Apple legal victory opens gestures up to the patent wars
Apple’s $1 billion patent court victory over Android smartphone and tablet maker Samsung moved the markets this week, with the iPhone maker’s shares up 2 per cent, while Samsung’s plummeted 7.5 per cent and Android author Google was down 1.4 per cent. The Korea Times says the Korean technology giant is “staggering” from this “stomach punch” to its prospects.
If Apple’s win holds up to appeal, there are going to be a lot more legal battles like these. Several of the patents at the heart of the Apple/Samsung case are not about novel engineering per se, but are an emerging techno-battleground: user gestures and effects.
Samsung was found to have infringed three Apple patents in this arena (as well as three design patents), that cover (a) the ability to zoom into a picture or web page by double tapping a touchscreen; (b) the ability to sense multiple simultaneous touches on the screen, for instance using a pinching motion to zoom into a picture; and (c) the bounce-back effect, produced when scrolling a webpage, picture, or document beyond the edge of the page. Such features were introduced in Apple’s iPhone in June 2007.
Screen taps, swipes, and even nods and shrugs figure heavily amongst patents now being filed by tech firms. Microsoft has just applied for a patent on a gesture-based search function, for example – the gestures listed vary from sensed full body movements to customised touches on the screen.
And Nokia has a plethora of similar patents including this one, filed last month, which focuses on new gestural ways to unlock a phone or switch between apps.
All this activity should mean gestural infringements needn’t be showstoppers: there are many ways to zoom into a picture without infringing patents. Some commentators have suggested Apple’s victory is bad for consumer choice, as if theft of ideas is necessary to guarantee that. But that is nonsense: if the judgement stands, Android phone makers will have to delay their future launches to ensure they ship innovative, not copied, technology.
One chink in Apple’s armour in an appeal might be the design patents at issue here. Samsung was judged to have infringed one that covers the use of rounded edges on the onscreen app icons. In its post-trial statement Samsung was scathing about the alleged novelty of rounded icon corners, and with good reason. In Walter Isaacson’s illuminating biography of Steve Jobs, the sheer preponderance of rounded corners on rectangular or square objects in daily life was touched upon.
When Jobs wanted rounded corners on Macintosh menus, he took a Mac developer out into his Cupertino neighbourhood and showed him how many straight-edged items in our environment – from roads signs to café tables – actually had rounded corners. If that’s the case, can rounding corners really be patented?
Syndicated content: Paul Marks, New Scientist