent goes to describe the functionality available, I can easily imagine a few more. For example, you could complete tasks by annotating a tick next to the task, or even a strikethrough. You should also be able to reschedule events by drawing an arrow from the event to a new day. There’s also plenty of uses for this technology beyond just PIM software, like tracking changes in Word.


In addition, the patent also describes new capabilities on printers, specifically wireless printers, where it can request print jobs instead of just receiving them. Instead of dealing with the software on the computer, the user could instead press a button on the printer for a predetermined print job which the printer will then request from the computer. Theoretically, multiple users should be able to print a range of preconfiguered metapapers (ex. weekly, monthly schedule) from the one device.

Paper-less office? Hold that thought. 😉

6 insightful thoughts

  1. Realy nice find Long !

    It makes sence when you see the demo of the “Surface like” desktop where you can scan document by placing them on the “screen”. this way it’s just a brand new way to interract with the computer … truly brilliant !

  2. I stick with smartphones, PDAs, and those handy devices.
    And that’s NOT a green idea. Ecologists will hate them!

  3. Looks a lot like what my HP printer does. I put in a memory stick with pictures it prints a proof sheet, I bubble in which pictures I want to print what size I want and how many copies. Put the sheet back on the scanner, and out comes my prints.
    So this does not seem like such a new idea.

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