Apple demonstrates an abuse of patent rights
Published: Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 20:07
The battle between cell phone companies has just hit defcon 1 (which despite popular belief, is in fact much more lethal than defcon 5).
Apple has won a lawsuit over four accused patent infringements on Samsung, which includes the concept of a “unified search engine” (Apple’s Siri), as well as a few other things such as the screen unlock. As a result, Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus has been banned in the United States, and there is a preliminary ban on the Galaxy tab 10.1. This legal battle has been going on for a while now and Judge Lucy Koh has finally put down the hammer in favor of Apple.
Let me start out by saying I’m no Apple “fanboy,” although I do own an iPhone, which I enjoy quite a bit. I think I hold neutral ground with about as little bias as possible toward either company. That being said, this whole lawsuit, and especially the ruling, is an outrage.
Patents are nothing new and have been around for a long time. They protect people’s creative ideas, and prevent others from stealing and calling them their own. When used correctly, patents should be a very helpful tool for helping inventors and businesses alike.
In the case of these Apple patents, I think patents are being abused — beyond belief.
Here’s my understanding of what’s going on: Apple was one of the first companies to really start getting the ball rolling on smartphones. They collected a lot of great ideas both from their own think tanks, as well as other previous attempts from various companies around the world, and patented them. In doing this, they took the features they thought would be essential to the future of smartphones and basically pulled a childlike “mine!”
To put this into perspective, imagine if Ford, the original maker of the first real commercial automobiles, put a patent on vehicles with four wheels. While they were at it, they grabbed one for doors, a horn and bumpers. Then, all future car companies would have to figure out how to make cars with less or more than four wheels and somehow get people in without doors, as well as some way to prevent accidents (unless of course they want to pay huge royalties to Ford).
Now, extremism aside — although I don’t think that analogy is too far off — this really is something that should be putting up red flags for the U.S. Patent Office, who is in charge of the patent process.
The first major red flag is the way that these patents are being written. If you read these patents carefully, there are a lot of generalities and catchalls. The idea of a “unified search engine” as they dub Siri, is not something Apple invented, nor do they have any right putting a claim on it.
The Internet has had unified search engines almost since the beginning of its era, with companies like Yahoo! and Webcrawler. Google is currently our most popular one, but that still doesn’t prevent sites like Microsoft’s Bing from thriving. Yet, Apple has tried to put up a Berlin wall on a built-in one for cell phones.
Second, it’s clear that these patents are not an attempt to protect their ideas; they’re an attempt to take over the market. These ideas aren’t ones that were clear strokes of genius on Apple’s part; they were simply the next step in technology progress for cell phones.
While Apple isn’t breaking any laws in making these patents, there’s something to be said for re-examining the current structure of the process and its filtering, because if this keeps up, we’re going to have a lot of potential advances in the technology market shut down and fought after. I know I don’t want World War III to be over an intellectual property right, but if this keeps up, I could see it being a possibility.
Alexander Vervloet is a junior in communication. The opinions expressed in his columns do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Barometer staff. Vervloet can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.