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Apple’s latest patent spells big trouble for competitors

Apple (s aapl) won a victory against HTC on Monday that could signal the beginning of a long war of attrition between iOS and Android(s goog), with Apple chipping away at small, useful features and forcing workarounds that could degrade the Android user experience. On Tuesday, Apple got more ammunition for that fight, as it was awarded a patent in the U.S. (via CBS News) for a method for using apps while on a phone call.

The patent in question, No. 8,082,523, titled “Portable electronic device with graphical user interface supporting application switching,” covers in a fairly broad manner a way in which calls can be relegated to the background on a device such as a smartphone while the user navigates a mobile operating system and interacts with other applications. Basically, it applies to any such method in which the phone application is displaced by a button or visible mechanism to indicate that a call is still in progress and then return the user to the call.

On Apple’s iOS devices, this takes the form of the bar at the top of the home screen you can tap at any time to return to a call while using applications. Android, too, features a similar implementation. The specific wording of the patent, as exemplified by the quoted section below, actually makes it possible Apple could pursue a lawsuit against any device that allows users to maintain a call while also viewing a home screen or app drawer with visual icons representing applications:

[…] displaying on the touch screen display a first user interface for a phone application during a phone call; detecting activation of a menu icon or menu button during the phone call, in response to detecting activation of the menu icon or menu button, replacing the first user interface for the phone application with a menu of application icons including an icon for the phone application and an icon for a non-telephone application; maintaining the phone call while displaying the menu of application icons on the touch screen display […]

Apple may not win any decisive victories against Android competitors that lock out their products entirely, but with an arsenal of patents like this one and the one that led to its ITC win Monday against HTC, both of which could be used in actions against virtually any Android device-maker, it could eat away at Google’s mobile platform, causing the removal or alteration of features that are now second nature to users.

33 Responses to “Apple’s latest patent spells big trouble for competitors”

  1. The touch screen Sony Ericsson P800 c2002 did exactly this. The interface was designed at Symbian, the team headed by Scott Jenson. You can see my animated design sketch at on what was proposed. In the end the product only linked phone numbers and web addresses. I have one, ans it still works. I just checked to be sure my facts were straight.

  2. This Patent war will end very soon, when Apple realize that no matter what it does, there will still be more people working with Android phones than with iOS. how am I sure about this? its obvious, if Apple was not worried about Android eating up all it’s market share, they would have never went into this patent war and even tried to ban the selling of Android devices. One thing i would like to clarify, which makes a big difference between the 2 systems, iOS is a mobile software, Android is an operating system, used by phones, tablets, PC, cars, robotics, aerospace, medical devices…the list goes on

    • I will soon patent the use of any device that resembles a phone that has the capability of making phone calls. Next, any battery powered device that uses a battery. And finally, the use of air in the breathing process. But why stop there, Dave, patent the process of breathing too. I’ve heard of bad Apples…

  3. Veikko Punkka

    The patent says “A portable electronic device displays, on a touch screen display”, which means that devices without a touch screen do not qualify as prior art. Nokia 7710 from 2004 sounds like valid prior art.

  4. This is absurd. It is like patenting using iPad while eating a meal. I do not like Apple for this. The company is getting very mean. What is wrong with a little competition? My husband buys various gadgets and I input my opinion to him. I cannot influence Apple but I can influence friends and family. From a simple consumer.

  5. Aids Tecson

    If Apple upholds the HTC ban in the US, I hope Motorola upholds the iOS ban in Germany and in effect the entire EU. Tsss. Suing one guy while infringing the other. Very two faced Apple!

  6. John Welch

    I am so glad we have (software) patents. The world is such a better place because of them. They really promote innovation and advancement of technology and improve the lives of consumers. And if you believe that, there’s this bridge I’m selling…

    • I don’t think the patent office understands software patents at all. Software patents are nothing more than a patent on an idea–patents are not awarded for ideas. What allows that idea to take place is the combination of hardware (legitimately patentable) and a program languages (legitimately patentable imo).

      How a program language works is much like hardware–very specific.

      I can create a hyperlink using many program languages–the hyperlink is just an idea that is implemented via a tool (a software programming language that interacts with hardware).

      To me it seems clear that what software allows you to do is nothing more than an idea. It’s only the programming language that should ever see a patent and if the final output idea is to be patented at all then it must also be tied to that specific programming language & implementation and how it ultimately works in that specific combination, only.

      This would be no different than two inventors developing a windshield wiper with completely different hardware implementations and each works via very different means–they both deserve a patent but only for their specific implementation.

  7. Patent attorney’s send each other notices all the time in the background. Apple will send notice to Android about this and other infringed patents. Warnings and offers. Things only get to court when no agreement or settlement can be reached.

  8. These patent claims seem to have been already in the public domain. I recall using Windows Mobile back in 2003 and seeing on the screen display (that I could touch) a UI for a phone application during a phone call, and the OS detected when I pressed the Windows Menu button during the phone call and responded by replacing the UI and the focus for the phone app with a menu of application icons listed in the start menu pull down, including an icon for the phone app, and an icon for a non-telephone application, all while maintaining the phone call while displaying the menu of app icons on the touch screen display.

    I don’t see how these claims will be upheld as patentable in court. Funny thing is that Microsoft invented a lot of the things we see in phones a decade ago, and they get paid licensing for every Android phone sold. If they wanted, they could really pull out the punches and put a halt to mobile production and distribution, but why do that when you can make money from a few drawings and text, without having to oversee an idea become a product that you then have to sell.

    • I think people are not reading this patent correctly. It’s actually very specific from what I get–it’s a specific way to switch between the phone UI and app launcher UI. . . I think.

      Though, as you say, there’s still too much prior art for this to have ever been awarded but, that’s what the patent off is about these days–collecting money for crap patents. They only care that the patent office pulls in cash for the government–it’s a cash cow for the government. They will let the lawyers get paid to figure out if it’s valid or not = broken patent system.

  9. Steffen Jobbs

    Apple isn’t doing spit to slow down Android market share growth. Until both Oracle and Apple drop the hammer on Android they’re basically just whistling Dixie while Android goes and grows on its merry way. Who says crime doesn’t pay? At least a couple of Android smartphone vendors are getting paid rather well (Samsung and HTC) and Apple and the courts don’t seem to be able to do anything about it.

    • Apple’s definitely not going to mention borrowing or stealing an idea. They were completely above board on the Xerox GUI in the’80’s right? A case of acceptant to Apple but not ok for other companies. One like myself has to wonder, if Apple acts like they do, why are they afraid of the competition? If you build a better product, the consumer and their purchase will indicate that. Clearly, Apple does not like competition.

  10. Really? Admittedly I haven’t read the detailed claims (so take this with as much salt as is necessary), but I may own a piece of prior art. My old phone (T-Mobile MDA Compact II) runs Windows Mobile 5.0 and was released in 2005 according to Google. Apple filed for this patent in 2008. That phone allows me to switch applications during a call and, if I remember correctly, will even interrupt me during a call if an appointment is due or txt comes in. Plus I believe it supports full multitasking (not necessarily a good thing of course, but that’s another discussion…). Admittedly it was designed to be used with a stylus, not fingers, but both are possible.

  11. It’s kind of sad irony that the creator of a non-multitasking operating system got this patent granted.

    And even more sad to see this kind of obvious behaviour of even a ‘dumb’phone to get patented. How sits in this patent offices? People from the stoneage?

    • This patent was filed in 2007 when iPhone as launched…androids came after and included these features, their fail. Android developers simply are copying other features and using source code from other places like Oracle for Java and stripping out the IP notices, blatantly.

  12. The idea of them patenting the ability to use an application while making a phone call seems outrageous. This was a capability of early feature phones, which allowed you to use other applications while making a phone call. This isn’t a novel idea, anyone with the basic experience using/designing software systems could have thought of this.

  13. Portable electronic device with graphical user interface supporting application switching,”. That sounds like a notebook running windows (or any other OS).

    Where do they find patent examiners, anyway?

      • Anthony Topper

        Why is there a differentiation between a “phone application” and a computer application?

        Also, doesn’t allowing the patenting of GUI design create an anti-competitive environment?

        Why is there a distinction between clicking and touching as a selection method when it comes to software?

      • And applications shouldn’t be patentable. Then every application of using a screw or a nail could be patented.

        A smartphone is a portable computer. There is no real distinction. A patent is not supposed to be obvious to anyone skilled in the art, and almost every patent granted for applications that run on microprocessors is obvious to anyone skilled in the art of computer design.