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

Facility 47 (Games)
Facility 47 1.0.1 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $3.99, Version: 1.0.1 (iTunes) Description: You wake up alone and freezing in an icy cell. You try the cell door but it’s locked, it seems that you are stuck with no... | Read more »
The best Photoshop alternative on iPad
Instagram and Lightroom are great and all, but sometimes people need to get extra creative with their image editing.Like, Photoshop creative. If you're one of these people, take a look at our pick for the best mobile Photoshop experience on iPad... | Read more »
The Walking Dead: No Man’s Land guide -...
A new update for The Walking Dead: No Man’s Land was released last week, making it the perfect time for you to head back to your base and take out some walkers. Here’s the lowdown on what’s new to the game, and how to take advantage. [Read more] | Read more »
Goat Rider guide - Tips and tricks to st...
We've all been there. One second, we're riding high on a crazed goat, and the next, we've been tossed off it like someone who's no good at goat ridin'. [Read more] | Read more »
Real Boxing 2 CREED: How to become a gre...
Just in time for Rocky fans who can’t wait to see CREED, the latest movie, we have the official tie-in game,Real Boxing 2 CREED. It builds on the success of its predecessor and there’s lots to take in so we at 148apps thought we’d run you through... | Read more »
CoinOp Heroes 2 guide - How to build an...
CoinOp Heroes 2 justlaunched and, like all clickers, it's dangerously addictive stuff. You have to furiously tap your screen to defeat wave after wave of foes and earn an insane amount of cash to spend on character upgrades and an army of minions... | Read more »
Dr. Panda Firefighters (Education)
Dr. Panda Firefighters 1.0.1 Device: iOS Universal Category: Education Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0.1 (iTunes) Description: FIGHT FIRES AND SAVE THE DAY!Work together with Dr. Panda and his firefighting team to rescue his trapped... | Read more »
Puddle + (Games)
Puddle + 1.0 Device: iOS iPhone Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Puddle is back in a new "+" edition featuring enhanced graphics, new videos and Apple TV support ! No IAP and No Ads. Dive into Puddle... | Read more »
Football Manager Mobile 2016 (Games)
Football Manager Mobile 2016 7.0.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $8.99, Version: 7.0.0 (iTunes) Description: Football Manager Mobile 2016 is designed to be played on the move and is the quickest way to manage your... | Read more »
Kill Shot Bravo guide - How to become an...
Kill Shot Bravo is a disturbing amount of fun. No matter how many times I play a game that encourages me to snipe people in the head, I feel a little uneasy at how satisfying it is. Here are some useful tips to get you started on your path to... | Read more »

Price Scanner via

Adorama Black Friday deals: Up to $400 off Ma...
Adorama has released their Black Friday deals for 2015. Save up to $400 on MacBook Pros, $200 on MacBooks and MacBook Airs, and $270 on iMacs. Use code RYBFDEAL during checkout to see these prices.... Read more
B&H Photo Deals: $200 off 12-inch 1.2GHz...
In addition to the B&H Photo Black Friday week sales we posted yesterday, B&H has lowered their price on two products to $200 off MSRP: - 12″ 1.2GHz Gray Retina MacBook: $1399 save $200 - 13... Read more
Best Buy Early Access: Today only, Up to $125...
Best Buy has iPad Air 2s on sale for up to $125 off MSRP and Apple Watch models on sale on their online store for up to $100 off MSRP with special codes through midnight CT tonight. Choose free... Read more
UPPERCASE DESIGNS Premium Ultra Thin Keyboard...
UPPERCASE Designs today announced its new Premium Ultra Thin Keyboard Protector and its Palm Rest Protector Set for the 12-inch MacBook. The accessories provide durable protection for the 12-inch... Read more
Al Jazeera Launches New iOS And Android Mobil...
Doha, Qatar based Al Jazeera has launched new mobile and tablet apps on the iOS and Android systems bringing the latest Al Jazeera news and programmes live together with on-demand personalisation.... Read more
B&H Photo Holiday Sale: Up to $250 off Ma...
B&H Photo has all new Macs on sale for up to $500 off MSRP as part of their Holiday sale including free shipping plus NY sales tax only: - 15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro: $1799 $200 off - 15″ 2.... Read more
Free Aura ‘Ultimate’ Mac App For Gmail Update...
Miami, Florida based Crosscoded has announced Aura 1.2.0, an update to the Mac app for Gmail. Aura mixes the power of a native client with the flexibility of the Gmail web app with support for up to... Read more
Apple Will Edge Closer to Samsung in Smartpho...
Total smartphone shipments for 2015 are projected to decline by 9.7% to 1.286 billion units, according to the latest report from global market research firm TrendForce. Though Chinese vendors have... Read more
Sidefari – Split Screen Multitasking In Safar...
Francisco Cantu’s Sidefari is a simple web browser designed to act as a companion to Safari on the iPad. With multitasking in iOS 9, Sidefari uses the new Safari View Controller to show an extra... Read more
12-inch MacBooks in stock for up to $120 off,...
Adorama has 12″ Retina MacBooks in stock for up to $120 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY & NJ sales tax only. For a limited time, Adorama will include a free Apple USB-C to USB Adapter,... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
Merchant Operations Manager: *Apple* Pay -...
Changing the world is all in a day's work at Apple . If you love innovation, here's your chance to make a career of it. You'll work hard. But the job comes with more than Read more
*Apple* Pay QA Manager - Apple Inc. (United...
Changing the world is all in a day's work at Apple . If you love innovation, here's your chance to make a career of it. You'll work hard. But the job comes with more than Read more
Sr Software Engineer *Apple* Pay - Apple In...
Changing the world is all in a day's work at Apple . If you love innovation, here's your chance to make a career of it. You'll work hard. But the job comes with more than Read more
Hardware Systems Architect - *Apple* Watch...
# Hardware Systems Architect - Apple Watch Job Number: 38449977 Santa Clara Valley, Califo ia, United States Posted: Apr. 16, 2015 Weekly Hours: **Job Summary** The Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.