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Summary:

While Tuesdays are known for Apple product launches, today the company announced not a new Mac but a lawsuit over patent infringement related to the iPhone. The target was mobile phone maker HTC, and none other than Steve Jobs was making the accusations. “We can sit […]

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While Tuesdays are known for Apple product launches, today the company announced not a new Mac but a lawsuit over patent infringement related to the iPhone. The target was mobile phone maker HTC, and none other than Steve Jobs was making the accusations.

“We can sit by and watch competitors steal our patented inventions, or we can do something about it. We’ve decided to do something about it,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours.”

At issue are some 20 patents relating to the “iPhone’s user interface, underlying architecture and hardware,” though specifics have not yet been divulged, nor has there been a response from HTC. More details will undoubtedly be made public as the lawsuit proceeds in both the U.S. District Court in Delaware and with the U.S. International Trade Commission.

Nonetheless, the accusation of intellectual property theft over handheld device patents sounds oddly familiar, except it wasn’t Apple making the accusation recently, but Nokia.

In December, Nokia sued Apple over patents relating to standards covering “wireless data, speech coding, security and encryption,” accusing Apple of “attempting to get a free ride on the back of Nokia’s innovation.” Apple promptly countersued, General Counsel Bruce Sewell also using the S-Word, stating that “other companies must compete with us by inventing their own technologies, not just by stealing ours.”

If this all sounds harsh, it is. The flurry of patent lawsuits and counter-lawsuits is something of an anomaly, in that companies like Apple, HTC, and Nokia normally use their massive patent portfolios to protect themselves from litigation. It’s like the concept of nuclear weapon stockpiles and mutually assured destruction (MAD), but with lawyers. What’s got Apple and others pushing the red button now is nothing less than the future of personal computing. As portability moves from the laptop to the handheld, companies like Apple apparently feel the potential legal fallout is worth the risk.

  1. Apple seems pretty desperate to retain market share.

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    1. Well, to an extent, any company in this business would be crazy to not want to keep their market share. Historically Apple has cared more about profits than market share, but still ultimately I don’t see this as an issue of them being afraid that HTC will take market share from them.

      The issue here is that Apple sees the decisions HTC is making as literally stealing their ideas and technology. The best correlation I can make to this is from being a designer. If I design a site, and then see someone else has “ripped” my design and called it their own, of course I’m going after them. It was my hard work that created that…not them.

      So, in this case, Apple is the designer and HTC is the kid who ripped their design.

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    2. Only reason I say desperate is because Apple submitted over 700 pages of exhibits.

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  2. It’s “Look and Feel” all over again, the ill-fated lawsuit from the 90s on the desktop GUI between Apple and Microsoft. Personally, I am dubious. Is “slide to unlock” really invention?

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    1. Hardly, they do have very specific patents for the IPhone. It won’t be as vague as when they went at it with MS over “look and feel of the whole PC/Desktop.”

      And MS is still getting their money’s worth on that old victory.

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    2. The blame actually lies with the USPTO for approving this very vague and ambiguous description. It’s like being mad that you signed a paper saying that it’s okay for your accountant to have access to your accounts then get made that he took all of your money. What does “access” really mean?

      And like Josh said, if someone rips off your ideas you have the right to defend it and not be demonized for it.

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  3. Pretty sure there’s going to be a bit of prior art presented in this case. Apple’s GUI was a variation on a theme rather than invention.

    > If I design a site, and then see someone else has “ripped” my design and called it their own, of course I’m going after them.

    Well, no, there are limits here. The images on your site are your property – but how about the layout? Can you really claim that your particular menu style is unique, or that your particular css styles are yours alone? There is a fundamental difference between copying (being lazy) and using the ideas to build something new (innovation).

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    1. His analogy probably wasn’t the best but I understand the point. In this case Apple designed things that never existed in this particular format. Were there “slide to unlock” features before the iPhone? I challenge anyone to prove otherwise and even if there was this type of interface was it touchscreen enabled and was it on a cell phone? Doubt it.

      Again, I think Apple shouldn’t be raked over the coals for defending their inventions.

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  4. Kudos to Apple, they finally decided to put their feet down. I knew there was a reason why all the newer SmartPhones had a similar look and feel. At the time I really couldn’t put a finger on it…but now it’s dawned on me… =) j/p I think when this is all said and done, and the dust have settled, Apple will have created a bigger and better device, and someone else will once again be playing catch up and trying to replicate Apple’s success.

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  5. Alejandro Perez Tuesday, March 2, 2010

    I agree with you on what should be patentable, Slide to Unlock is definitely not an invention but if the patent office gave apple a patent for that specific GUI then other companies should respect that. And Its not Market share this time it $$ anyone can use all of the technologies in an iPhone you just have to pay to use them. e.g. the 90’s with Qualcomm and their chipsets in many of the worlds CDMA handsets or nowadays with the blu-ray players with DiVX playback yo need to specify that you are using a technology invented by someone else ad pay permission fees.

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  6. as always, people fail to understand that the patent is not on the idea, but on the specific implementation of the idea. It doesn’t matter if someone else had something similar before in terms of general categories of invention. What matters is the specific way in which multi-touch is implemented and whether or not the Google implementation is similar enough to be called a copy.

    As to “look and feel,” it’s a valid concern and a patentable and trademark-able thing. Apple settled the look and feel lawsuit over contract details. “Look and feel” *is* patentable and they may win this one on that basis.

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    1. Look and feel is only patentable if it is a functional aspect.

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  7. Setting aside the debatable merits of Apple’s claims, it could be argued there is an unintended, or possibly intended, consequence here. By calling into question the viability of the platform because of intellectual property issues, this lawsuit might cause software developers to rethink their plans regarding Android.

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    1. I highly doubt Google would let Android die. A worse case scenario for Android would be a court ruling that all 20 violations are present. If that’s the case then Apple gets money + royalties while the Android community develops a workaround the patented technologies.

      The biggest victim in that scenario though would be the consumer and the creation of a fragmented smartphone market. Imagine what computers would be like today if Apple won the GUI lawsuit in the 90’s.

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  8. I believe that I will not get so popular when I write this in a apple blogg

    I’m from Sweden and I’ve created a facebook group that supports HTC in the battle.

    I have made it international so please join the group. It would really make me happy.

    Here is the link http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=337545123666

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  9. This story was a Trending Topic on Twitter today http://bit.ly/98RjsK Will there be backlash for Apple?

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    1. If they own the patents, there should be no backlash.

      Apple learned that they better have GOOD proof from the earlier MS “look and feel” lawsuit loss. Pay up suckers!

      And what ever happen to Napster? A free ride only takes you so far.

      Live and learn!

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