On Tuesday, July 17, 2012, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) granted 25 patents to Apple. Of those 25 there is one patent that may potentially have the largest impact on the smartphone software war: Patent No. 8,223,134.
This patent will award Apple a monopoly over mobile touch interfaces designed for email, blogging, camera, telephone, browser, video player, calendar, search, as well as multi-touch interfaces. This patent could change the balance of powers in the patent wars currently being waged by Android against Google and other Android device manufacturers.
Recently, I mentioned in a blog regarding the Google v. Apple patent war that Google was forced to remove their new Galaxy Nexus from shelves and replace their “IN STOCK” notice with one reading, “COMING SOON.” With Apple’s new patent, Google may have to replace their “COMING SOON” notice with one that reads, “NOT HAPPENING.”
If manufacturers are forced to stop making Android phones, the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs will have achieved his ultimate goal. Jobs had publicly expressed his feelings about Android, referring to it as a stolen product. He is quoted to have said that, “I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple’s $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong…I’m going to destroy Android…I’m willing to go thermonuclear war on this.”
It is hard to believe that Apple was awarded such patents when many other developers and researchers have spent billions of dollars on the technology. The ultimate effect this patent will have on Android and other competing smartphone developers is uncertain. Most likely we will see further patent litigation by Apple.
There is no doubt that the issuing of this patent by the USPTO will be a true test for the patent system as a whole. Justice Richard Posner has already criticized the patent system and that it is in need of considerable reform. Interestingly, the criticism came along with Posner’s judgment in a previous patent suit involving both Google and Apple. Posner alluded to the increase in the amount of patent litigation in recent years and that patent holders are using their resources and the legal system to exclude everyone from using their technology.
Apple appears to be the instigator of the majority of mobile patent suits. More specifically, they are responsible for approximately 60% of mobile patent litigation. Furthermore, these patent suits do not come cheap. In a recent suit against HTC, Apple was rumoured to have spent over $100 million in legal fees.
Whether or not you are on Apple’s side, the age-old dichotomy comes to mind. Patent law must find a balance between allowing companies who spend time and money on developing products to reap the benefits of their labour, while at the same time not having to force new up-and-coming product developers to start from the beginning for fear of being sued. With the recent spike in litigation and of issued patents it would be safe to assume that the rights of the patent holder are prevailing; however, comments made by judges such as Posner bring hope that a potential balance may be achievable.