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What the Mobile Patent Fight Is All About 222

Posted by timothy
from the want-to-touch-you-here-and-here-and-here dept.
GMGruman writes "Nokia, Apple, and HTC are all suing each other over mobile patents. Google and Microsoft are also in the game. InfoWorld's Paul Krill explains what the fight is all about: control over multitouch, the technology that enables gesture interfaces on iPads, iPhones, and other smartphones. And he explains the chances that the companies will settle their dispute as they jockey for advantage, why Apple has been playing hardball, and why competitors are fighting back just as hard."
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What the Mobile Patent Fight Is All About

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  • too much cool-aid (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jipn4 (1367823) on Friday May 14, 2010 @02:05AM (#32204250)

    Multitouch is significant to the mobile battle because it enables the use of gestures, which allows for sophisticated interactions on small devices

    You don't need multitouch for gestures; in fact, gestures are an alternative to multitouch. And it's also not needed; even software on iPhone and iPad doesn't use multitouch consistently, with some applications only using it for scrolling, others only for zooming, and few applications supporting rotation or more complex gestures. Someone has had too much of Jobs's cool-aid.

    And, besides, Apple didn't invent multitouch, and neither did the multitouch company they bought. What Apple did is what Apple always does: they pick some technology, try to get exclusive use of it somehow, and then hype it up, creating the impression that their products are unique and must-have devices.

    You can see their m.o. illustrated nicely in their negotiations with Swype: they were quite interested in Swype when they thought they could get an exclusive deal and dropped it like a hot potato when it turned out they couldn't. Apple isn't about choosing the best technology, they are about choosing something that's different from everybody else and creating the belief that it is better through marketing.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Jurily (900488)

      creating the impression that their products are unique and must-have devices.

      In a sense, they are unique. While I've never owned an Apple device, there's still this myth about their products, quality and usability.

      Who cares if there existed mp3 players before, if the iPod is the only one with a button that still works after a year of use? And who cares if this is actually true, as long as it's shiny enough?

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Flipao (903929)

        In a sense, they are unique. While I've never owned an Apple device, there's still this myth about their products, quality and usability.

        Who cares if there existed mp3 players before, if the iPod is the only one with a button that still works after a year of use? And who cares if this is actually true, as long as it's shiny enough?

        It might be a myth, but in my old HTC touch pro I'd open the browser and have to wait for it to load, and scrolling showed nothing but an empty checkerboard for what seemed like an eternity. On my 3GS Safari loads instantly and scrolling is buttery smooth.

        I don't care if it's shiny, it's not my fault HTC churn out devices with 1GHz processors but no hardware acceleration on the UI, Palm can't put a decent SDK out to save their lives, or Google have only just started to get their act together.

        I'm not an

      • I have had lots of MP3 players, most broke due to me breaking them, the iPod is the ONLY one to break on its own. I still got a Zen player that still works to this day.

        Oh and the iPod's screen started showing dead pixels, something I never had problems with on other players as well.

        No, Apple does make some intresting products, but there are some fan's who go WAY to far in their obsession.

        Same with multi-touch and gestures, both existed and were used long before Apple ever got involved. And having a macbo

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Multitouch significantly increases the number of simple gestures that can be created.

      • by ettlz (639203) on Friday May 14, 2010 @02:37AM (#32204418) Journal

        Multitouch significantly increases the number of simple gestures that can be created.

        Does that include Flipping the Bird?

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        And that's a good thing... why? Do you really think that most users are able to memorize a dozen combinations of different fingerings and motions? There is no visual indication of anything with those gestures.

        Gestures and multi-touch are anti-usability. They are more obscure than UNIX two-letter commands. It's supreme irony that a company that used to write usability on its banner all of a sudden is pushing such a geeky feature.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Someone has had too much of Jobs's cool-aid.

      That's "kool-aid" you insensitive clod!

    • by Tom (822)

      You don't need multitouch for gestures; in fact, gestures are an alternative to multitouch. And it's also not needed; even software on iPhone and iPad doesn't use multitouch consistently, with some applications only using it for scrolling, others only for zooming, and few applications supporting rotation or more complex gestures. Someone has had too much of Jobs's cool-aid.

      You don't see that the iPhone was just the test device, and the iPad is the second (beta, if you want) test. Multitouch is here to stay, and it will soon be a major input device system. On a phone, you are correct that multitouch is nice, but not essential. However, on a larger device (like a tablet), you absolutely need multitouch.

  • by Shihar (153932) on Friday May 14, 2010 @02:06AM (#32204256)

    The point of patent law is to "promote the useful arts". In other words, better humankind. The way this is done is by granting a temporary monopoly to an inventor for the singular purpose of encouraging more inventions. This bullshit has nothing to do with that. Apple has an utterly bullshit patent that any idiot who has watched any sci-fi in the past half century has seen before. "Multi touch" is not some breath taking innovation. It is a "not shit" next step for touch based devices (which are also "no shit" inventions). Frankly, this just brings to the forefront the glaring flaws in our patent system. The idea that you could patent a broadly defined (and obvious) method of interacting with a device is absurd. Idea should actually have to be novel and non-obvious. When large companies are slinging patents at each other not to protect sunk R&D costs, but just to trip up their competitors in court, you know that this entire system is fucked.

    • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Friday May 14, 2010 @02:35AM (#32204404) Homepage Journal

      control+alt+delete is a classic multitouch gesture.

    • by Eskarel (565631) on Friday May 14, 2010 @02:35AM (#32204406)

      There is a slight difference between an idea being new and the implementation being new.

      Just because Star Trek has used it for years wouldn't make the invention of a real transporter any less patentable, knowing that a transporter would be cool isn't the same thing as knowing how to do it.

      • by rtfa-troll (1340807) on Friday May 14, 2010 @02:56AM (#32204482)

        Right, but the thing is that, although that's what the patent is supposed to be for, in fact the way they set it up Apple is claiming patents on multi-touch per-se. This is inherent in the idea of patents on ideas (software / business methods / mathematics). It's very difficult to define good legal boundaries which don't have stupid implictions. For example, software patent advocates actually often claim not to be advocates for software patents. They just care about transformations of matter. Including the change in the output of your screen caused by their software! In other words, the boundary which is supposed to limit software to where it's used as part of a machine process instead becomes a tool in manipulating the debate.

        I think the only logical end is a fairly hardline freedom of speech position. Patents, copyrights and trademarks should only be allowed where they demonstrably increase freedom of expression. With trademarks this is easy; if I don't have a proper name for a company which reliably means that company then it's difficult to discuss that company. For copyright, that's quite easy to show, as long as terms are short and DRM (of copyrighted material) is illegal. For normal physical patents, that's likely true as long as the development in the field of interest normally takes place over a term at least a few times as long as the term of the patent. For patents on abstract process that's never going to be true.

        • Right, but the thing is that, although that's what the patent is supposed to be for, in fact the way they set it up Apple is claiming patents on multi-touch per-se.

          [Citation needed]

          This is inherent in the idea of patents on ideas (software / business methods / mathematics). It's very difficult to define good legal boundaries which don't have stupid implictions. For example, software patent advocates actually often claim not to be advocates for software patents. They just care about transformations of matter.

          Let me guess - you read the wiki on Bilski and thought you understood the case. The transformation of matter test applies to things like methods of curing rubber (Diamond v. Diehr). The one you want is "tied to a specific machine". That's the other half of the test, and what software patent advocates actually care about.

          I think the only logical end is a fairly hardline freedom of speech position. Patents, copyrights and trademarks should only be allowed where they demonstrably increase freedom of expression.

          That's a stupid test. This is the only place it applies:

          With trademarks this is easy; if I don't have a proper name for a company which reliably means that company then it's difficult to discuss that company.

          ... because trademarks actually remove words from the public domain, within the field of commerce. So it makes sense

      • by powerspike (729889) on Friday May 14, 2010 @02:57AM (#32204486)
        I think the argument here, isn't that the teleportation is patentable, it's how it's done. They are trying to take control on an idea that has been around for countless years, not the technology that made it possible.
        well that's my take on it anyway...
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by DMiax (915735)
          Especially since the technology was patented by synaptics much before.
      • That depends. The existence of the transporter in Star Trek shows that the platonic ideal, the very concept of a transporter, is not original. However, many patents are so absurdly vague that they indeed give the holder rights over such abstract platonic concepts. A good example of this is the Amazon shopping basket--the one-click patent. It doesn't matter what programming language or technology you use to make your one-click shopping possible. Amazon own the very idea of one-click.

        The patent system is not about encouraging innovation. It's about obtaining a wide and far reaching a monopoly as possible, with actually inventing or discovering something being totally beside the point. I wouldn't be surprised if someone already has a patent on the concept of transportation from the USPTO, waiting patiently for someone to actually develop such a device so they can strike and reap in unearned rewards. Because that's what patents are all about.

        • by Dhalka226 (559740)

          It doesn't matter what programming language or technology you use to make your one-click shopping possible. Amazon own the very idea of one-click.

          Honestly, that doesn't bother me that much. "Lulz! I implemented your idea using your exact algorithm in a different language!" shouldn't be a way around a patent any more than changing some variable names should be. The problem is that something as silly as one-click was granted a patent to begin with.

          I honestly don't know where I stand on software patents i

    • by FlorianMueller (801981) on Friday May 14, 2010 @02:41AM (#32204432) Homepage

      Idea should actually have to be novel and non-obvious.

      Yes, that's the idea and that's what the law says, but every word gets a different meaning under patent law than it has from a common-sense perspective.

      Large parts of what the average person would consider "obvious" is considered "inventive" under patent law. That's why different attempts on both sides of the Atlantic have failed to get those FAT patents revoked [blogspot.com]. People thought that maybe the courts would be more demanding in terms of the inventive step involved than the examiners at the patent offices, but the judges upheld the original decisions to grant.

      • Large parts of what the average person would consider "obvious" is considered "inventive" under patent law.

        That's because the average person fails to consider hindsight.

    • by wvmarle (1070040) on Friday May 14, 2010 @03:00AM (#32204492)

      While I mostly agree with what you say, it's not that easy.

      As you pointed out the idea of multi-touching and gestures is not new, it may even be called age-old. Think of a womans body... reacts very well under multiple touches. It's just a way of interacting. The implementation of that however is another matter. How to detect those touches that's where the patents come in. But patents is not an easy matter.

      For a start obviousness: many inventions that are patentable look obvious. This are very simple solutions to problems. But often they are only obvious after someone points it out to you. Novelty is a bit less ambiguous, as there is something like "prior art".

      The worst patent fights we see is typically in software; the second bad one is medicine. For the rest the patent system works pretty much as designed, that is for the traditional technical/physical/machine type inventions.

      Also in case of these "multi-touch" patents, it is most certainly not on the user-side of multi-touch. It must be on specific implementations of multi-touch, either technical (how to detect those two or more touches on a surface) or software (what to do with it). The first one I think could certainly be patent-worthy, the second not.

      There may be multiple ways to implement those touch surfaces: different detection tricks and so. Those may each be patentable, and no problem with that. Use method A, pay for patent A, and you're OK. Invent your own method B, you may patent it yourself, and you can implement multi-touch by yourself using your method. Patents work as they should.

      The problem is software-patents where a certain trick which may be implemented in numerous different, innovative ways gets patented. Then your new way to get the same result suddenly falls under an existing patent. And there it goes wrong.

    • by Arker (91948) on Friday May 14, 2010 @03:02AM (#32204496) Homepage Journal

      Patent law has become completely perverted and is no longer even vaguely related to its constitutional form.

      I remember in school I was taught that a patent had to lay out information so that you could sit down and read it and learn exactly how to do something new and useful and entirely non-obvious. In return for teaching everyone how to do this, the patent holder got a short term monopoly. Even that system was subject to considerable doubt as to whether the cost was worth it, as the normal thing with inventions was that there were several inventors who hit on the same thing very nearly simultaneously. But at least it made some sense.

      Read a patent lately? They usually dont describe anything new or useful, and even when they do, they certainly dont do so in a way that would actually impart the necessary information to do it yourself. The old patent system may have been a bad trade in most or all cases, but it was a trade - now there is no trade at all. Just a pile of impenetrable gibberish filed to get a monopoly.

      • Patent law has become completely perverted and is no longer even vaguely related to its constitutional form.

        I remember in school I was taught that a patent had to lay out information so that you could sit down and read it and learn exactly how to do something new and useful and entirely non-obvious. In return for teaching everyone how to do this, the patent holder got a short term monopoly. Even that system was subject to considerable doubt as to whether the cost was worth it, as the normal thing with inventions was that there were several inventors who hit on the same thing very nearly simultaneously. But at least it made some sense.

        Read a patent lately? They usually dont describe anything new or useful, and even when they do, they certainly dont do so in a way that would actually impart the necessary information to do it yourself. The old patent system may have been a bad trade in most or all cases, but it was a trade - now there is no trade at all. Just a pile of impenetrable gibberish filed to get a monopoly.

        Patent specifications are written to enable one of ordinary skill in the art to make and use the invention. Perhaps you're just not up to par.

    • by Wildclaw (15718) on Friday May 14, 2010 @03:23AM (#32204568)

      The way this is done is by granting a temporary monopoly to an inventor for the singular purpose of encouraging more inventions.

      And yet, over and over again, people seem to come up with very similar inventions independently. It is almost like inventions happen because the right prerequisites are there, and not because of some monetary incentive.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        It is almost like inventions happen because the right prerequisites are there, and not because of some monetary incentive.

        True most inventions are created to solve a particular problem and not because of some monetary incentive. However, the reason YOU know that the invention exists is because the inventor saw a potential to make some money off of his idea, and acquired a patent to protect his investment.

        This is how patents work.

        • by Znork (31774)

          the inventor saw a potential to make some money off of his idea

          The inventors lawyer saw a potential to make some money off the inventor would seem more likely. Most patents never make any money.

          The disclosure process would be much more efficiently and appropriately served by simply outright paying for the disclosure. Whether you construct a system as payment on delivery or payment based on usage, any system that doesn't grant a monopoly or result in litigation would be more cost efficient.

          • by Bill_the_Engineer (772575) on Friday May 14, 2010 @06:50AM (#32205412)

            The inventors lawyer saw a potential to make some money off the inventor would seem more likely.

            I didn't know that lawyers had this psychic ability to discovered undisclosed inventions. I can see them standing outside their offices concentrating as hard as they can and come to the conclusion that Mr Smith two blocks over has just invented a widget. I better run over there and convince him to let me patent it for him before another psychic patent lawyer does...

        • by Trepidity (597)

          Is that still the case? Publicly explaining the invention was of course part of the original idea, but patents tend to be written in a fairly obfuscated style these days, so I'd suspect it's hard to reimplement most patents from the patent document alone.

          • I don't think it's impossible to reimplement a patent from the patent document, but I don't think it's easy either.

            I also believe the more obfuscated the patent document, the least likely it's really deserves a patent.

            Unfortunately, patent lawyers like their obfuscated writing so it's hard to distinguish the good ones from the bad ones. I think this is a well tested strategy on the part of the larger patent firms, since the patent office will probably consider the firm's reputation when granting the paten

            • Patent language is not generally about obfuscation. You just don't understand it - it is a jargon, which you have to learn. A certain type of code, which indeed might look random to the average reader at times. The goal is to strike a balance between precision and broadness - to be as precise as necessary while being as broad as possible. With regard to being able to re-implement an invention from the patent, you gotta keep in mind that nowhere it is written that anyone has to understand it. The average man
      • by Yvanhoe (564877)
        Also, studies show that contrary to popular belief, the crowd of smart and educated people grows every year. When 5 companies with teams of competent engineers have the same problems, they will logically come up with approximately the same solutions.
    • by serviscope_minor (664417) on Friday May 14, 2010 @03:29AM (#32204594) Journal

      any idiot who has watched any sci-fi

      Sigh. No need to bring that in to it and gloss over the real people involced. HCI researchers have been researching multitouch since the early 80s, or even before.
      http://www.billbuxton.com/multitouchOverview.html [billbuxton.com]

      They did all the real hard grunt work making it actually work. Now a bunch of companies want to swoop in and claim the inventions as their own simply because they want to market it.

      For what it's worth, I do not think that pinch zoom obvious. In 1984. When it was invented. By now, since multitouch is so old, to anyone versed in the HCI world, yeah, this stuff is a mix of pretty obvious and been done before.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Sigh. No need to bring that in to it and gloss over the real people involced. HCI researchers have been researching multitouch since the early 80s, or even before.

        You can't argue with the facts. Prior to FingerWorks in 1998 (which Apple bought), you had multitouch on touch tablets of different shapes and sizes. Most were separate from the display like a traditional keyboard, some had a projector that projected the screen onto the front of the touch pad, and some had the image projected from behind the surfa

        • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot AT hackish DOT org> on Friday May 14, 2010 @04:56AM (#32204924)

          I don't think you can generally patent an invention that already existed solely because you were the first to mass produce it inexpensively enough to make it a viable consumer product. If, in doing so, you came up with some novel innovation, you can patent that, but the innovation can't be as simple as combining the parts and then making manufacturing improvements to bring down the cost/size.

          • by Bill_the_Engineer (772575) on Friday May 14, 2010 @06:57AM (#32205434)
            The point wasn't the mass production. The point was the multi-touch smartphone. The previous works are the ingredients but not the actual concept of a multi-touch smartphone. The fact that it's mass producible makes the patent more valuable and therefore relevant.
          • Sorry I hit Submit instead of continue editing:

            I don't think you can generally patent an invention that already existed solely because you were the first to mass produce it inexpensively enough to make it a viable consumer product.

            Actually I believe you can patent an improvement on a previous patent or work.

        • You can't argue with the facts.

          Indeed.

          Prior to FingerWorks in 1998 (which Apple bought), you had multitouch on touch tablets of different shapes and sizes.

          So, we both agree that multitouch has been around for years.

          Most were separate from the display like a traditional keyboard, some had a projector that projected the screen onto the front of the touch pad, and some had the image projected from behind the surface.

          So there were multitouch screens before. So far, so good. There were also simple touch screen

          • You can't argue with the facts.

            Indeed.

            Prior to FingerWorks in 1998 (which Apple bought), you had multitouch on touch tablets of different shapes and sizes.

            So, we both agree that multitouch has been around for years.

            Yeah, and if the patent was "I claim: Multitouch," you'd have a point. But it's not. You have to actually read the claims, not the single-word Slashdot summary of an entire patent portfolio.

    • by beelsebob (529313) on Friday May 14, 2010 @05:43AM (#32205140)

      This bullshit has nothing to do with that. Apple has an utterly bullshit patent that any idiot who has watched any sci-fi in the past half century has seen before.

      Hate to break it to you, but you don't get to patent an idea just because you thought "o hey, wouldn't it be cool if we had XYZ". You actually have to explain *how* you do XYZ, and of note, anyone who can do XYZ in a different way is still free to do so. Just seeing something on sci fi is not good enough, if no one could actually demonstrate how to do it.

    • Apple has an utterly bullshit patent that any idiot who has watched any sci-fi in the past half century has seen before. "Multi touch" is not some breath taking innovation. It is a "not shit" next step for touch based devices (which are also "no shit" inventions).

      The patent is not "I claim: 1. Multi-touch."
      Maybe if you read the patent, you'd have some idea of what you're talking about.

      Frankly, this just brings to the forefront the glaring flaws in our patent system.

      The fact that lazy people can read just the title of a patent, and disregard the figures, specification and claims, and think they know everything about it?

      The idea that you could patent a broadly defined (and obvious) method of interacting with a device is absurd.

      Good thing they didn't do that, huh?

      Idea should actually have to be novel and non-obvious. When large companies are slinging patents at each other not to protect sunk R&D costs, but just to trip up their competitors in court, you know that this entire system is fucked.

      Tell you what... since you know everything about these patents, why don't you recite some prior art that teaches or suggests, explicitly or implicitly, each and every element in independent claim

  • No it isn't. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by dadioflex (854298)
    The suit brought against HTC by Apple didn't include anything to do with multitouch, AFAIK. The multitouch patents aren't even relevant outside the US for the most part and nothing but the most precise implementation will likely survive any scrutiny with-in the US.
  • by mjwx (966435) on Friday May 14, 2010 @02:19AM (#32204324)
    They've made a complaint to the FTC.

    Apple is suing because it's being eclipsed by it's competitors.

    Nokia is suing because it got sick of asking Apple nicely to pay for the patents they were using.
  • by lowlymarine (1172723) on Friday May 14, 2010 @02:23AM (#32204342)
    ...shouldn't it be Synaptics [engadget.com]? Their touchpads have been multitouch-capable since Apple was still using PowerPC chips and the iPhone was just some obscure Cisco product [cisco.com].
    • by mjwx (966435) on Friday May 14, 2010 @02:36AM (#32204412)

      ...shouldn't it be Synaptics? Their touchpads have been multitouch-capable since Apple was still using PowerPC chips and the iPhone was just some obscure Cisco product.

      This is what makes it so insidious and wrong. Apple don't have the hardware patents, they have software patents on certain processes (using two fingers to manipulate page size and so forth). Synaptic, IBM, 3M and a few others have the hardware patents so all Android phones with capacitive touch screens are capable of multi-touch in the hardware but it's not implemented in the OS precisely because the screen manufacturers bought the patent rights from Synaptics and so forth but Apple will not license the software patents to an OSS project.

      Despite my usual disposition, this is not a rant against Apple specifically but the general uselessness of software patents and their tendency to inhibit innovation and competition. Although Apple, as a main contributor to software patents is far from innocent but they are the symptom, software patents are the disease.

      • Yes Apple is doing wrong, but they are actually using the patent how a patent is supposed to be used. Not using it for patent trolling or for cross-licensing deals, but for a temporary monopoly on technology. I laugh at it because it is extremely ballsy and goes against the grain of how modern corporations work.

        On a side note, has patents ever stopped OSS before? I really do want to figure out how to get my multitouch scrolling working on Linux on this EeePC at some point.

        • Mine just works. You need a 900 or newer, I believe. You might also need to run gsynaptics (GUI) to actually switch the features on. This requires that you have a sufficiently new install of Linux (anbything in the last ear at least) so that it comes with the drivers.

          It's not a symaptics it's one of the other vendors, but it works with the synaptics drivers.

          If you really want to play, you can use synclient to get a raw list of the (x,y) positions of the individual touches.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by mjwx (966435)

          but they are actually using the patent how a patent is supposed to be used

          Well yes, seeing as software patents are artificial monopolies on mathematical functions they are being used to prevent a competitor from releasing a different technology that performs the same function. They haven't patented the specific code (design), rather the function of the code (otherwise you could just change variable names and get around the whole thing)

          On a side note, has patents ever stopped OSS before?

          They never have,

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            Well yes, seeing as software patents are artificial monopolies on mathematical functions they are being used to prevent a competitor from releasing a different technology that performs the same function. They haven't patented the specific code (design), rather the function of the code (otherwise you could just change variable names and get around the whole thing)

            Interesting. While I do not agree that all software is patentable, I do see the need for software patents for very complex algorithms or concepts t

      • by SharpFang (651121)

        The funniest bit would be if IBM revoked its license to Apple.
        Apple would remain with the software patents and no hardware to run them on.

  • So is this the start of Patent Armageddon we were told was coming.

    See Apple, Nokia, and HTC lob patent nukes at each other is pretty interesting. Need to start stockpiling my old POTS phones. Maybe the owner of tone dialing will get into the fray as well.

    I wonder if tapping out people's phone number via pulse dialing on my landline still works or did someone patent that too and is requesting royalties.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by lord_mike (567148)

      Actually, the rotary phone dialing system was patented, but it was about a 100 years ago. The patent has expired.

  • by crazybit (918023) on Friday May 14, 2010 @02:27AM (#32204360)
    I remember using touch interfaces at Epcot Center in 1985. The difference here is the size of the device and he applications I can run (not only browse info about pictures), but other than that I see no difference.
    • by SharpFang (651121)

      Most touch interfaces until recently activated only one point on the screen.
      I can now tap with two fingers for middle-click, with three for right-click, drag two fingers together/apart for zoom in/out, rotate, and so on. Could you do this with the old interfaces?

  • by FlorianMueller (801981) on Friday May 14, 2010 @02:30AM (#32204380) Homepage

    The Infoworld article makes some good points but the issue is too big to claim that those two pages say all this fight is about.

    The emphasis on multitouch (which doesn't rule out that other key patents are held by Apple as well) would be plausible. It's extremely difficult and rare for a patent holder to aim for total annihilation of a competitor. Patents are much more likely to be used against a competitor (i) to maintain a certain premium functionality (ii) or to impose license fees that make it harder for the late entrant to offer his solution at lower prices while increasing your own profitability. Just looking at how two different players deal with HTC, it's pretty clear that Microsoft pursues a licensing approach (which enabled HTC to avoid litigation by agreeing to pay) while it's increasingly probable that Apple actually wants to preclude competitors such as HTC from providing certain functionality (such as multitouch) at all. In that case, litigation (which is now ongoing between Apple and HTC) is rarely avoided because the alleged infringer could only avoid it by reducing the functionality of his product.

    The only way for a competitor to get away unscathed, neither having to pay royalties nor having to curtail the functionality of any product, is to strike a cross-licensing deal with the aggressor. So how likely is that to be the solution of the current dispute?

    While they are fierce competitors, Apple and Microsoft put a cross-licensing deal in place a long time ago, and Microsoft has such a powerful patent portfolio, especially in connection with operating system and graphical user interface functionality, that it's in a position to do such a deal with Apple. That's good for Microsoft and for its licensees.

    But how about everyone else? The camp that would most desperately need a cross-licensing deal with Apple is the whole Android camp, meaning Google and its hardware partners (the vendors who build phones based on Android, be it on the basis of a formal agreement with Google or on open-source terms). As the article explains, Google didn't even try to provide multitouch functionality by default and left it to those hardware partners to tread that dangerous path. When I talk to people, including IT-specialized journalists, about the mobile patent war, there's a very common misconception: "Google can do a cross-license with Apple." However, in recent years Google obtained only about 10% the number of patents that Apple received, and given the areas both companis focus on, it's likely that Google not only has fewer but also has, across its smaller portfolio, a lower percentage of patents that could really pose a threat to Apple. Google isn't a patent powerhouse. I only compared Google's patenting activity to that of Apple, and even Apple isn't extremely big (but some of those patents, especially the ones related to multitouch, may be very critical).

    You wanna see a massive patent powerhouse (which however almost certainly won't come to the rescue of Android)? IBM pointed out at a press conference last year that at least at the time it had (and might still have) more patents than Microsoft, HP, Oracle, Apple, EMC, Accenture and Google combined... [blogspot.com]

  • by danerthomas (1633403) <drt@mac.com> on Friday May 14, 2010 @03:44AM (#32204658)
    Nokia and HTC sell licenses for their patents to many competitors. Apple wants to buy licenses from Nokia and HTC on the same terms, but... Nokia and HTC would rather cross-license to get access to multi-touch than sell licenses to Apple, and Apple wants to keep multi-touch exclusively to themselves for now. so... Apple uses Nokia and HTC patents without first getting a deal but is willing to pay for them at the going rate and is hoping that the court will order that settlement. Nokia (and others) use Multi-touch without first getting a deal and are willing to cross-license and/or pay for it, and are hoping that the court/FTC will order Apple to make multi-touch available to others. The question is: Are courts more likely to order Nokia and HTC to offer Apple the same deal that they offer everybody else, or are courts more likely to order Apple to sell something that they have not been willing to sell to anybody?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by DMiax (915735)
      See, Nokia has sued for money only, not for licensing. I don't get this paranoia about multitouch patents: Nokia does not want them.
    • MOD PARENT UP (Score:4, Insightful)

      by cyclomedia (882859) on Friday May 14, 2010 @05:50AM (#32205170) Homepage Journal

      Very succinct description of the state as I understand it too. Note that Nokia are simply suing for backdated licensing fees for their patents whilst Apple are suing to prevent their competitors using multitouch at all, reinforces the point that apple want it to themselves.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It's getting tiresome to watch Apple fanboys distorting the facts. Go do the court filings in Nokia vs. Apple and read the statements of facts. Nokia stated they asked 'their standard rate' in cash for the essential patents Apple uses and Apple refused. Then they stated Apple offered some (non-essential, as they have nothing essential to GSM) patents in exchange, but when Nokia judged their value insufficient and asked for more, Apple again refused. Bottomline, Nokia never asked for anything multitouch in t

  • The real problem with patents is the exclusivity.

    Historically the precursor of (western) patent law was called Statute of Monopolies [wikipedia.org]. At that time it was quite common for kings to reward their subject with various monopolies. But monopolies have no place in modern free-market democracies. In this sense patents are going against the basic principles of modern societies.

    Since we need inventions, patents should still be rewarded, but not with exclusivity. Instead some kind of royalty system should be put in pl

    • I agree, I think that there should be a way to federalize patent licencing - so all patent licensing was centrally administered and all terms were identical. The way it would work is: you patent something and then anyone who wants to use that tech pays the fee to the patent office. If you think someone is using your patent without paying the fee you bring it to the patent office's attention and they investigate, and if so the perpetrator simply pays backdated fees (plus perhaps the costs of the investigatio

  • see what it does in ultimate end ? companies end up trying to fuck each other, instead of competing for providing cheaper and more quality goods and services.

    free market capitalism, patents and copyrights work well only during 'wild west' frontier eras of economies or technologies. just like in the early days of usa, in the early days of scientific age, or in the early days of the internet era.

    when the market stabilizes, companies proceed to fuck each other for control, and the winner of the hierarchy
  • It's strange that companies actually went for litigation. Maybe it happened because this new field brought companies into competition with other companies tehy hadn't dealt with before, so the usual deals of paying patent tax to each other couldn't be set up fast enough.

  • Suieeee? (Score:3, Funny)

    by Hognoxious (631665) on Friday May 14, 2010 @05:40AM (#32205122) Homepage Journal

    Nokia, Apple, and HTC are all suiing

    They've resorted to hog-calling?

  • by Whuffo (1043790) on Friday May 14, 2010 @06:37AM (#32205350) Homepage Journal

    One thing that my fellow Slashdotters aren't paying attention to is that this is an Infoworld story. If you don't know what that means, spend a few minutes at their web site reading stories and it should become apparent to you. If you're going to troll, you should know who you're trolling for.

    Once you've done that, observe that it's the major players in the cell phone market all suing each other - this isn't a story about multitouch or GPS or anything like that, it's a story about how patents are used as weapons against competitors. There's a few mouth breathers making this into an "Apple hate" story but it's not - it's a "patent malfunction" story.

    Maybe this one will be the one that catches the Patent Office's attention - or maybe not. But making it into anything more than a patent abuse story is intellectually dishonest and not worthy of a Nerd.

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