Apple Ordered To Pay Over $600 Million... For Patent Infringement Of Cover Flow?

from the you-can't-be-serious dept

I'd been meaning to write about the absolutely ridiculous Mirror Worlds patent infringement lawsuit against Apple for a few weeks now, not realizing a ruling was going to come so quickly. A few weeks ago, the Yale local newspaper had a really laughable one-sided article talking about how Apple had "stolen" the technology behind three of its offerings: cover flow, spotlight and time machine, because a Yale spinoff company, Mirror Worlds, had sued Apple for patent infringement. The original lawsuit covered four patents:
  • 6,006,227: Document stream operating system
  • 6,638,313: Document stream operating system
  • 6,725,427: Document stream operating system with document organizing and display facilities
  • 6,768,999: Enterprise, stream-based, information management system
The Yale article only takes the side of Yale computer science professor David Gelernter, who whines about not getting "credit" for his brilliant invention. Either that, or perhaps (just perhaps) multiple people were able to come up with the same basic ideas. This is what's so frustrating about reporting on patent issues. Everyone likes to report on how ideas were "stolen," when the vast majority of cases involve independent invention (often of obvious ideas).

This case went quickly, and amazingly the court has ordered Apple to pay over $600 million, claiming that it infringed on three of the patents and that it has to pay over $200 million for each of the three products that infringed. Apple is appealing, noting that, at the very least, charging $200 million on each product is, in effect, "triple dipping."

What's left unsaid is the blatant insanity of having to pay anywhere near $200 million for the way in which you display CD covers in iTunes. How anyone can see such a verdict and not think the patent system is horribly, horribly broken is beyond me.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 5th, 2010 @ 7:52am

    "horribly broken" is inadequate. The term you want is FUBAR.

     

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  2.  
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    Paddu G, Oct 5th, 2010 @ 7:59am

    The patent claims and enforcement stuff is becoming nastier by the day. The patents should be awarded very selectively at least in the software field. I read about a college software company patenting "custom forms for each college" and claiming millions from others. What is new in customizing a form for each client? It has become a joke nowadays. Hope someone takes note and the patent processes are revamped to suit 21st century.

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    alternatives(), Oct 5th, 2010 @ 8:01am

    How anyone can see such a verdict and not think the patent system is horribly, horribly broken is beyond me.

    And yet, Average_joe will show up and say everythings fine.

    (and he doesn't He'll still be saying he'd be pleased to work for such a morally bankrupt system.)

     

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  4.  
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    Joe NYC, Oct 5th, 2010 @ 8:12am

    It's Obvious most Courts don't have a clue as to what is "Obviousness"

     

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  5.  
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    The Infamous Joe (profile), Oct 5th, 2010 @ 8:13am

    Shmatents

    Isn't this in the same group as the "new" patents that seem to add "on the internet", "on a computer" or "on a phone" and call it a grand innovation? I mean, how did you find the vinyl record you wanted to listen to except to go to the boxes they were in and flip through the covers?

    I think (for what it's worth!) that if there is a patent dispute an investigation should be made into if the idea was "stolen" or if it was independently arrived at simultaneously. Further, if it is the latter, the patent should be deemed obvious to experts in the field, and tossed out.

     

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  6.  
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    Don, Oct 5th, 2010 @ 8:17am

    Pay if you support Patents

    The way I see it, if Apple supports the patent system; as bad as it is; they should pay the fine and shut up.

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    interval, Oct 5th, 2010 @ 8:19am

    Being an engineer...

    ...this is going to probably sound really, really stupid, but what in the world is a "Document stream operating system?" I'll guess some kind of work flow process but I'd probably be wrong. Its probably a process for roasting coffee beans or something.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 5th, 2010 @ 8:23am

    AAAHHH! I WAS BLINDED BY THE OBVIOUSNESS!

     

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  9.  
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    tubby, Oct 5th, 2010 @ 8:32am

     

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  10.  
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    J.D. Gonzalez, Oct 5th, 2010 @ 8:52am

    Mike... Sometimes I think you have the best job in the world highlighting the huge problems we have with trademark/copyright/patent laws. Then I think... Although very interesting, I'd probably be pissed all day long reading and writing about this stuff.

    This issue reminds me of the Amazon.com 'One click' patent. At what point does something become obvious and not patentable? It seems like there are more and more patents given out for stuff that is obvious and could have been figured out by anyone.

     

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  11.  
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    ofb2632 (profile), Oct 5th, 2010 @ 8:59am

    fair is fair

    Mabe Apple will think of this when they decide to sue others. Fair is fair.

     

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  12.  
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    Chris-Mouse (profile), Oct 5th, 2010 @ 9:05am

    Re:

    It's Obvious most Courts don't have a clue as to what is "Obviousness"

    Of course they don't, nor should they. The court's expertise is in law, not technology. The real source of the problem is that the patent office is not only missing that clue, it's also got a financial incentive not to get that clue. Until that is fixed, the flood of bad patents will only get worse.

     

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  13.  
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    R. Miles (profile), Oct 5th, 2010 @ 9:06am

    The patent system may be broken...

    ...but in this context, I'm rather happy Apple, notorious for using the patent system in their favor, gets slammed three times (per their two and one's an ITC loophole) and for such an incredible amount.

    I wish this companies would hurry up and sue themselves out of existence so small businesses, dedicated to customer service now, can take over and restart the cycle all over again.

     

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  14.  
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    Travis, Oct 5th, 2010 @ 9:15am

    Re: fair is fair

    Or maybe they will sue even more now to recoup their losses!

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 5th, 2010 @ 9:24am

    The best part is that coverflow sucks.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 5th, 2010 @ 9:31am

    Re: Re:

    "The court's expertise is in law, not technology."

    So is the patent examiners.

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 5th, 2010 @ 9:33am

    Re: Re: fair is fair

    Which is exactly what MS does.

     

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  18.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), Oct 5th, 2010 @ 9:50am

    Re: Pay if you support Patents

    Apple supports the patent system because they are so good at winning the game. No matter which way the lawsuits are flowing, Apple is going to fight tooth and nail to come out on top.

     

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  19.  
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    tracker1 (profile), Oct 5th, 2010 @ 9:50am

    Re:

    Personally, I don't think I've seen anything in the past 20 years in relation to software that was truly unique and deserving of a patent.. Given that the U.S. Patent system is 20 years, that means there shouldn't be *ANY* software patents left today. This is from a software engineer.

    I would also comment that I've had several ideas over the years that were had before anyone successfuly monetized them... If I'd simply patented them, I'd be rich.

     

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  20.  
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    tracker1 (profile), Oct 5th, 2010 @ 9:53am

    Re: Re:

    As horrible as it is, I think the cost for *filing* for a patent should be $50k, with an annual renewal fee of $1K. That would cause a think twice approach to patenting the obvious. And would cover the cost for the Patent office's research and staff to keep up with current demands. Though it would pretty much eliminate the small time inventor, they've already been cut out for the most part.

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 5th, 2010 @ 10:23am

    Re: Pay if you support Patents

    was about to say as much as i hate the patent system I hate apple more so let them pay.

    but i like the way you put it even more

     

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  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 5th, 2010 @ 10:47am

    Apple did patent 'swiping your finger on a touchscreen to lock/unlock device' after all...

    Live by the patent, die by the patent.

    Good for the guy if he gets the money.

     

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  23.  
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    Eugene (profile), Oct 5th, 2010 @ 10:52am

    The Patent Office should take a cue from the script reading industry. If a script reader sends a producer a terrible script, it counts against them. Do this enough and you're fired. This is how Hollywood manages the millions of godawful scripts it gets every day (and yet they *still* make bad movies...granted, the script is only about a tenth of what's represented on screen).

    Imagine if the patent office worked that way. Suddenly the incentive is reversed. It would be in their best interest to *not* approve bad patents, and to err on the side of caution.

     

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  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 5th, 2010 @ 10:55am

    Re: Re: Re:

    The cost of renewal should be contingent on the monetary benefit of the patent, as provided by the patent holder. That way, if the patent holder says his patent is worth 200 million, he should have to pay a non-decimal percentage of that to the USPTO to have it renewed.

    Once that's done, the corporate and non-practicing entities will under value their patents, and when their lawyers decide they need to hold on to their jobs, they can't get any more than what they valued the patent for.

     

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  25.  
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    bwp (profile), Oct 5th, 2010 @ 10:57am

    Yes but...

    ...as bad as I see the patent system being screwed up, you also need to point out that the legal system is as much to blame in this particular case. According to the article that I read, the court didn't order the fine, it was a jury verdict and award. The judge actually allowed an emergency stay so that Apple could show that the award shouldn't be allowed.

     

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  26.  
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    ChrisB (profile), Oct 5th, 2010 @ 11:57am

    Re: Re:

    > Personally, I don't think I've seen anything in the past 20 years
    > in relation to software that was truly unique and deserving of a patent

    I agree.

    Here's why I don't think software should be patentable. Software is written in a programming language, which was created by others. If the programming language didn't exist, then the software can't exist.

    If you try and generalize software to the point where the programming language doesn't matter, then it crosses the expression/idea boundary and becomes an idea, which is not patentable.

    Another way to look at it is, if I create the rules for a board game (like chess), I have also created all the possible states of the game. You couldn't copyright one set of moves, because those moves were already created when the rules of the game were created. The moves may not have been _discovered_ yet, but that is irrelevant.

     

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  27.  
    identicon
    Richard Cauley, Oct 5th, 2010 @ 12:10pm

    Triple Dipping

    As I read the jury verdict, the "triple dipping" was because $200 million was awarded for each patent, not for each product. And the verdict has not been stayed yet -- Apple made the motion on Sunday and it has not yet been decided.

     

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  28.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), Oct 5th, 2010 @ 12:20pm

    Re: The patent system may be broken...

    Two wrongs don't make a right. Just because a big player occasionally gets slammed with their own irritating practices doesn't mean those practices are going away. In fact, in encourages the big players to double their efforts on the same front to recoup their losses.

     

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  29.  
    identicon
    John Doe, Oct 5th, 2010 @ 12:53pm

    I am glad to see the award...

    I am glad to see Apple have to pony up $600 mil and I believe RIM paid even more a few years ago. These companies play both sides of the patent war so it is good to see them lose the battle occasionally. Hopefully soon, they will realize how horrible software patents are and all band together to lobby to have them abolished.

    So keep up the good work patent trolls, change might finally happen.

     

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  30.  
    identicon
    andrew, Oct 5th, 2010 @ 2:19pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    You wrote: "If you try and generalize software to the point where the programming language doesn't matter, then it crosses the expression/idea boundary and becomes an idea, which is not patentable."

    I believe you're confused . . .

    Ideas are patentable so long as they aren't too abstract or broad, lest they'd protect too much. Copyright protects expression. I.e., patent protect ideas, copyright protects expression of ideas. The current landscape becomes more confusing considering that software is eligible for either type of protection.

    When software came of age, it was first copyrighted, because it is work that is "written," albeit in a language few understand (programming code). It is my impression that, because patentable subject matter includes methods/processes, software functions can be patentable when their use is tied to a machine (i.e., computer). Anyone interested in this area of patent law can get some good background by brushing up on a line of federal decisions regarding the "machine-or-transformation" test to patentability.

    Many argue that copyright protection is unnecessary for software anyways since most programs are subject to EULAs, but this is an emerging issue in the law. It's a shame that software is subject to antiquated forms of protection, especially copyright. Again, copyright is protection for expression, and I see software as way too functional, although I do understand how certain elements of code-writing might be considered one's expression. Others advocate a sui generis form of protection software, which is a topic I'd love to see explored more)

    I don't practice this in this field for a living, it's just a hobby, so if anyone in the IP legal field wants to chime in, I welcome the instruction.

     

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  31.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 5th, 2010 @ 2:55pm

    Re: Yes but...

    The patent system is part of the legal system and it's one of the reasons why the legal system is messed up. We are specifying which aspects of our legal system are ruined and the patent system is one of those aspects.

     

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  32.  
    identicon
    staff, Oct 6th, 2010 @ 6:39am

    "when the vast majority of cases involve independent invention"

    Gads! Independent invention?? Patents are awarded to the first to invent. Whether someone else "discovers" after independently matters not. They're still infringing. You know nothing of patent law. Write about something else.

     

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  33.  
    identicon
    All American Citizen, Oct 6th, 2010 @ 10:26am

    Get a Brain

    You obviously know absolutely nothing about the rational for patents. It's to reward those who come up with new ideas FIRST so as to benefit society.

    Even though the Founding Fathers thought it was important "to promote the progress of science and useful arts" I'm guessing your a whole lot smarter than they were. Right?

    Our economic system is based on competition. I quite honestly fail to undersand why 'cry babies' like you whine so much when the little guy out-competes the corporate behemouths. You should be waving an American flag! Do you own some of Apple's of Microsoft's stock?

    An All American Citizen

     

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  34.  
    icon
    nasch (profile), Oct 6th, 2010 @ 11:22am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Patents are supposed to cover inventions, not ideas. Though whether that's actually the case is in doubt.

     

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


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