Tech sector giants have been crying and moaning about how the patent system has run amok and needs to be scaled back, and continually beg for patent reform that would gut the patent system and weaken patent rights. Immediately after successfully lobbying for the America Invents Act (AIA), they are back at it again supporting new legislation aimed at making it more difficult to enforce patent rights pending in Congress. If they prevail with the passage of the Innovation Act, they will be back at it again no doubt. The longer term goal is to strip the International Trade Commission of its patent jurisdiction, which would make it impossible to stop the importation of infringing goods prior to entering the country. See Will the ITC Lose Its Patent Jurisdiction and Are Some Patent Holders More Equal Than Others?
The grumbling of the tech giants is increasingly being picked up by patent abolitionists who say “see, even Microsoft thinks there should be no patents,” which only adds to the hysteria. Of course, Microsoft is one of the top patenting companies year after year and they aggressively pursue software patens themselves. So while some of Microsoft’s public statements suggest that they do not like software patents, they aggressively seek them and then aggressively pursue licensing strategies. So it seems that Microsoft may talk a good game about software patents being undesirable and a real scourge, but when push comes to shove they will get as many patents as they can. Quite curious if you ask me!
So why do the tech giants want to make it hard for small businesses and individuals to get patents? Do you remember when “Wang” was synonymous with “computer,” or at least “word processor”? Perhaps not, but once upon a time it was indeed. The story of Wang is the story of technology companies generally speaking. What has always been true is that technology companies that reach the top are only passing through on their way down; to be replaced by smaller, leaner companies that pursue appropriate strategies and have solid and expandable innovations in demand.
Even mighty Microsoft couldn’t maintain their monopoly, and only the foolish would anticipate Google, Facebook and other tech giants to be on top indefinitely. That isn’t how the tech sector works, or is intended to work. But if a vibrant, robust and strong patent system is not there for start-ups today they will never become the giant, innovation shifting, growth companies of the future. That would be terrible for the economy, lead to stagnant innovation and guarantee that slothful, giant companies that have lost the ability to innovate would remain dominant rather than going the way of the dinosaur.
Apple Inc. of Cupertino, CA, is synonymous with consumer devices, and it currently holds a great market position within the electronic device industry thanks to two incredibly popular product lines, the iPhone and the iPad. Recently, Apple announced the the development of the iPad Air, an electronic tablet that some feel is a harbinger of the development of an iPad Pro version for business applications. Apple is also a well-known influencer in the music industry, thanks to its development of audio recording software. Many industry speculators expect Apple to come out with a 65-inch ultra high-definition television setthat incorporates wireless connectivity with other device.
This week in IPWatchdog’s Companies We Follow series, we’re going back to California to highlight some of the more interesting patent applications and issued patents assigned to Apple from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. As always, Apple has plenty in play here, and it’s easy to see the corporation’s focus on its line of handheld devices, including tablets and smartphones.
Our featured patent application today will be music to the ears of many iPhone owners by keeping that device silent at important times. This application would protect a system of designating parameters that would prevent a message notification to be forwarded to a device owner, such as sleep hours or if the phone is in a designated meeting room. Other patent applications discuss a construction method for iPads that better prevents light leakage, a task progress indicator that can convey rich details about a task as well as a method of embedding memorabilia from an author’s book signing into an electronic book file.
Last week the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued a decision in the latest appeal in the Apple/Samsung epic patent battle. See Apple, Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Co. (Fed. Cir., August 23, 2013). In this situation the parties really were not fighting against each other; instead finding themselves arguing on the same side against the decision of the district court to allow sensitive information to be publicly available.
On August 9, 2012, Judge Lucy Koh of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California issued a decision that denied in part the parties’ motion to seal certain filings. In general, Judge Koh sealed information about the parties’ production and supply capacities, confidential source code, third-party market research reports, and the pricing terms of licensing agreements. However, Judge Koh ordered unsealed documents disclosing the parties’ product-specific profits, profit margins, unit sales, revenues, and costs, as well as Apple’s own proprietary market research reports and customer surveys and the non-price terms of licensing agreements.
In her ruling Judge Koh ordered the parties to take an immediate appeal to the Federal Circuit, which occurred on August 13, 2012. The Federal Circuit consolidated the appeal by Apple and the appeal by Samsung, designating Apple as the appellant and Samsung as the cross-appellant. On August 15, 2012, the district court granted a stay pending the final resolution, thus the August 9, 2012 order that sensitive financial information would be made publicly available has been stayed pending disposition of the appeal.
MacWorld Conference & Expo 2007, San Francisco. Steve Jobs presents Apple’s phone.
In this series, we are looking at Apple’s design patents and their strategies for using them to protect the iPhone from being copied. In the first two articles, we looked at The Power of The Broken Line, and The Power of Color. In this article we are looking at the The Power of Portfolio. In the patent industry, a “portfolio” is a grouping of patents that each protect different aspects of the same invention. Patents are like shingles on a roof, there needs to be some overlap between them to provide complete protection.
On January 9, 2007, Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone to the world. It was an historic event. He was immensely proud of what Apple had accomplished and he made it clear he was going to defend it. Steve was passionate about both style and technology, so when he said “Boy have we patented it” he meant both design and utility patents. We are focusing on design.
Over the past few decades, few companies have been so associated with American technological innovation as Apple Inc. of Cupertino, CA. In recent days, however, this personal electronics corporation has encountered some setbacks to their business. Along with further allegations of safety and workers’ pay violations at Apple’s Chinese supplier plants, the digital financial news website Fiscal Insider reported that Samsung has recently surpassed Apple in profits from mobile device sales in late July.
This week, as IPWatchdog returns to its Companies We Follow series, we check in with Apple Inc. to get an idea of what newly developed systems they hope will help them retain their lead in the electronics industry. Many of the recently published documents from the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, including both patent applications and issued patents, relate to software system improvements that Apple has developed. One patent application for a voice assistant that can analyze contextual data is specifically for mobile device applications. Two other applications are for more general computer systems: one which protects a system of suggesting search result rankings for online shopping based on a person’s social network contacts; another would protect a cleaner user interface for browser windows with multiple open web pages.
Apple is also interested in improving the hardware systems involved in their devices. One patent issued by the USPTO protects a removable hard drive for small form factor desktop computers that helps reduce the overall weight of the entire computer. A final patent application we feature today describes a system of accurately calibrating a mobile device’s magnetometer in response to interference from other electromagnetic fields.
Design matters. For example, the success of Apple Computer’s products is due not only to their technical capabilities, but also to their aesthetic design, which Apple has justifiably protected with a substantial portfolio of design patents. Recently, Apple’s iPhone design patents and other intellectual property were under scrutiny in comparison with the Samsung Galaxy family of phones. However, because of the strategy Apple utilized when filing these patents, their counsel at trial was able to obtain a jury award of over $1 billion, $980 million of which could be attributed to infringement of the design patents[i].
In this four part series, titled Strong Design Patents, we will look at Apple’s design patents to see how to build a strong design patent portfolio. In this first article, we will look at “The Power of The Broken Line,” then “The Power of Color”, followed by “The Power of the Portfolio”, and lastly, “The Power of Policing”.
Design patents are deceptively simple. They are merely drawings or photographs of an object. They protect against someone else making a similar looking object. Infringement is determined by comparing the accused object against the figures in the patent. If the accused object is sufficiently similar to the figures so that a typical observer using normal care would confuse the two, then the accused object infringes the patent. The damages for infringement are either the lost profits of the patent holder, a reasonable royalty the patent owner would have received for a license to the patent or all of the profits the infringer made by selling the infringing devices, whichever is greater. It doesn’t matter how much of the value of the accused object can be attributed to the design. If the accused object infringes, the patent owner is entitled to the full damages.
Apple Inc. of Cupertino, CA, has been a regularly featured corporation in our Companies We Follow series. The multinational corporation has been a major name in consumer electronics and computer software, owing largely to the market success of the iPad and the iPhone. Recently, Apple has been making more moves into media application development, as is suggested by recent agreements with Warner Music and others to provide streaming radio services.
This week, we’re featuring a number of interesting new patents and published applications from the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office that have been assigned to Apple. A few of the applications we’ve chosen to profile include more efficient systems of detecting user inputs. One application describes a system allowing devices to enter a low-power mode based on user gaze detection, conserving battery power. Another application would protect a system for better facial recognition during photo processing of image files.
Other documents assigned to Apple showcase the corporation’s focus on aiding user communication and providing a more user-intuitive device experience. One application featured here was filed to protect a system of analyzing a user’s media preferences for gaming environments, while another improves a user’s ability to share a pinned location on a map with others.
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