Once Again, Apple's 200 iPhone Patents Don't Stop Others From Claiming Infringement

from the no-surprise dept

You may recall that Steve Jobs proudly hyped up the fact that Apple had filed over 200 patents on the technologies related to the iPhone, as if that showed how special it was. However, as we noted, those patents hardly stopped others from filing patent infringement lawsuits against Apple. In the latest case, we have a company named EMG Technology claiming the iPhone violates its recently issued patent on viewing a mobile website.

The patent appears to cover the process of reformatting a website so that it can be more easily viewed on a mobile browser -- something that's been done for ages, since well before this patent was originally filed in 2006. Of course, the priority date on this patent may actually go back to March of 2000, since it appears that various continuations were filed -- a common practice among patent holders to be able to later add changes to a patent's language to cover actual innovations that others came up with, but which the patent holder now wants credit, even if the original patent application wouldn't have covered that technology specifically.

Either way, even if you were to grant the (somewhat laughable) idea that this patent is valid, this case again shows why the patent system, as currently constructed, makes almost no sense. It's quite clear that Apple did not get it's idea for how the iPhone browser would work from EMG's patent. Instead, it came up with the concepts on its own, knowing that it would be a useful way of implementing a mobile browser. Yet, now, this third party who had nothing to do with Apple's innovations gets to demand money from Apple. That's not promoting the progress. It's promoting waste and inefficiency.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 8:39am

    Not to mention

    This BS makes every innovative device that you might want to purchase significantly more expensive. You don't think the companies that make actual products simply swallow the patent taxes, do you? Nope, they pass those extra costs along to the consumer.

    What a great system.

     

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  2.  
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    Eric (profile), Nov 25th, 2008 @ 8:57am

    Note - "The '196 patent claims cover the display of Internet content reformatted from HTML to XML on mobile devices--the industry standard currently displayed by the iPhone,"

    The iPhone does not do this, does it? It actually renders the HTML.

    Dr E

     

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  3.  
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    Mel, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 9:20am

    Patents not worth the paper they are printed on..

    Patents don't really mean anything. Most tech companies use patent portfolio to boast of innovation, and this usually results in portfolio padding with useless patents. On one hand, your previous columns deride patents as stopping innovation. On the other hand, you seem o be proud of Apple's patents. Fact of the matter is >99% of patents are useless crap. This seems specially true of software patents.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 9:34am

    Opinions are like...

    How can you say that the idea that the patent is valid is, "somewhat laughable"? Have you read the original patent application? Have you researched prior art? Were you the patent application filer?

    Patents are IMPORTANT to innovation, they provide companies with protection from copycat companies. Without patents companies would see greater risk in R&D spending.

    You seem to be under the impression that patents are a bad thing and that copyright is a bad thing (I know you didn't mention it in this post but have many many times in the past). These intellectual property policies are in place to ensure a competitive landscape (you can try to say they "limit" competition, but in fact they protect competition because they prevent ideas from being stolen). You have been approaching the problem from the wrong side of things.

    IP laws are in place to protect companies who invest billions in research and design. These policies provide companies a means to protect their research from being used by a competitor who did not do the research. They are VITAL to innovation because without those protections there wouldn't be any incentive to spend the billions in the first place. A competitor would be able to come in behind you, use what you learned without incurring the research costs, and release the product to market at a considerable discount. Thus undercutting your price (remember the competitor didnt spend any money on research). Without those protections innovation would decline rapidly.

     

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  5.  
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    Noah Callaway, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 9:45am

    Re: Opinions are like...

    "Patents are IMPORTANT to innovation, they provide companies with protection from copycat companies. Without patents companies would see greater risk in R&D spending."

    Those 'copycat companies' that you refer to are the cornerstone of a capitalistic society. Yes, those copycat companies are the vital part of the free market called 'competition'.

    I know AC wasn't arguing the point here, but it seems to me a lot of the people who support patents will also defend government deregulation as being lethal to the free market.

    But patents and intellectual property provisions *are* regulation. The free market has no use for these concepts...

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 9:52am

    Re: Opinions are like...

    Except that the facts point to a completely different result than you see through your reality distortion field. You seem to be under the impression that ALL patents are a good thing. This patent protects nothing, since EMG has NO ACTUAL PRODUCT. The only thing it protects is the income for EMG, and it guarantees that the next round of iPhones, or any kind of innovation, is more expensive for everyone.

    And in your distorted version of reality, you think this is good?

     

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  7.  
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    DanC, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 9:53am

    Re: Opinions are like...

    These intellectual property policies are in place to ensure a competitive landscape (you can try to say they "limit" competition, but in fact they protect competition because they prevent ideas from being stolen).

    You can't steal ideas; you can, however copy them. And the notion that IP laws "protect" competition is ludicrous. Patents are short term monopolies - they are therefore explicitly anti-competitive.

    As the lawsuits against Apple, Vonage, and numerous others show, if you create a successful, profitable product, you will be sued for patent infringement by those that did not or by those who want your market share. That does not encourage innovation - it suppresses it.

     

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  8.  
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    Hulser, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 10:01am

    Re: Opinions are like...

    Patents are IMPORTANT to innovation, they provide companies with protection from copycat companies. Without patents companies would see greater risk in R&D spending.

    I think you're making the logical mistake of assuming that Mike is in favor of abolishing all patents. This is what your statement implies, but that's not what Mike said in this post nor, if I'm not mistaken, has he ever gone to that extreme in previous posts.

    My take on what Mike is saying -- and I agree with him -- is that the current model is broken and actually works against the original intent, to promote innovation. You can argue about how radical a change would be required in the current patent system to correct the large problems that exist, but there have been countless examples of where patents have been granted on -- no pun intended -- patently pre-existing ideas. No, I haven't looked at the patent in question, but I'd bet money that its subject, formatting a web page for a small screen, comes down to some rather simple and obvious concepts.

    Personally, I think there is a place for patents. But in America at least, things really seem to have gotten out of hand. In the cases that are most troublesome, we're not talking about your example of companies that spend billions of dollars on research. You can make a good case that patents should apply in those scenarios. But what's galling is when thousands of patents are given an simple and obvious ideas, which in turn stifles innovation.

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 10:19am

    Re: Re: Opinions are like...

    I do think innovators should be allowed short term monopolies as an incentive for innovation. If X has invested $1,000,000 on innovating a cellphone that costs $100 to make and is selling it for $120 to recover the costs of R&D, but Y can sell the same product for $100 by copying X's ideas.

    I know above idea doesn't work when hazy patents are filed. That doesn't mean patent system itself is bad, but rather the current setup is rotten. Criteria for issuing patents should be improved rather than getting rid of the system.

     

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  10.  
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    Hulser, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 10:27am

    Re: Re: Re: Opinions are like...

    Criteria for issuing patents should be improved rather than getting rid of the system.

    Who exactly is saying that we should get rid of the patent system? It's not DanC. He only pointed out that the patent system was anti-competative. But you can be anti-competative and still promote innovation. (I'd argue that, as time goes by, the US patent system has stifled more and more innovation versus how much it's promoted.) It's not Mike in this post. He gave a criticism of this particular case, but didn't call for abolishing the whole system. So to who exactly is your comment directed?

     

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  11.  
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    Willton, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 11:05am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Opinions are like...

    It's not Mike in this post. He gave a criticism of this particular case, but didn't call for abolishing the whole system.

    You apparently have not been reading this blog for very long.

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    Hulser, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 11:17am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Opinions are like...

    You apparently have not been reading this blog for very long.

    In fact, I have. Perhaps you're seeing what you want to see instead of what was actually written.

    Firstly, I did say "in this post" and since Mike didn't call for abolishing the entire patent system in this post, my statement stands. Secondly, please cite an example of where Mike has stated that the entire patent system in the US should be abolished. Again, I believe if he had his choice, it would be overhauled, but I don't recall him ever saying get rid of the whole damn thing.

     

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  13.  
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    Vincent Clement, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 12:07pm

    Re: Re: Re: Opinions are like...

    First, the patent in question is a software patent. Software should be subject to one form of protection and that is copyright.

    Second, your argument hinges on the assumption that idea or innovation is easy to copy. Naturally, that begs the question: if the innovation was easy to copy in the first place, why did it deserve government protection?

     

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  14.  
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    Pangolin (profile), Nov 25th, 2008 @ 12:10pm

    What the Patent system was intended for.

    If I make a nifty new device and start selling it - and some company buys one and then copies it exactly - and sells it cheaper - because they don't have to pay the R&D costs for the invention - then they are living large of my work.

    Patent law was designed to prevent this sort of thing so that R&D money would be spent and the resulting invention protected for a time.

    This is all well and good and explains how the patent system "promotes" innovation by preventing copying.

    The CURRENT patent system, however, is a mockery of this ideal in that partial "inventions" that are really obvious are used to hijack someone who DID create a nifty device via their own R&D and sweat and blood.

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 12:34pm

    "Instead, it came up with the concepts on its own, knowing that it would be a useful way of implementing a mobile browser."

    No data in the article to determine if the above is or is not true.

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    angry dude, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 12:35pm

    partial "inventions"

    Hey punky

    what do you call a "partial invention" ?

    Is intermittent windshield wiper (from the movie "Flash of genious" now in theaters) a "partial invention" ?

    Do you want the guy in the movie to be required to produce whole automobile in order to be entitled to protection of his windshield wiper design ?

    Go get your GED degree, now !

     

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  17.  
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    Daz, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 12:36pm

    Morons wake up: Ideas can't be stolen

     

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  18.  
    identicon
    Willton, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 4:38pm

    Re: What the Patent system was intended for.

    The CURRENT patent system, however, is a mockery of this ideal in that partial "inventions" that are really obvious are used to hijack someone who DID create a nifty device via their own R&D and sweat and blood.

    That is a problem with the law's implementation, i.e. the Patent Office, not the underlying law itself. If the Patent Office is issuing bad patents that people then use to an unjust result, then that should point us toward fixing the Patent Office, not overhauling the entire body of patent law. Patent law already prohibits the issuance of patents on obvious inventions. The fact that some may be out there just means that the Patent Office is not doing its job well, not that the law itself is flawed.

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 7:18pm

    Re: partial "inventions"

    What ?
    Have another shot AD.

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 9:45pm

    When I hear the phrase "intellectual property", I reach for my gun

    Patents ... provide companies with protection from copycat companies.

    Funny how that word "protection" used together with patents invariably seems to be secret code for "stifling competition"...

     

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  21.  
    identicon
    Jason, Nov 26th, 2008 @ 5:10am

    Electronics Patents

    I can totally understand a patent on electronics hardware or software but a patent on how something is viewed on that electronics hardware or software doesn't make sense to me.

    It's like patenting vision. The patent covers anything that distorts or enhances vision... for example: telescopes, eyeglasses, laser eye surgery, microscopes, etc

    Why don't they just try to patent colors while they're at it too. pfft!

    -Jason
    Wholesale Electronics

     

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  22.  
    identicon
    Justin Ried, Nov 30th, 2008 @ 6:11pm

    They're hurting America, Mike.

    And it's time we made 'em stop. I know, I sound like John Stewart by saying that, but it's true.

    Are we ever going to penalize companies for filing suits based on frivolous patents in an effective way?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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