A recent editorial in the LA Times, discusses the importance of design to the patent process
After finding Samsung liable for more than $1 billion in damages for infringing Apple’s iPhone and iPad patents, members of a federal jury told reporters that they hoped to deter companies from copying one another instead of developing their own designs and features. That’s a laudable goal, and the public would surely benefit from more choice and differentiation among products. The challenge is in distinguishing between the sorts of innovations that should receive patent protection and the ones that shouldn’t.
We don’t mean to second-guess the jurors or defend Samsung, which was found to have deliberately imitated Apple’s iPhone designs and some of its functions. If companies were able to wait for their rivals to come up with successful devices, then rush out copycat versions with confusingly similar features, there would be less money spent on R&D and more on marketing.
Nevertheless, it’s worth remembering that Apple made its name building successful, even iconic products based on ideas that other companies pioneered. The iPhone, for example, was a significantly better version of the smartphones Nokiaintroduced more than a decade earlier. Innovation is by its nature an iterative process, and good patent policy creates an incentive to innovate more. Bad policy just makes it easier for patent holders to extract royalties from anyone venturing within reach of their claims.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has just released a series of newly issued Apple patents. While this may not come as a surprise – as Apple seems to patent something new every week – one of those patents is of particular interest as it applies to solar power technology.
As reported by MacNN, the patent was filed in 2006 and is titled “Portable Devices Having Multiple Power Interfaces.” The application states that this solar power technology could be applied to a wide variety of devices, from the iPhone to the MacBook.
Before getting too excited about this patent, more details will need to come to light. Leaving a phone or computer in the sunlight may not be the best idea (especially in high temperatures), so it will be interesting to see how/if Apple integrates this technology into their products.
Apple recently filed a patent that would use biometrics for extra security on the iPhone. Yet, a more recent patent application reveals that Apple may be applying those same concepts to make the roads a bit safer.
As reported on AppleInsider, the 11-page application notes that the use of navigation systems in a moving vehicle has raised many safety concerns. The patent focuses on decreasing these concerns, by calling on a touchscreen-based navigation system that would either be self-mounted or hardwired into an automobile. This system would rely on speakers and microphones for voice-enabled operation, such as navigation.
The patent also reveals that it could deny access for individuals and “lock down” the system based on biometric sensors. One potential application of this technology would be allowing parents to block their high schoolers from using the GPS systems while the car is motion.
Because the patent is so general, it’s not known whether Apple is trying to break into the GPS-navigation market, or if these concepts will be applied to an iPhone App. Yet, these ideas should not be ignored because they could potentially make the road safer by decreasing the distractions.
In a recent patent filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Apple addressed several new methods that could help improve security on the iPhone. As reported by Endgadget, the filing cites new biometric authentication to unlock an iPhone, rather than normal methods.
Some of these new biometric methods that could entail and iPhone containing a hidden sensor behind the screen that would recognize the user’s fingerprint. Also, a front-facing camera could be used for retinal recognition. Finally, the filling also puts forth the possibility of iPhones recognizing their user’s voice, as well as collecting DNA samples for recognizing a genetic code.
However, this particular patent came under fire when it was discovered that one of the drawings of the iPhone included some interesting applications. In fact, the applications that were included are only available by “jailbreaking” an iPhone, or loading applications that are not approved by Apple.
While some think that this jailbroken iPhone was included on purpose, that may not be so. The application does not reference jailbroken iPhones, and Apple maintains that the act of jailbreaking an iPhone is illegal. It’s safe to say that Apple’s lawyers will have some explaining to do.
As if the lawyers for Apple weren’t already busy enough, Affinity Labs of Texas LLC has accused the company of infringing on three patents. The patents are titled “System and method for Communicating Selected Information to an Electronic Device,” “Audio System and Method,” and “Content Delivery System and Method.” According to Ars Technica, Affinity Labs claims that these patents cover buying songs from the iTunes store, and downloading songs from iTunes onto an iPod or iPhone. It is also claimed that these patents cover playing digital audio on an iPod or iPhone with external speakers.
Before reacting to this news, it should be mentioned that the lawsuit was filed in patent infringement-friendly Eastern Texas. Also, the patents seem to be a bit broad, since it seems as if they would apply to every audio device that plays digital audio. Affinity Labs has similar suits pending against car manufacturers, in which the defendants have filed countersuits. Can you say “patent troll?”
Accolade Systems LLC has also named Apple in a lawsuit, after it named Micron and Aptina as defendants as well. Accolade claims that their patent, “Method and Apparatus for Detecting Camera Sensor Intensity Saturation,” is violated by Apple as the iPhone automatically adjusts the brightness of a screen based on surrounding light. Other cellphones and products also have this feature, so it remains unclear as to why the suit is being launched against Apple.
While it seems as if Apple may be able to wiggle its way out of these lawsuits, Apple’s bottom line may be hurt as it still must pay money to defend itself.
Is it possible that Apple finally got tired of having third parties make attachable handles for their laptops? Or, is Apple ready to shed its customary “thin and sleek design?” While the former seems a lot more probable than the latter, this debate recently arose with the filing of a new Apple patent.
As reported by Cult of Mac, Apple was recently granted a patent for a handle with an integrated heat pipe. The patent application states that as designs for computers become more compact, “managing thermal loads in integrated circuits becomes more challenging.” Thus, not only will this handle be used to carry the computer, it can help dissipate the heat the builds up inside the computer. It is stated that this solution might actually work better than using a fan, as fans may significantly lower battery life as well as increase the noise level.
An example of an Apple computer that actually contained a handle was the iBook G3 Clamshell. Unfortunately, the handle was removed on later models. However, one must wonder if the handle is used to dissipate generated heat, will their laptop literally be too hot too handle?
Apple has recently been named in a number of lawsuits, most of them touching on patent infringement. But one lawsuit strays from this topic, as according to CNET News, the mother of a 15-year-old boy is suing Apple after an iPod Touch exploded in the boys pants, burning his leg.
According to the complaint, the boy “realized his Apple iTouch had exploded and caught on fire in his pocket….[he] immediately ran to the bathroom and took off his burning pants with the assistance of a friend. The Apple iTouch has burned through the plaintiff’s pants pocket and melted through his Nylon/Spandex underwear, burning his leg.”
The exploding iPod Touch supposedly gave the boy second-degree burns, and $225,000 is being sought in compensatory and punitive damages. Yet, many more facts must come to light before it is known exactly what happened to that particular iPod Touch.
There have been previous cases where mobile devices have caused similar injuries due to explosions. The causes of those explosions can normally be attributed to faulty batteries added by the user. But, the iPod Touch’s battery is not replaceable by the user.
It appears as if Apple has been named as a defendant in a recent suit filed by Monec Holding. According to CNET News, Monec accuses Apple of “patent infringement, unfair trade practices, monopolization, and tortuous interference for allegedly treading on its January 2002 patent.” That patent is titled “Electronic device, preferably an electronic book.”
Monec’s claims center around Apple’s reading applications for the iPhone, which make the phone an eBook reader. Supposedly, this violates Monec’s patent filed for a lightweight electronic device with a touchscreen, that can display a page of a book at normal size.
Some have speculated that this lawsuit may have been started by Amazon’s Kindle for iPhone e-book reader software that is now in Apple’s App Store. However, it seems as if Monec’s claims may be a bit too general for this lawsuit to ruled in the plantiff’s favor.
According to iPodNN, one of the new patents is for an iPod dock to fit in a car’s cup holder. This patent would create a solid mount in a car for the iPod, while also having the ability to charge the device. The patent was filed in 2005, and there seems to be many different iPod chargers that resemble this filing, making it unlikely that this patent will end up on the market.
The company also patented two industrial designs already in use, one for the outdated iPod shuffle as well as a USB connector cable to iPods and iPhones. Lastly, Apple was also granted a patent that describes special circuitry in a power supply. This device would be used to control the deliver of power to other devices, and trigger a shutdown in case of any serious errors.
It’s not uncommon for a company to try and connect a patent with an industry standard, then withhold information so that once the standard is set, the company can demand money for patent infringement. Regardless of whether or not this is ethical, Apple recently surprised many in the technology industry after it revealed that it had done this same practice in the technology of widgets.
As reported on CNET News, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standardized technology for online widgets and asked for companies to commit their patents royalty-free. However, Apple withheld a patent covering automatic updates to a client computer in a networked operating environment. Therefore, any company that uses the W3C standard and even touches the Apple patent will need to negotiate directly with Apple for the rights.
To Apple’s credit, they may have withheld this patent as purely a defensive maneuver. However, it’s a sure thing that Apple won’t win many friends with this move, and there will be many unhappy people if Apple pursues any litigation.