Massive Apple patent win could kill off Android

Mark Hattersley
20 July, 2012
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Apple was granted 25 patents earlier in the week that encompass almost all user interface elements used by modern smartphones. Everything from email, telephone, camera, video player, camera, search and most importantly Multi-Touch (the system of using multiple finger gestures on a touch screen display) have all been granted to the Cupertino-based company.

The company, responsible for the original iPhone, as well as subsequent iPod touch and iPad devices, now has the legal right to object to almost every aspect of rival mobile devices, particularly the Android operating system developed by Google.

Patent no 8,223,134: “Portable electronic device, method, and graphical user interface for displaying electronic lists and documents” covers all of the interface elements Apple developed during the original iPhone.

The patent outlines the interaction between hardware and various apps including Contacts, Telephone, Browsing and Widgets such as Stocks and Weather

Steve Jobs, former Apple CEO, may finally get his wish and see Android devices (in their current shape and form) completely taken off the market. That is, if Apple’s legal team can make good on the patent system.

Jobs said with his characteristic abrasiveness: “I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple’s US$40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong… I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product. I’m willing to go thermonuclear war on this.”

Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, has a softer approach, but the message is similar: “From our point of view, it’s important that Apple not be the developer for the world. We can’t take all of our energy and all of our care and finish the painting, then have someone else put their name on it”.

The patent outlines the Multi-Touch interface and covers all gestures such as pinch to zoom and swipe to unlock.

What effect this batch of patents has is as much a test of the patent system, as it is of the relationship between Apple and its competitors in the tech market. The US Patent department itself is under intense scrutiny after a sharp increase in the number, and veracity, of litigation of patent holders using the legal system to prevent rival devices from going on sale, or extract licensing payments.

As US Judge recently dismissed an Apple patent lawsuit against Motorola “with prejudice” meaning that Apple could not refile, or sue again (thanks to @FloridaLegal for the clarification). Judge Richard Posner described the case as “silly”. Meanwhile, it is reported today that a UK judge has ordered Apple to take out adverts in major UK newspapers pointing to a court ruling that stated “Samsung did not copy its iPad”.

Apple has had success with its patents though, managing to get both the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Galaxy Nexus removed from sale in the UK, and has sent letters to UK retailers ordering them to stop selling the device.

Apple is by far the most prolific instigator of lawsuits using the patent system, a report in July outlined that the company was responsible for 60 percent of mobile patent lawsuits taking place.

There’s little doubt to our minds that rival smartphone makers copied the iOS interface. Apple put all the initial legwork into crafting an end-to-end mobile device that acted as inspiration to the rest of the market.

What seems to be at stake is how much tech companies are allowed to take ideas developed by rivals, and what the role of the patent system is in allowing, or preventing such influence. Steve Jobs himself said “good artists copy, great artists steal”.

Apple has been accused of copying other products, one example would be the Sherlock 3 search system in Mac OS X, which Karelia Software claimed was a copy of its own program Watson.

If Apple does continue its pattern of using the patent system to block rival products at the point of sale – and there’s no reason to imagine why it wouldn’t – this could give Apple’s legal team a large nail to hammer into Android’s coffin.


5 people were compelled to have their say. We encourage you to do the same..

  1. Flor Bogs says:

    I joined the Apple cult because they make superior products, but the court battles around the world are really making me rethink my faith in Apple and Steve Jobs. It’s really leaving a bad taste in my mouth. Everyone knows that Apple products are better and make you look cool when you show it off in public. Apple doesn’t need to fight in the courtroom. Leave the litigation to patent trolls and struggling companies looking to make money to keep themselves in business. Apple beats everyone in sales, mates.

    I’ve heard of the Samsung Galaxy S3 being a threat to Apple, something that is complete nonsense. Does the S3 have an Apple logo!? No!!! That automatically makes it an inferior product. Even if that phone sells like crazy, the iPhone 5 will bury it and everyone else. The iPhone 5 will have a revolutionary 4″ screen, blazing-fast 4G LTE, and a dual-core processor. I’d like to see Android or Microsoft (even though Microsoft isn’t a threat) beat that.

  2. Alex says:

    I was just doing some general reading on the android ecosystem and stumbled across this post…

    I find quite ironic that the article mentions that Jobs said that “Good artists copy, great artists Steal” however when he said that he was quoting Picasso (unless Picasso also took that from someone else).

    Secondly, I think you would be interested in some of the Patents that google has gotten through the Patent office. The whole system is a joke, and the lawyers are laughing all the way to the bank! At least the public aren’t forced to pay upfront for these ongoing legal battles, only in ongoing costs by paying more for their devices through i) operational costs, ii) unfair licensing agreements (I concede that the unfair agreements are less common than fair agreements; and it’s a bit of a non-issue for Apple since they rarely license anyway).

    I thank the writer for sticking to the facts, albeit a (justifiably) positioned perspective. And I can’t wait to see what Apple releases next with their logo that the posters like the above will purchase at premium prices.

  3. Randy Magruder says:

    The new Apple patent is not an “Android-killer”, no matter how much Patently Apple and other tech sites claim it is. Here I’ve linked the actual patent. Yes, it’s dense reading, but read carefully as much as you can. You will see that the reason all the various applications on the phone are mentioned is because they all have in common the need to scroll. This entire patent is about regaining screen real estate by having a appearing/disappearing scroll bar which reflects where in the document you are, and how big the visible area relative to the underlying document. Based upon my understanding of patent law, it is the combination of factors: touch screen, dragging window contents, and appearing/disappearing scrollbar, that comprise the patent. It is NOT the “Mother of all patents”.

    Assuming Apple sues manufacturers over this patent (bank on that), and assuming that prior art or obviousness tests somehow fail (I have a feeling this patent will be invalidated by either or both), then all Google has to do is subtly tweak the scrollbar behavior and visibility so as not to infringe, and the patent ceases to have any force.

    The only reason I can see why anyone would claim this is the “Mother of all patents” is because they did not carefully read the patent, and just saw the big list of applications and assumed that Apple had just patented the entire common UI of every smartphone. This is utter nonsense. If you don’t believe me….READ THE PATENT and prove me wrong.

  4. counsel dew says:

    You state, ” There’s little doubt to our minds that rival smartphone makers copied the iOS interface. Apple put all the initial legwork into crafting an end-to-end mobile device that acted as inspiration to the rest of the market.”

    Apple improved on what Palm & Treo did before them

    The iOS UI looks very similar to the Treo UI-columns & rows of icons, etc. Go see this Applw+like video:

    You would do well to read the text from Apple’s 1984 Macintosh commercial:

    In the commercial, “the man” on the screen is saying:

    Today, we celebrate the first glorious anniversary of the Information Purification Directives. We have created, for the first time in all history, a garden of pure ideology – where each worker may bloom, secure from the pests purveying contradictory truths. Our Unification of Thoughts is more powerful a weapon than any fleet or army on earth. We are one people, with one will, one resolve, one cause. Our enemies shall talk themselves to death, and we will bury them with their own confusion. We shall prevail!

    My problem is what Apple rebelled against in 1984 is what Apple has become today… Sad really.

    We simply need patent reform.

    Lastly, getting a patent issued does not mean it should have
    Been issued. See slide-to-unlock where neonode had already released a product with this type of feature-this was prior art & will invalidate a patent issued.

    Jobs said, many times, Apple improved what other people invented. Funny how perspectives change.

    Apple males nice products, but I hope you don’t really think apple invented all of the UI currently seen in iOS…

  5. Justin says:

    I am sitting on a bus watching some guy use his Samsung galaxy via all the familiar UI finger gestures that the iPhone pioneered it occurred to me that if amazon can copyright one click buy or microsoft is allowed tI enforce its patents, then Apple has the right to force other companies to invent their own solutions instead of copying others.

    and by the way great artists steal means they make someone elses solution their very own (by putting their own soul into it), they don’t do a Samsung and just copy paste.

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