By Greg Mills
Apple just had four more touch screen patents added to its portfolio yesterday. Touch screen patents are going to be gold in the coming federal lawsuit Apple has filed against every Android handset maker out there.
The notion of inventing things and then patenting the ideas are what the US Constitution has given the right for inventors to sue if anyone uses those protected ideas. The timing of filing and receiving patents is longer than the patent office would like and the result is often unintentional infringement. Designing things that stumble upon the filed but not issued patents of others is always an issue for high tech firms.
When everyone in the high tech industry is struggling to come up with novel touch screen technology for smart phones and tablets, Apple with its head start, scarfed up a lot of somewhat obvious technology early on. This was long before the competition got to work on their products and parts.
One of the objections to a patent's validity when you are sued for infringement is that the claims are obvious to a person skilled in the art. Obviousness can be argued against when nothing like the patented solution was known at the time the patent was filed. Once the solution to a riddle is given, the answer always seems obvious.
The latest numbers in smartphone sales show RIM slipping badly and Android surging. Apple is plugging along, but pocketing over half the profits for the entire industry. I submit that, if indeed profit is the goal of the high tech industry, sales numbers are irrelevant and Apple is laughing all the way to the bank. The numbers do count as an implication of what the future of the industry will look like and Apple is certainly planning a number of things to regain momentum in the cell phone industry.
1. Rumors of a poor man's iPhone are likely true. Apple knows there is a sweet spot price point for the cell phone industry to give away handsets. The iPhone is too darn expensive for anyone to give away with a two-year contract. A smaller iPhone at half the price would fill that gap and compete with cheaper Android phones.
2. The soon to be announced iPhone 5 will certainly have cool new features that will drive the top end of the smartphone market and the massive profits Apple see with its hardware sales worldwide.
3. As Steve Jobs stated when the iPhone was first introduced, Apple has patented the heck out of all the technology inherent in iPhone and will defend its patents vigorously. Being sued is a bummer; being sued by the likes of Apple with 50 billion dollars cash in the bank and more lawyers than you can shake a stick at is a disaster waiting to happen. The federal lawsuits laying on the desks of every Android handset maker will certainly hit the fan this year.
Further improvements in the iOS are sure to be impressive and help support the platform. Look for the Lion Mac OS to also support the iOS, perhaps to allow games for iPad and iPhone to be used on a Mac. Remember, great hardware without great software isn't going to create the magic that makes Apple stand out.
5. The advantage Apple has with a coherent and well managed app store is starting to tell. A recent poll of Android developers shows that 90% of them consider the fragmented market for Android a major problem. Add piracy of Android apps and one wonders whey anyone bothers to write Android apps. The Windows app store is still a joke with about 10,000 apps. RIM has promised a run time app to allow Android apps modified and posted in it's "PlayBook app store" to run on its tablet.
6. Look for Apple to get into the cell phone network business by buying surplus minutes wholesale from all the carriers and reselling them to iPhone owners.
Apple still offers developers the best potential for return on investment in creating apps of anyone in the industry by a wide margin.
I am going to a community meeting tonight in Kansas City, Kansas where Google will be answering questions regarding the 1Gig fiber optic internet utility they are putting in. Anyone with a question for me to ask should email it to me before 5 pm (Central). I want to see if Google will go on the record regarding a number of issues I see with their plans. See yesterday's post, "Google Gigs KCK," for background.
That's Greg's Bite for today.
(Greg Mills is currently a graphic and Faux Wall Artist in Kansas City. Formerly a new product R&D man for the paint sundry market, he holds 11 US patents. Greg is an Extra Class Ham Radio Operator, AB6SF, iOS developer and web site designer. He's also working on a solar energy startup using a patent pending process for turning waste dual pane glass window units into thermal solar panels used to heat water see: www.CottageIndustySolar.com Married, with one daughter, Greg writes for intellectual property web sites and on Mac/Tech related issues. See Greg's art web site at http://www.gregmills.info He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org)