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 . He can be emailed at gregmills.mac.)


Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Typinator 6.7 - Speedy and reliable text...
Typinator turbo-charges your typing productivity. Type a little. Typinator does the rest. We've all faced projects that require repetitive typing tasks. With Typinator, you can store commonly used... Read more
Adobe Lightroom 6.2 - Import, develop, a...
Adobe Lightroom is available as part of Adobe Creative Cloud for as little as $9.99/month bundled with Photoshop CC as part of the photography package. Lightroom 6 is also available for purchase as a... Read more
ForeverSave 2.1.4 - Universal auto-save...
ForeverSave auto-saves all documents you're working on while simultaneously doing backup versioning in the background. Lost data can be quickly restored at any time. Losing data, caused by... Read more
VueScan 9.5.27 - Scanner software with a...
VueScan is a scanning program that works with most high-quality flatbed and film scanners to produce scans that have excellent color fidelity and color balance. VueScan is easy to use, and has... Read more
AirPort Utility 6.3.6 - Set up and manag...
Note: Most recent release available only within OS X 10.11 El Capitan update. Use AirPort Utility to set up and manage your Wi-Fi network and AirPort base stations, including AirPort Express, AirPort... Read more
Quicksilver 1.3.1 - Application launcher...
Quicksilver is a light, fast and free Mac application that gives you the power to control your Mac with keystrokes alone. Quicksilver allows you to find what you need quickly and easily, then act... Read more
Tidy Up (Five Users) 4.1.5 - Find duplic...
Tidy Up is a complete duplicate finder and disk-tidiness utility. With Tidy Up you can search for duplicate files and packages by the owner application, content, type, creator, extension, time... Read more
Mellel 3.4.3 - The word processor of cho...
Mellel is the leading word processor for OS X and has been widely considered the industry standard since its inception. Mellel focuses on writers and scholars for technical writing and multilingual... Read more
Skype - Voice-over-internet p...
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
Bookends 12.6.0 - Reference management a...
Bookends is a full-featured bibliography/reference and information-management system for students and professionals. Access the power of Bookends directly from Mellel, Nisus Writer Pro, or MS Word (... Read more

Swords & Crossbones: An Epic Pirate...
Swords & Crossbones: An Epic Pirate Story 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: | Read more »
Camel Up (Games)
Camel Up 1.0.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0.0 (iTunes) Description: | Read more »
The Martian: Bring Him Home (Games)
The Martian: Bring Him Home 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Based on the best selling novel and critically acclaimed film, THE MARTIAN tells the story of Astronaut Mark... | Read more »
This Week at 148Apps: September 21-30, 2...
Leap Into Fall 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... | Read more »
Tweetbot 4 for Twitter (Social Networki...
Tweetbot 4 for Twitter 4.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Social Networking Price: $4.99, Version: 4.0 (iTunes) Description: *** 50% off for a limited time. *** | Read more »
Mori (Games)
Mori 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Stop, rewind and unwind with Mori. Time is always running, take a moment to take control. Mori is an action puzzle game about infinitely... | Read more »
100 Years' War (Games)
100 Years' War 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $3.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: | Read more »
Tower in the Sky (Games)
Tower in the Sky 0.0.60 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 0.0.60 (iTunes) Description: | Read more »
hocus. (Games)
hocus. 1.0.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $.99, Version: 1.0.0 (iTunes) Description: New, polished, mind-bending, minimal puzzle game with dozens of levels and extra-ordinary design Features:- Beautifully crafted... | Read more »
Mos Speedrun 2 (Games)
Mos Speedrun 2 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Mos is back, in her biggest and most exciting adventure ever! Wall-jump to victory through 30 mysterious, action packed levels... | Read more »

Price Scanner via

13-inch 2.5GHz MacBook Pro (refurbished) avai...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 13″ 2.5GHz MacBook Pros available for $829, or $270 off the cost of new models. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free: - 13″ 2.5GHz MacBook Pros... Read more
27-inch 3.2GHz iMac on sale for $1689, save $...
Adorama has the 27″ 3.2GHz iMac on sale for $1689 including free shipping plus NY & NJ sales tax only. Their price is $110 off MSRP. Read more
12-inch Retina MacBooks on sale for up to $12...
B&H Photo has 12″ Retina MacBooks in stock today and on sale for up to $120 off MSRP. B&H will include free shipping, and there is NY sales tax only: - 12″ 1.1GHz Gray Retina MacBook: $1224 $... Read more
Tablets Shaping Up for Growth in 2016 – Strat...
Observing that Apple, Samsung, and Microsoft have refocused what tablet computers can do, market analysis firm Strategy Analytics believes there is immense opportunity for new and replacement sales... Read more
Apple Interbrand’s Number One Most Valuable G...
Apple and Google hold aced #1 and #2 spots respectively in Interbrand’s 2015 Best Global Brands Report, leading all tech brands that now comprise more than a third of the entire rankings value.... Read more
Apple offering refurbished 2015 13-inch Retin...
Apple is offering Certified Refurbished 2015 13″ Retina MacBook Pros for up to $270 (15%) off the cost of new models. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each model, and shipping is free: -... Read more
Apple refurbished 2015 MacBook Airs available...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2015 11″ and 13″ MacBook Airs (the latest models), available for up to $180 off the cost of new models. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each MacBook, and... Read more
Adobe Photoshop Elements 14 Gets Haze Removal...
The latest iteration of Adobe’s powerful consumer image editing appliction Photoshop Elements 14 analyzes your photo and removes background haze, so your shot looks sharp all the way to the horizon... Read more
Apple refurbished 15-inch Retina MacBook Pros...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2015 15″ Retina MacBook Pros available for up to $380 off the cost of new models. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each model, and shipping is free: - 15″ 2... Read more
21-inch iMacs on sale for up to $120 off MSRP
B&H Photo has 21″ iMacs on sale for up to $100 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY sales tax only: - 21″ 1.4GHz iMac: $1029.99 $70 off - 21″ 2.7GHz iMac: $1229 $70 off - 21″ 2.9GHz iMac: $... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Job Description:SalesSpecialist - Retail Customer Service and SalesTransform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're Read more
Senior Payments Architect - *Apple* Pay - A...
**Job Summary** Apple , Inc. is looking for a highly motivated, innovative and hands-on senior payments architect to join the Apple Pay Engineering team. You will Read more
SW QA Engineer - *Apple* TV - Apple (United...
**Job Summary** The Apple TV team is looking for experienced Quality Assurance Engineers with a passion for delivering first in class home entertainment solutions. **Key Read more
Finance Manager, *Apple* Online Store - App...
…successful global retailer. Innovate and think creatively as a finance partner for the Apple Online Store team. Look ahead and anticipate the needs of your business. Read more
*Apple* Retail for Business Support Supervis...
…is looking for a motivated, outgoing, and creative individual who wants to offer Apple Business Customers an unparalleled customer experience. The Apple Retail for Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.