US Patent Law & Apple Make an Evil Team | Opinion

05/07/2012

Apple 8086604 US Patent Law & Apple Make an Evil Team | Opinion

Apple is a disgusting company at times. This week they filed an injunction against sales of the Galaxy Nexus in the US. The injunction was hastily granted by the judge (who I assume was either being threatened or paid an amount of money of similar size to the bond Apple was forced to pay the court – why else would have made such a nonsensical decision?).

While the patent itself is valid in that the reasoning for the ban fits the terms – I have no argument against this – to think that it was given to Apple in the first place is absurd. US Patent 8,086,604 is outlined below:

The present invention provides convenient access to items of information that are related to various descriptors input by a user, by means of a unitary interface which is capable of accessing information in a variety of locations, through a number of different techniques. Using a plurality of heuristic algorithms to operate upon information descriptors input by the user, the present invention locates and displays candidate items of information for selection and/or retrieval. Thus, the advantages of a search engine can be exploited, while listing only relevant object candidate items of information.

Basically, this means Apple owns a patent to the “Google” (search); or at least this is what I thought when I first read it. After looking deeper I realised searching for websites and links isn’t included in it – the things being searched must be files, and they must be local to the searching device. The ability to surface information from a number of sources via a number of methods: it was originally designed, it seems, to further Apple’s position in the traditional computing market (ahead of Microsoft – the patent document even states this is an improved version of Microsoft’s technology), allowing them to have a more comprehensive yet selective file system search engine that could present files more appropriate given a search query, location, and other information such as file type.

But why, then, are they filing against Google; furthermore, why on Earth against the Galaxy Nexus? As I said, the patent regards searching files, and in Android – the OS of the Galaxy Nexus – it is possible to perform a universal, Google branded, search of different parts of applications. But, the apps feed the information to the search by having the enabling code in them, so are they in the wrong, too? The fact is, this is not important. This patent is not even relevant at this time, to be perfectly honest.

The problem with the current US patent and intellectual property protection system is clear to see, aided by the nature of this case. Patent 8,086,604 was filed in 2004, eight years ago. Smartphones as we know them didn’t exist then. Apple had, I believe, only lightly discussed making a tablet, and hadn’t even thought about a phone at this point. The landscape was very different to what we see today, and this is the problem. Technology develops at a rate that would be unimaginable just a few years prior. In 2004, Apple had no idea that what they had just been given the keys to – to promptly lock in their lair and demand money for, may I add – was going to be a core piece of future technology. Can you imagine not being able to search for things on a computer? That is only a slightly hyperbolic vision of the reality Apple could enforce.

The patent system is simple: it is designed to protect an individual’s invention or idea from being used by someone else without them benefiting from the other user’s use of it. This does not apply to the Apple search patent. They are clearly doing this, not so they can gain from Google’s use of their (ridiculous) patent (that shouldn’t have been granted without a considerably shorter expiry date — because this has very much gone off…) directly, but so they can punish Google and retain their market share. They are banning the sale of Galaxy Nexuses because it is the flagship phone of their biggest competitor. This has nothing to do with intellectual property.

Frankly, I think: one – it’s outrageous that the patent was granted as it was in the first place; two – the fact that Apple stooped so low as to use the patent in the way it did shows their fear of Google’s Nexus programme (such a cool name!); three – their failure to meet the moral standards that should be present in a super-five hundred billion dollar company is truly disgusting; and four – it seems crazy that Judge Koh honestly believes that this system of blindly damaging companies with no real, sensible ground to do so is in any way a good thing.

So, America, sort out your system of punishing good companies and get around to helping those whose ideas are taken by the bad ones – Growl on OS X, cough! Yeah, get it sorted…

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