Greg's bite: Apple's patent app drawing flap
TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Greg's bite: Apple's patent app drawing flap

By Greg Mills

I was shocked, as were many other Apple observers that an Apple patent application sported an obvious rip-off of the user interface of an iOS app on the Apple App Store called "Where To?"  Apple files hundreds of patent applications on everything they do.  

Playing the tech "that is covered by our patent" game in federal court requires all the legal ammunition possible, so they try to protect all their ideas. A recent Apple patent app that was published by the US Patent Office included an illustration, in line drawing form, that was clearly an illustration of an existing iOS App owned by someone else. This gaff was no doubt embarrassing to the legal staff at Apple and I bet someone got their butt in a sling over it.

Apple has a sort of "white knight aura" about it on intellectual property issues. Apple often the target of patent trolling artists hoping to cash in on Apple's success. While certainly, in a competitive market with a rather obscure US patent process, fraught with ambiguity, disputes over technology are bound to occur. However, this obvious use of someone else's technology was quite blunt. The developer who placed his app in the iTunes store never anticipated that Apple would like their user interface so much they would try to patent it. That does not actually tell the true story.

As it turns out, what is obvious on its face is not quite as it seemed. Most people when they look at a patent turn first to the drawings to understand what the patent is all about. While professionals look at the drawings, they also read the claims, which are really the heart of a patent. The drawings just help to explain the claims. As it turns out, the now famous drawing was used, without permission, to illustrate something not related to the user interface or app that was shown.  The gaff was in not attributing the art to the app developer, not in actually trying to steal their technology.

The fine print of app developer contracts and Apple App Store posting might actually allow Apple to use the likeness of an app posted on their servers. I hear Apple apologized to the developer and an attorney for the developer advises that no harm has been done other than a few feathers being ruffled. From a PR point of view, while this does not rise to iPhone 4 "Antennagate" proportions, it was embarrassing to say the least and put Apple in a bad light.

I will admit, my first reaction was shock that Apple would have "stolen" the look and feel of an app posted by a developer.  I am glad the first impressions were wrong and my confidence in Apple respecting intellectual property rights is well placed.

This leads me to an interesting issue. What legal protection do developers have when they post an app on-line? The range of intellectual property protection methods are Utility Patents, Design Patents, Copyrights and Trademarks. Each of these registered intellectual property schemes have certain uses and weaknesses.  

Apps generally can be protected by copyrights, since they contain unique lines of code that can be recorded in written form and thus be protected from those who would copy that code to use without permission from the author. Some apps might qualify for utility patents since they operate devices and have unique functions. Copyrights are much cheaper and easier to obtain than patents, but each have uses in Federal Court, should a legal dispute arise.  

I suspect ideas will be ripped off left and right as "hobby app creator" software becomes available for both the Android and iOS platforms. I have coined the term "hobby apps" to
differentiate the apps created by professional developers from the drag and drop simple app developer programs that are coming. These hobby app creator programs will allow anyone to create simple apps using a visual set of templates that are manipulated on-screen to create a simple app. You can name the app, use artwork and get it to do cool things. You can then post it on line for the general public to download for a fee or for free.  

I see professionals scouring the hobby apps posted on-line for good ideas to use for more professionally developed apps that are much more sophisticated and better designed. Here is the problem: how does Apple or Google handle disputes over who wrote what? Do they just post apps on-line with a disclaimer that they are not responsible for intellectual property disputes without a legal opinion or document to support such rights?

The experience of the App industry so far, is that Apple does seek to protect copyrights and patents when a dispute comes up. I have an old copy of Tris still running on my iPhone. That app was so close to Tetris that when the owners of Tetris complained to Apple and presented documentation of their ownership of that protected design, look and feel for their app, Apple pulled Tris from the store, since it obviously was a knock off.

Another scenario that we are bound to see are hobby apps that are posted on-line that steal the look and feel of professional apps and violate copyrights or patents. Any new industry or major technology face novel legal issues that are worked out over time. Apps stores are just beginning to see all these legal issues coming up. Apple must continue to respect intellectual property rights in app, songs, books and software programs to be a success in their app store "go to market" system. I know they are up to it.  he fluke use of someone else's art work is not the norm, and I am glad Apple made peace over it.  

Finally, Apple needs a vice president of Public Relations Management. As the company has grown larger, the gaffs and PR embarrassments need to be more quickly settled. It is taking the ivory palace in Cupertino way too long to respond to PR flaps. The normal secret and press wary Apple needs to be able to open up when an issue comes up much sooner than they have been responding recently. 

(Greg Mills is currently a Faux Artist in Kansas City. Formerly a new product R&D man for the paint sundry market, he holds 11 US patents. He's working on a solar energy startup using a patent pending process of turning waste dual pane glass into thermal solar panels used to heat water. Married, with one daughter still at home, Greg writes for intellectual web sites and Mac related issues. See Greg's web sites at http://www.gregmills.info . He can be emailed at gregmills.mac.)

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Cyberduck 4.7.1 - FTP and SFTP browser....
Cyberduck is a robust FTP/FTP-TLS/SFTP browser for the Mac whose lack of visual clutter and cleverly intuitive features make it easy to use. Support for external editors and system technologies such... Read more
PDFpen 7.2 - Edit and annotate PDFs with...
We're also offering PDFpenPro for 30% off! PDFpen allows users to easily edit PDF's. Add text, images and signatures. Fill out PDF forms. Merge or split PDF documents. Reorder and delete pages. Even... Read more
Skype 7.9.746 - Voice-over-internet phon...
Skype allows you to talk to friends, family and co-workers across the Internet without the inconvenience of long distance telephone charges. Using peer-to-peer data transmission technology, Skype... Read more
Apple GarageBand 10.1 - Complete recordi...
The new GarageBand is a whole music creation studio right inside your Mac -- complete with keyboard, synths, orchestral and percussion instruments, presets for guitar and voice, an entirely... Read more
Duplicate Annihilator 5.7.7 - Find and d...
Duplicate Annihilator takes on the time-consuming task of comparing the images in your iPhoto library using effective algorithms to make sure that no duplicate escapes. Duplicate Annihilator... Read more
OS X Server 4.1.3 - For OS X 10.10 Yosem...
Designed for OS X and iOS devices, OS X Server makes it easy to share files, schedule meetings, synchronize contacts, develop software, host your own website, publish wikis, configure Mac, iPhone,... Read more
Firefox 39.0 - Fast, safe Web browser. (...
Firefox offers a fast, safe Web browsing experience. Browse quickly, securely, and effortlessly. With its industry-leading features, Firefox is the choice of Web development professionals and casual... Read more
pwSafe 4.1 - Secure password management...
pwSafe provides simple and secure password management across devices and computers. pwSafe uses iCloud to keep your password databases backed-up and synced between Macs and iOS devices. It is... Read more
Kodi 15.0.rc1 - Powerful media center to...
Kodi (was XBMC) is an award-winning free and open-source (GPL) software media player and entertainment hub that can be installed on Linux, OS X, Windows, iOS, and Android, featuring a 10-foot user... Read more
Coda 2.5.11 - One-window Web development...
Coda is a powerful Web editor that puts everything in one place. An editor. Terminal. CSS. Files. With Coda 2, we went beyond expectations. With loads of new, much-requested features, a few surprises... Read more

This Week at 148Apps: June 29-July 3, 20...
Into July With 148Apps How do you know what apps are worth your time and money? Just look to the review team at 148Apps. We sort through the chaos and find the apps you're looking for. The ones we love become Editor’s Choice, standing out above the... | Read more »
Sonic Runners Guide
Despite its flaws, Sonic Runners' platforming action is actually quite fun. Though it can be a little more complicated than old-school Sonic games. Here's how to make sure you're up to speed when jumping in. [Read more] | Read more »
Rage of Bahamut is Giving Almost All of...
The App Store isn't what it used to be back in 2012, so it's not unexpected to see some games changing their structures with the times. Now we can add Rage of Bahamut to that list with the recent announcement that the game is severely cutting back... | Read more »
Adventures of Pip (Games)
Adventures of Pip 1.0 Device: iOS iPhone Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: ** ONE WEEK ONLY — 66% OFF! *** “Adventures of Pip is a delightful little platformer full of charm, challenge and impeccable... | Read more »
Divide By Sheep - Tips, Tricks, and Stre...
Who would have thought splitting up sheep could be so involved? Anyone who’s played Divide by Sheep, that’s who! While we’re not about to give you complete solutions to everything (because that’s just cheating), we will happily give you some... | Read more »
NaturalMotion and Zynga Have Started Tea...
An official sequel to 2012's CSR Racing is officially on the way, with Zynga and NaturalMotion releasing a short teaser trailer to get everyone excited. Well, as excited as one can get from a trailer with no gameplay footage, anyway. [Read more] | Read more »
Grab a Friend and Pick up Overkill 3, Be...
Overkill 3 is a pretty enjoyable third-person shooter that was sort of begging for some online multiplayer. Fortunately the begging can stop, because its newest update has added an online co-op mode. [Read more] | Read more »
Scanner Pro's Newest Update Adds Au...
Scanner Pro is one of the most popular document scanning apps on iOS, thanks in no small part to its near-constant updates, I'm sure. Now we're up to update number six, and it adds some pretty handy new features. [Read more] | Read more »
Heroki (Games)
Heroki 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $7.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: CLEAR THE SKIES FOR A NEW HERO!The peaceful sky village of Levantia is in danger! The dastardly Dr. N. Forchin and his accomplice,... | Read more »
Wars of the Roses (Games)
Wars of the Roses 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Apple refurbished Mac minis available startin...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished 2014 Mac minis available starting at $419. Apple’s one-year warranty is included with each mini, and shipping is free: - 1.4GHz Mac mini: $419 $80 off... Read more
College Student Deals: Additional $100 off Ma...
Take an additional $100 off all MacBooks and iMacs at Best Buy Online with their College Students Deals Savings, valid through August 8, 2015. Anyone with a valid .EDU email address can take... Read more
Sky Atlas Star Walk 2 App For iPhone And iPa...
Vito Technology, developer of educational apps for Android and iOS, is for a limited time offering free of charge their Star Walk 2, the next generation of the company’s best-selling stargazing guide... Read more
13-inch 1.6GHz MacBook Air on sale for $849,...
Amazon has the 2015 13″ 1.6GHz/128GB MacBook Air on sale for $849.99 including free shipping. Their price is $150 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for this model. Read more
13-inch 2.5GHz MacBook Pro on sale for $999,...
Adorama has the 13-inch 2.5GHz MacBook Pro on sale for $999 including free shipping plus NY & NJ sales tax only. Their price is $100 off MSRP. Read more
Updated Mac Price Trackers
We’ve updated our Mac Price Trackers with the latest information on prices, bundles, and availability on systems from Apple’s authorized internet/catalog resellers: - 15″ MacBook Pros - 13″ MacBook... Read more
15-inch Retina MacBook Pros on sale for up to...
B&H Photo has new 2015 15″ Retina MacBook Pros on sale for up to $225 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY sales tax only: - 15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro: $1819 $180 off - 15″ 2.5GHz Retina... Read more
RamDisk4Mac App Helps Run Your Mac Faster And...
Ever use a RAM disk? If you’ve come to the Mac in the OS X era, likely not. The Classic Mac OS had a RAM disk function built-in, but that was dropped in the conversion to OS X. What is a RAM disk?... Read more
13-inch 1.6GHz MacBook Air on sale for $849,...
Best Buy has the 2015 13″ 1.6GHz/128GB MacBook Air on sale for $849.99 on their online store this weekend. Choose free shipping or free local store pickup (if available). Sale price for online orders... Read more
Apple Refurbished iMacs available for up to $...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished iMacs available for up to $380 off the cost of new models. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free: - 27″ 3.5GHz 5K iMac – $1949 $... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Solutions Consultant - Retail Sales...
**Job Summary** As an Apple Solutions Consultant (ASC) you are the link between our customers and our products. Your role is to drive the Apple business in a retail Read more
Senior Payments Security Manager - *Apple*...
**Job Summary** Apple , Inc. is looking for a highly motivated, innovative and hands-on senior payments security manager to join the Apple Pay security team. You will Read more
Sr. Technical Services Consultant, *Apple*...
**Job Summary** Apple Professional Services (APS) has an opening for a senior technical position that contributes to Apple 's efforts for strategic and transactional Read more
Sr. Payment Program Manager, *Apple* Pay -...
**Job Summary** Apple Pay is an exciting environment and a…devices in a simple, private and secure way. The Apple Pay Team is looking for an experienced Senior Read more
Project Manager - *Apple* Pay Security - Ap...
**Job Summary** The Apple Pay Security team is seeking a highly organized, results-driven Project Manager to drive the development of Apple Pay Security. If you are Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.