Wednesday, 11 July 2012 12:15

Apple's History Shows They Use Other's Ideas And Are Now Trying To Use Them To Harm Android Device Manufacturers

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We have been following Apple’s free run through the patent office for quite a while now (and I covered it long before starting this site). In the beginning Apple would patent advancements or refinements on technology they “borrowed” from others. Often these improvements were so noticeable that they were close to being a new technology. Even Steve Jobs once admitted to shamelessly stealing the ideas of others. What they were not doing at the time was using the patent system as a tool to stifle competition and they had not built the mythology that they invent everything just yet.

Something changed after 1996 when Steve Jobs said this; we are not sure what it was, perhaps he started to believe his own mythology or just lost his mind a little. We do know from accounts and a psychological profile done on Jobs by the FBI that he built his own realities and was very good a bringing others along for the ride. Jobs also had something of a temper and did not let things go easily. We can see this by the way he would not allow Apple’s accumulated wealth to filter back to shareholders (something that Tim Cook did very soon after Job’s death). Jobs did this due to his remembrance of times when Apple was operating on a shoe string. He never wanted to return to those times.

Shortly after the iPhone launched Apple began a habit of patenting ideas and concepts. These were almost always taken from other products and concepts existing in the patent office, but reworded in such a way that they would pass the almost non-existent Prior Art search that the USPTO is supposed to do. The intent was to make sure that Apple could maintain a hold on their improvements to prevent competition from companies that they knew would pop up. The idea for the iPhone was little more than an improvement on products that HTC, Palm and others had on the market long before the iPhone was conceived. However, it is true that Apple improved on the concept and made a better product.

What they saw was that other companies were quick to follow with their own devices using competing mobile operating systems (which is exaclty what Apple did with the iPhone). You had the Palm Pre, Windows Mobile, and of Course Android (which predates the creation of iOS, but did not hit the public as a phone OS until after the iPhone hit). The purchase of Android by Google enraged Steve Jobs and he embarked on a mission to destroy the company and anyone that made a product using it. This began a series of patent filings that directly attack devices and technology that Google has already implemented (and often has patents for). The filings again are so vague and always include the wording “methods for” so that they can cover as much as possible (and leave openings for litigation).

You can see this in Apple’s patent for their own wearable computing devices, their Unified Search feature, Their Voice Control, and now with their NFC enabled “iTravel” patent. I am absolutely shocked that the last one was granted as even a quick search on this finds numerous patents for the use of mobile devices to check in at airports. I have done it myself using the airlines service. Adding NFC in has also already been done. Nokia was doing this back in 2008 (check out item number 2). AT&T has a patent for “SYSTEM AND METHOD FOR ELECTRONIC TICKET VERIFICATION, IDENTIFICATION, AND AUTHORIZATION WITH A WIRELESS COMMUNICATION DEVICE” (Patent number 20100170947) that was granted in 2010.

We covered this type of Patent abuse (which is bordering on patent fraud) from Apple before. However, they are getting more and more open about this type of abuse which in the end has NOTHING to do with protecting their intellectual property but the theft and re-engineering of someone else’s ideas. By taking the idea into account and filing their patents (before they can even reduce them) they are attempting to lock in the technology to their name and devices. Apple does not own the NFC technology; it is in use by multiple companies around the world (and Google Wallet pre-dates Apple’s Passbook). Google, on the other hand does own many NFC related patents (they bought startup Zetawire for their NFC payment patent portfolio in 2010). This is the same situation with Google Glasses; Google bought the patents, started showing them off, and Apple then pushed their patents through.

Right now Apple sees the relative success of the use of NFC for payments, check-in and many other functions that have been shown off by other companies in copious amounts and would like to lock this into their devices. What we would like to see is someone to call for a judicial review of the patents filed by Apple since the departure of Eric Schmidt from Apple’s board (around 2009) to see how many are not valid due to either prior art or the fact that they do not represent a new technology (merely a concept or idea). From there it might also be helpful to check internal Apple documentation to see if the push for these patents was directed by anyone in an attempt to intentionally deny access to the market by competing products. If so… well that would be a text book abuse of the patent system for anti-competitive purposes. to further prove the point that Apple "steals" technology and then patents it to block competition you might want to look at the UK High Court's recent ruling that HTC did not violate Apple's "slide to unlock" patent becasue it was an invalid patent. In particular he is quoted by Out-law.com as saying;

"I consider that it would be obvious to the skilled team, faced with the lateral-swipe arrow unlock of Neonode, that it could be improved by the provision of feedback," the judge said. "The skilled team would be aware that visual feedback for a lateral gesture could be provided by the extremely familiar sliders from his common general knowledge, such as [Microsoft's] Windows CE slider."

"It is true that this simple improvement was not done by Neonode. This is a secondary consideration which may in some circumstances support a case of inventiveness. On its own, which it would be in this case, it is of little weight," he said."

Now to address what is sure to come up at this point. Yes other companies patent ideas all the time, however if you look at the difference between those patents and the ones that Apple employs you will note that they are most often very specific about the technology in question. Apple on the other hand likes to employ exceptionally broad and vague patents that can be interpreted to cover as much as possible making them perfect attack patents instead of defensive patents to protect their “IP”. It really makes the canned Apple comment “we need to protect Apple's intellectual property when companies steal our ideas” seem sort of hollow.

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Read 4543 times Last modified on Thursday, 12 July 2012 08:15

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