Apple granted another sweeping smartphone patent. Anyone else want to play global thermonuclear patent war?

Apple granted another sweeping smartphone patent. Anyone else want to play global thermonuclear patent war?

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in its infinite wisdom has granted Apple another sweeping set of smartphone patents, the likes of which probably haven't been seen since the great multitouch patent grant of ought 9. They relate the iPhone's interface and the way it displays lists and documents on a mobile device. According to Wired, covering a report by Patently Apple:

It may sound snoozy, but the patent — which covers graphical user interfaces ranging from email to Camera Roll to menu lists to the multi-touch interface in general — looks like a dangerous weapon for Apple as it battles Android handset makers.

The Verge reports:

[The grant includes] another scrolling patent — US patent no. 8,223,134 to be exact. The '134 patent claims priority back to 2007 and includes pretty broad coverage on a disappearing vertical scroll bar on portable touch screen devices.

Apple's battles with Samsung, Motorola, and HTC have had their ups and downs over the last few years, with wins, loses, injunctions, overturned injunctions, and a lot of general discontent on the part of consumers buying -- or trying to buy -- from all involved.

Apple's late co-founder, Steve Jobs, was on record as saying he considered Android stolen property, promiscuously disseminated, and that he was ready to spend Apple's last dollar going "thermonuclear" on the parties responsible. Tim Cook recently said Apple couldn't be the inventor for the world, and they wanted competitors to compete with their own ideas.

Some have accused Apple of fearing the growth of Android, and being unable to keep up with Google and ODM's pace of innovation. However, Apple maintains an incredible profit-share lead over Android manufacturers, the majority of whom barely break even, if that. Some have pointed to iOS 6 as a sign of Apple slowing down in the software space, though a comparison with Android 4.1 shows a decidedly different focus. In terms of hardware, the iPhone routinely pushes the limits of technology, and stays relevant on the market for years. iPhone 5 will likely prove no exception.

Apple continues to innovate as well as litigate, and for good or ill the USPTO has just granted them a powerful new weapon to wield in the latter.

Should they have been granted? Should Apple use them in patent suits? Is their use justified given Apple's history, and Google's? No doubt we'll argue all of that and more in the comments below, but for right now, they have been, they will be, and Apple almost certainly believes feels they are.

Source: Patently Apple via Wired

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, ZEN and TECH, MacBreak Weekly. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter, App.net, Google+.

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There are 51 comments. Add yours.

Heisenberg says:

The USPTO is what needs an overhaul. Silly ass patenting is becoming too easy. Way too easy.

ThatGuy#CB says:

Hey rene why haven't you posted anything about this ruling,: UK judge rules Apple must publicly admit Samsung did not copy iPad design!

Rene Ritchie says:

We're doing a special post on it, will be up tonight.

joshua.worth says:

Rene heads up OEM's rather than ODM's right?

Rene Ritchie says:

Original Device Manufacturer vs. Original Equipment Manufacturer

marktaylor#AC says:

Must be really special. It's taking a bit longer than expected. I would expect it to be unbiased like the rest of Rene's work.

Rene Ritchie says:

We talked about it extensively on the iMore show podcast, and on iMore today, watch either one for your fill in the meantime. While it only takes a few seconds to snark, it takes hours to record, edit, and post podcasts :)

ThatGuy#CB says:

Or the article in which Tim Cooks admits that it is too easy to file and be granted patents without ever proving ownership.

ThatGuy#CB says:

Before anybody accuses me of trolling let it be known I only use Apple products. I am just so sick of how imore and android central skew the complete truth on both sides of the fence. Imagine if all types of industry practiced this type of behavior on a regular basis. What if washington apples sued florida apples for being the first apple. When and where does it end?

Rene Ritchie says:

What trust gets skewed? It's easy to hurl accusations, but what specifically are we purposefully getting wrong?

I might make mistakes, but every word I write is accurate or reflective of a defensible argument to the best of my knowledge.

Dev from tipb says:

No, Apple should not use it in suits.

No, it never should have been granted.

No, it never should have been filed.

But, given their history, Apple will use it, and people will rush to blame the "system" instead, letting Apple off the hook for their aggressive role in pushing the system in this direction.

Hopefully, Apple will get banned in China for violating an equally broad and silly Siri-related patent ( http://www.eweek.com/c/a/Mobile-and-Wireless/Apple-Sued-for-Siri-Patent-... ), and when iDevices are in the crosshairs, people will wake up to the reality of the situation.

Edit: No, I do not want to see Apple banned, but the inevitable response of the companies Apple is targeting will be to file for an ever-increasing number of their own silly patents, and point them back at Apple. Eventually, this will create total patent paralysis, and I'd rather get to that breaking point now so we can get past it then limp along another 5-10 years before we get there.

okli says:

No this patents are not silly...No, Apple should use it in suits...No, it should have been granted..
.No, it should have been filed...No, Googlevil should not copy iOS... No, THIEF SHOULD NOT KEEP THE STOLEN GOODS... and No, silly people should not be allowed to post any comments

ThatGuy#CB says:

Apple is really starting to look like a tech bully in my honest opinion. I have never heard any of the other technology companies say they want apple or ios gone. It almost seems as if they welcome the challenge to become better. I just don't get it. Apple keeps picking these fights on behalf of who?

ThatGuy#CB says:

And when did people as a society start proving loyalty to any kind of corporation. DON'T FORGET WITHOUT YOU THEY HAVE NOTHING! Especially the carriers!!!!!!!!!!!!

ThatGuy#CB says:

Sorry for my rants people, as soon as I read the title of the post I got the feeling that rene was gloating (teasing)! These patents have proven to prove nothing in the tech world! MY 2 CENTS!

ThatGuy#CB says:

Oh I forgot to mention how dissappointed I am in ios 6. As soon as I started to mess around with it I couldn't help but notice 98% of it my wife already could do on her 2yr old samsung vibrant from t mobile.

ThatGuy#CB says:

rene please stop saying when the ipad 7 inch comes out it will stifle everything out on the market. Because the real truth is we will have to wait for it to come out while the others have been out for going on a 1 yr and a half. It probably will be better but how is waiting for something to arrive to compete with something already here better? Please help me understand, is it just because it is our beloved apple.

KungFuGrip says:

I read the full patent listing over at AppAdvice; seems to be pretty specific as to the exact disappearing scroll bars Apple uses. While still a ludicrous patent, it may not be as broad-sweeping as the kneejerk reactions will lead you to believe.

I know ONE thing: I'm sick of seeing the words "Apple", "Samsung", and "patent" in close proximity.

Dev from tipb says:

True, but you forget Apple is a company that argued in court that its already ludicrously overbroad patent on swipe-to-unlock also granted it ownership over taps in that context, because "taps are zero-length swipes" ( http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/jul/01/apple-google-patent-cas... )

While I admire the skill and chutzpah of Apple's legal team in a Dungeons-and-Dragons-Lawful-Evil sort of way, behavior like that has forfeited any benefit of the doubt they may otherwise have had.

KungFuGrip says:

Anyone who uses "chutzpah" effortlessly in a reply is A-OK in my book.

ThatGuy#CB says:

Am I the only apple consumer tired of waiting while all my android friends have a plethora of choices. My friend showed me on his samsung note how he ported ios on it just to show what android is capable of. I thought that was pretty cool. When I asked him if he could port android on to my 4s he stated not possible. I haven't jumped ship yet but I am definitely intrigued.

paleh0rse says:

Your friend lied to you about having iOS on his GNote, but you're absolutely correct that Android offers both more functionality and more choices...

ThatGuy#CB says:

I think I have hit my reply limit.

Fraydog#IM says:

Gatorguy, it's not enough for you to troll AppleInsider?

ThatGuy#CB says:

As I stated before, not trolling! Just disappointed

Rob White says:

*sigh*

Apple is already prepping the first lawsuit over this one. Mark it down.

PaperMate3rd says:

Rene man come on, I've been visiting this site for months now and your articles are becoming increasingly more irressponsible and pathetic. Before anyone calls me Anything, I'm typing this on an ipad2, i bought it for my gf and she loves it. I think its a nice device but as an android user ive grown acustom to certain things you dont get on ios without jailbreaking. That being said i think idevices play a good role in overall consumer technology and have for some years now. But this is completely out of hand. The way you titled your article and the content it contains has such an arrogant and endorsing tone to it that it's just sad. I would think as a tech journalist some responsibility would be considered for the consumers who read your posts. Apple is not perfect (nor is any other company for that matter) even if you believe their products are the closest thing to being so. The abuse of the US patent system by apple is wrong and troubling. It also has potential to start something very bad in the innovation of consumer products. You borderline endorse this behavior simply because it's being done by a company you like and support. I have no right to judge you or any other person for what they prefer. As a reader its just my opinion that your ultra bias content is very dissapointing. I agree with the above posters as to why you dont mention or post on the topics they linked to. I came to this site because it said for ALL things ios and i had just got my gf an ipad2 and because this site is referenced alot on androidcentral.com. but I'm starting to feel like that header should say all GOOD things ios. Cause thats all you seem to report or at least spin it to seem that way.

Fraydog#IM says:

Blow the entire patent system except for FRAND up and I'm personally OK with that. Problem is, if you do that, you'll STILL have companies like Motorola trying to patent troll because they're the ones holding FRAND patents.

Rene Ritchie says:

Um... The title was a play on a Steve Jobs comment and the movie War Games. The post doesn't endorse anything, it recounts the events in the context of Apple.

I do believe it's silly to dismiss Apple's legal action as "they can't innovate so they litigate" or that "Apple is scared of Android" because I think Apple would be suing regardless of how well Android was doing in the market.

If you're looking for "Apple is stupid" coverage, look elsewhere.

It takes zero effort to write that. I'm trying to understand why Apple is doing what it's doing, and present that to you so you can voice an opinion on it of your own.

That's not be being a fanboy, it's me doing my job.

Also: This.

http://www.imore.com/imore-today-attrigonometry-patents-mass-destruction-sorry-sammy

xyvex says:

Rene, how can you support this? How do they actually deserve this patent? You have honestly lost all credibility for objective, level-headed blogging. You should be ashamed of Apple. And yet, you act proud and smug.
Taco Bell the other day tried to give me a flier for a chance to win a free iPad. I told the person in the window- no thanks, I detest Apple and wouldn't take one for free. The person in the window agreed and said he can't stand Apple. I think these type of sentiments are spreading.

Fraydog#IM says:

Anecdotal evidence sorry is cute, and anecdotal, bro.

Rene Ritchie says:

Nowhere in that post did I say I supported it. I merely explained it...

...Then I spent a half an hour on the iMore show saying how silly I thought the patent was. I spent 2 minutes on iMore today making fun of it.

Also, as much as I love you, my credibility isn't based on how much you or anyone else agree or disagree with me.

That's the mentality that dumbs down discussion for everyone.

Ommadawn says:

All this does is demonstrate how broken the patent system is. At least the courts in the UK are showing some common sense.

xyvex says:

Yes the patent system is broken. Doesn't it also show how smug and arrogant Apple has become? Who do they think they are that they can patent something that has been in use for 20 years or more? The fact that they even pursued such a patent shows how ethically challenged they are. - wait no, EVIL. They don't want fair competition based on innovation. They want complete domination and will stop an nothing-even sacrificing basic ethics in the process. They're disgusting.

Fraydog#IM says:

That's quite relative on your part. I'd say Apple is filling a market need for easy to use tech, I don't believe that's evil. If we had to throw companies out with the bathwater, we would have to do that with Google and Microsoft. So Google's tact upon buying Motorola and insisting on egregious rates for MPEG4 is kosher? I don't think so.

demontooth says:

What benefit do Apple users get from this profit lead? Doesn't seem to be innovation.

Fraydog#IM says:

None of the dissenters here have a legitimate point. It's all hate.

Seriously, if you want to be critical of an article, great. Bring something substantive to the table. Don't be what you say you hate. Don't be a sheep of any MegaCorp. Think for yourself!

If you think the patent has been granted on baseless and stupid grounds, explain yourself. You aren't convincing anyone throwing out the Fandroid and iSheep, though I'll admit I've used those terms.

ThatGuy#CB says:

I believe I did just that. Legitimate point!

Fraydog#IM says:

If you made one post instead of a whole bunch to clog up the page, you may have had a point.

Dev from tipb says:

The patent is baseless because it covers a concept, not a specific implementation, and conceptual patents serve no useful purpose. Examples:

- In 2002, a boy was granted a US patent for "A method for swinging side to side on a swingset." ( http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn2178-boy-takes-swing-at-us-patents... )
- Slightly earlier, a man was granted an Australian patent for -- I kid you not -- the wheel. ( http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn965-wheel-patented-in-australia.html )

You could scoff that these are outliers, but the point is they have the same legal standing as Apple's patents. I do not recall the disposition of the wheel patent, but the swing patent took THREE YEARS of litigation to invalidate. That is almost the platonic ideal of wastefulness.

To take it into the realm of the less silly, and the damaging to tech:

- Email was prior art. Wireless delivery was prior art. But a company called NTP, with no products, successfully sued RIM for infringing on its "wireless delivery of email" patent, taking $612m out of RIM at a critical juncture when they really could have used that money and that focus on R&D. Many of those patents have since been invalidated, though too late for RIM. What patents remain NTP is using to go after just about everybody else, phone maker and carrier alike. ( http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2010/07/ntp-chasing-smartphone-giants... )

Apple is obviously different than NTP, because Apple makes products (and damn good ones). And other companies have filed for conceptual patents too, but these other companies seem to have accepted a gentleman's agreement not to use them offensively. What sets Apple apart is an unprecedented willingness to use them offensively. Example:

- Twitter has patented the "pull down to refresh" gesture. ( http://techcrunch.com/2012/03/27/pull-to-refresh-the-patent/ ). Silly, perhaps, but no sillier than Apple's "slide-to-unlock" patent. Twitter could use this patent to extract payments from, or block from distribution, apps from thousands of developers (including Apple). Is that ok with you? If not, why is it ok for Apple to do it, but not Twitter? If it is ok, then ask yourself what public good is served by granting Twitter (or Apple) a 20 year monopoly on a gesture? If you cannot answer that question, then the patent does not fulfill its intended purpose, and should not be granted

- Other companies also have patents as odd as Apple. IBM has patented auto-color coding of email based on cultural context ( http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO1&Sect2=HITOFF&d=PALL... ) Microsoft has patented document hard breaks ( http://www.freepatentsonline.com/7213203.html ) and pageup/pagedown ( http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20080821/033453.shtml )

The difference between Apple and IBM/MS here is that the latter two have never gone to court to block Mail.app or iWork, even though they arguably could. It would serve their stockholders, even if it would do nothing else than chill innovation overall. For whatever reason, they have held back from the critical juncture of clubbing people with their arsenal. Apple has shown no such restraint.

I have only skimmed this new patent, but it seems as broad, conceptual, and non-implementation driven as those earlier patents. As such, it deserves scorn, not protection. Perhaps we owe Apple some thanks here, though -- by wielding their club so grossly, maybe it will be the tipping point that finally gets various patent systems reformed.

GaiusPrimus says:

You sir, are a gentleman and a scholar. A tip of the hat to you.

Gregz0r says:

There's still time to save the post's picture, with a Matthew Broderick/Wargames mash-up!

Gregz0r says:

To those people who've been hoodwinked into thinking that it's only Apple playing the patent game - it's only NEWS if it involves Apple, but *everybody* is playing the same game.
HTC recently were granted a whole heap of patents from HP, so they can do the exact same thing too.

Wake up.

plunder says:

These insanely broad concept patents should not be granted to well established corporations with virtually limitless funds. It is like pouring petrol on the fire. Sooner or later, asserting them will discredit the legal process and begin to corrode it's credibility.

Societies need a sensible and reasonable legal framework for the good of citizens. Allowing companies to abuse it in this way is a terrible mistake. Companies like Apple already have more effective power than most nations; and our freedoms are their next target. We should oppose this.

ekimes says:

It's not a hard thing to oppose a patent. Compabies do it all the time. What will end up happening is Apple with depand money from other companies and it'll start a court war, again. Meanwhile no one will have to pay anyone anything. This patent is to broad amd more than likely this is the straw that breaks the camels back in regards to revamping the system.

jhrogersii says:

I guess you "kids" don't remember the eighties. It really doesn't take a lot of research to figure out why Apple is REALLY trigger happy with patent litigation. They were complacent early on the evolution of the PC, and didn't start going after Microsoft full bore until it was too late. Looking back, they probably had a lot more of a substantive case against them at the time for infringement and copying, but they simply got overwhelmed by the how big the PC market and Windows became.

Eric Schmidt just added fuel to the fire and struck the match by sitting on the board of Apple while Google changed the direction of Android to become a direct competitor of the iPhone. I think Jobs saw that as a slap in the face, and is a big reason why he decided to go "thermonuclear," in his own words. I'm not implying that Schmidt did anything illegal, or stole trade secrets. However, what he did was HIGHLY unethical and unprofessional. As a member of the board, he had inside access to information about the development of the iPhone, and even had a prototype. He should have at least recused himself during any discussions about mobile at Apple (which he did after the G1 was revealed), and probably should have just gone ahead and stepped down. If he had, I truly believe that the current state of patent litigation between Apple and Android device manufacturers would be MUCH different. I think Apple, like Microsoft, would have settled to just make money, rather than try to seriously harm their competitors.

For all of his brash talk, I'm sure jobs was smart enough to understand that Android couldn't be destroyed through litigation. However, I don't think that is the goal of Apple's current legal strategy. They have a lot of money, and patent litigation is relatively inexpensive. Since they were first to market with a successful product, and gathered a store of patents that are critical to capacitive touchscreen devices (whether right, wrong, or whatever. Not my point right now), they had all the ammo they needed to wage a war of attrition. I believe that Apple really doesn't care about winning any of these cases. I think that this is nothing more than a way for them to increase the cost of manufacturing an Android device. Any time they win an injunction or force a software update, I think they see that as a win because it hurts the competition's bottom line. Yes, this is petty, but unfortunately it isn't illegal, and Apple isn't going to stop yet.

I think that there is hope that, with Tim Cook in charge, who has proven he is willing to go in some different directions than Jobs, things will begin to change. If Apple's patents are legitimate in the eyes of the law (whether we agree with the system or not), then they should settle with those who infringe, make cross-licensing agreements, and get on with business. So, I'm certainly not trying to justify what Apple is doing, and I hope they start moving toward closure. I just believe that there are key reasons for the fear and hostility behind their current actions. In Steve Jobs' mind, they were enough to wage a war over.