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

Is there cross-platform play in slither....
So you've sunken plenty of hours into crawling around in slither.io on your iPhone or iPad. You've got your stories of tragedy and triumph, the times you coiled four snakes at one time balanced out by the others when you had a length of more than... | Read more »
Rodeo Stampede guide to running a better...
In Rodeo Stampede, honing your skills so you can jump from animal to animal and outrun the herd as long as possible is only half the fun. Once you've tamed a few animals, you can bring them home with you. [Read more] | Read more »
VoxSyn (Music)
VoxSyn 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Music Price: $6.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: VoxSyn turns your voice into the most flexible vocal sound generator ever. Instantly following even subtle modulations of pitch and... | Read more »
Catch Battleplans on Google Play from Ju...
Real-time strategy title Battleplans is due for release on Google Play on June 30th, following its release for iOS systems last month. With its simple interface and pretty graphics, the crowd-pleaser brings a formerly overlooked genre out for the... | Read more »
iDoyle: The interactive Adventures of Sh...
iDoyle: The interactive Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - A Scandal in Bohemia 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Books Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Special Release Price $1.99 (Normally $3.99) | Read more »
Five popular free apps to help you slim...
Thanks to retail and advertising, we're used to thinking one season ahead. Here we are just a week into the summer and we're conditioned to start thinking about the fall. [Read more] | Read more »
How to ride longer and tame more animals...
It's hard to accurately describe Rodeo Stampede to people who haven't seen it yet. It's like if someone took Crossy Roadand Disco Zoo and put them in a blender, yet with a unique game mechanic that's still simple and fun for anyone. [Read more] | Read more »
Teeny Titans - A Teen Titans Go! Figure...
Teeny Titans - A Teen Titans Go! Figure Battling Game 1.0.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $3.99, Version: 1.0.0 (iTunes) Description: Teeny Titans, GO! Join Robin for a figure battling RPG of epic proportions! TEENY... | Read more »
NinjAwesome: Tips and tricks to be a mor...
Sorry about that headline, but I'm going to go ahead and assume that GameResort would not have named its game NinjAwesome without expecting some of that. It is, in fact, pretty awesome the way it combines an endless runner and old school arcade... | Read more »
Into Mirror (Games)
Into Mirror 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: "Is all that we see or seem, but a dream within a dream?"- Edgar Allan Poe New game by Lemon Jam Studio, the team behind Pursuit... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

15-inch Retina MacBook Pros on sale for $200-...
B&H Photo has 15″ Retina MacBook Pros on sale for up to $210 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY tax only: - 15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro: $1799.99 $200 off MSRP - 15″ 2.5GHz... Read more
Mac minis on sale for up to $100 off MSRP
B&H Photo has Mac minis on sale for up to $100 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY sales tax only: - 1.4GHz Mac mini: $449 $50 off MSRP - 2.6GHz Mac mini: $649 $50 off MSRP - 2.8GHz Mac mini... Read more
Clearance 2015 13-inch MacBook Airs available...
B&H Photo has clearance 2015 13″ MacBook Airs available for $300 off original MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 13″ 1.6GHz/4GB/128GB MacBook Air (MJVE2LL/A): $799.... Read more
Apple refurbished Mac minis available for up...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 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 MSRP - 2.6GHz Mac... Read more
ABBYY TextGrabber: 1,000,000 Installs in 5 Da...
ABBYY, an international OCR technologies provider, has announced that their image-to-text application TextGrabber, got installed 1,000,000 times in just five days while being featured by the App... Read more
New SkinIt Waterproof Case For iPhone 6
With its impact and waterproof design, the Skinit Waterproof case provides security and protection to guarantee your phone will get you through even the most demanding outdoor conditions. The impact-... Read more
iMacs on sale for up to $150 off MSRP
B&H Photo has 21″ and 27″ iMacs on sale for up to $150 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY sales tax only: - 27″ 3.3GHz iMac 5K: $2181.11 $118 off MSRP - 27″ 3.2GHz/1TB Fusion iMac 5K: $1949... Read more
12-inch 1.1GHz Retina MacBooks on sale for $5...
B&H Photo has 2016 12″ 1.1GHz/256GB Retina MacBooks on sale for up to $50 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY tax only: - 12″ 1.1GHz Space Gray Retina MacBook: $1249 $50 off MSRP... Read more
WWDC Announcements Revisited Still Underwhelm...
I was disappointed that no new MacBook hardware was announced at this year’s all-software World Wide Developer’s Conference. Not even a hint about what’s in the development pipeline. Of course, we... Read more
Twelve South Compass 2 iPad Stand Now Availab...
Twelve South has updated its most popular iPad stand, Compass 2, with the introduction of two new colors — Gold and Rose Gold. These new color options n perfectly complement the new Rose Gold iPad... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* iPhone 6s and New Products Tester Ne...
…we therefore look forward to put out products to quality test for durability. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store, Read more
Music Marketing Lead, iTunes & *Apple*...
…Music Marketing Lead is responsible for developing robust marketing campaigns and programs for Apple Music and iTunes across the whole of Apple ecosystem. This Read more
*Apple* Valley Medical Clinic is Hiring - AP...
Apple Valley Medical Clinic is Hiring! Apple Valley Medical Clinic is an independently owned practice operating a Family Medicine Clinic, a 24/7 Urgent Care, Read more
*Apple* New Products Testers Needed - Apple...
…we therefore look forward to put out products to quality test for durability. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store, Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant - APPLE (United...
Job Summary As an Apple Solutions Consultant, you'll be the link between our future customers and our products. You'll showcase your entrepreneurial spirit as you Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.