Apple has begun filing patent applications for 1st party (i.e. Apple produced) iOS apps that include screen drawings of well known 3rd party (i.e. independently produced by developers for the App Store) apps.
Is Apple trying to steal the hard work and shatter the good will of App Store developers? Is Apple merely showing how App Store apps could hook into future Apple apps/hubs? Is it something in between?
Let's take a look after the break...
[Venomous Porridge, Thanks Dev for the tip!]
Venomous Porridge originally posted the image up to and this commentary:
one of the diagrams in Apple’s patent application for a travel app is a direct copy, down to the text and the positions of the icons, of an existing third-party app that’s been available on the App Store for years.
I can’t see how this is even close to OK.
The image is chilling for developers, especially since it doesn't appear like Apple contacted them to let them know they were using it, and doesn't appear to really explain the context of the usage in the application. That Apple would use an exact rendering of an existing app, when they could easily make their own, far more defensible artwork, is curious. That they show it clearly labeled as "Where To?" is more than curious.
FutureTap, the makers of Where To? said they did not have any deals in place with Apple for the patent and posted the following:
We’re faced with a situation where we’ve to fear that our primary business partner is trying to “steal” our idea and design. So how to deal with that? — As some of you know, we’ve always been more than grateful for the platform Apple created. And, in fact, still are. However, we can’t ignore it if the #1 recognition value of our (currently) only app potentially is under fire.
Is it possible that Where To is being intentionally and innocently used as an example of a related app as an inconsequential portion of the much larger and more complex patented concept that wouldn’t interfere with it?
Brian Ford adds:
The other clue that this isn’t about an underhanded attempt to patent the Where To app is that various pictures showing several completely unrelated app designs are all used to describe this same patent. None of the other drawings are consistent.
Venomous Porridge subsequently updated with a second post
I think it’s more likely that the people involved in drawing up this patent simply didn’t think about the message it would send to developers. I’m sure it’s not Apple’s practice (or intention) to plunder the App Store submissions bin for new things to patent. But there remains a conflict of interest in Apple acting as the sole steward of the iOS software universe while also filing patents in areas that have long been staked out by third-party developers. If those developers suddenly get cold feet toward submitting innovative apps for fear of their ideas suddenly appearing in Apple’s patent filings, it will be hard to blame them.
Which is pretty much how this reads. Apple is the giant in their forest and sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally they'll step on the far, far smaller villagers who inhabit it. If enough villagers pick up torches and pitchforks and make enough noise, the Apple giant might pause, shrug, say "my bad" and be try to be more careful for a while, but it will always be the giant in their own forest.
It would behoove Apple none the less, especially since developer relations have been tense over the years, to try and create a preemptive strategy in terms of reaching out and assuaging developer fears. If they're going to include Where To? or other app screens in their patents, create a process where that's noted in draft and the developer is contacted and given context.
Ultimately it doesn't look like Apple is being evil here, just inconsiderate.