We’re inching closer to the holiday season and in today’s coverage of popular gadgets ahead of Black Friday, we’re taking an in-depth look at the development of Apple’s line of mobile computing devices from concept to reality. This story involves one of the most storied characters in the world of technology development and his long struggle to bring about his vision of a personal computing device.
It’s impossible for many people to go through their day without either interacting with their own mobile computing device or seeing someone else use theirs. Although the iPhone is certainly not the only smartphone on the market, its influence on the market cannot be denied. The electronics products developed by Apple and released during the 2000s restored the company to its earlier greatness in personal computing, perhaps even surpassing its heydey in the 1980s. Our readers may be interested to find out that Apple’s first mobile computing device came out many years before the iPod, the company’s first major commercial gadget success of the 2000s. It wouldn’t be until the end of the first decade of the 21st century, however, when Apple would finally launch the product that Jobs first imagined while taking a stroll through the research facilities of Xerox in the late 1970s.
One of the real problems with the debate over patent litigation abuse is that it hasn’t focused on litigation abuse at all. Instead, the debate has focused on attempts to characterize patent owners with pejorative labels, such as calling anyone who has the audacity to seek to enforce their rights a “patent troll.” Unfortunately, the term “patent troll” has evolved to mean “anyone who sues me alleging patent infringement.” This has lead the media, the public and Members of Congress to incorrectly believe that there is a “patent troll problem,” which has influenced decision-makers all the way from Capitol Hill to the United States Supreme Court, who increasingly seems to be deciding patent cases with one eye firmly on what is a completely non-existent problem.
You have probably heard the narrative start something like this: there is an explosion of patent litigation. The objective reality, however, is that there has not been an explosion of patent litigation. The Government Accountability Office, after an exhaustive review of patent litigation, concluded that there was no patent litigation crisis. The same GAO report also found that 80% of the patent lawsuits filed are brought by operating companies suing other operating companies. Thus, those who profess there to be rampant problems associated with patent trolls and non-practicing entities suing for patent infringement are simply telling a tale that the factual data doesn’t support.
More recently Lex Machina has come forward with some eye opening statistics as well. A recent report from Lex Machina concludes: “Plaintiffs filed 329 new federal patent cases in September 2014, a 40% decrease from the 549 cases filed in September 2013.” Indeed, if you dive deeper into the 2013 and 2014 statistics you see that through the first nine months of 2013 there were 4,548 patent infringement lawsuits filed, but during the first nine months of 2014 there were only 3,887 patent infringement lawsuits filed, which represents a 15% reduction in patent litigation in 2014 compared with 2013. Furthermore, in 7 of the 9 months during 2014 there have been fewer patent infringement lawsuits filed during 2014 than during 2013. The statistics and independent GAO report just do not support a narrative that proclaims there to be a run away problem with patent litigation run amok.
Regardless of Apple’s current business difficulties, recently published patent applications filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Organization show that the company is still trying to establish itself as a bastion of computing innovation. Below, we’ve explored three patent applications specifically directed at mobile devices, including one technology designed to predict a preferred driving route without any manual input. Improvements to personal digital assistants and graphical user interfaces for software programs are also discussed.
Apple is one of the stronger American companies in terms of intellectual properties held, and recent weeks saw the addition of many more patents in the field of consumer computing technologies. We discuss a group of patents related to improved graphical user interfaces, including one technology to help digital objects respond to touch inputs in a way that suggests physical interaction in the real world. Intelligent systems for telecommunications are another area of development focused on by Apple, including methods of determining chat session capabilities in a contact’s device.
Gene Quinn at the AIPF Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, September 29, 2014.
Today I am going to talk about what I call the patent pendulum. When Todd Van Thomme and I originally started talking about what I would talk about today I said that there would undoubtedly be something that comes up at the last minute. I even joked that I might wind up talking about how the Supreme Court actually got the Alice decision right, surprising us all and saying once and for all that software is clearly patentable. We all know it didn’t turn out that way. So the title of my presentation today is this: Dark Days Ahead: The Patent Pendulum.
As you are probably all familiar, patent law never stays the same in the same spot. It is always swinging one or another, either swinging more towards stronger patent rights and the patent owner, or away from strong patent rights and away from the owner. It has been that way throughout history.
Normally what’s happened is that we’ve seen the pendulum swing over longer periods of time, like over decades, and then it’ll move away. For example the 1952 Patent Act was premised on the fact that Congress didn’t like the way the law was developing over the preceding years and wanted more things be patentable, hence the 1952 Patent Act did away with the flash of creative genius test. So things swung back toward a more patent friendly law, at least for a while. And then in the 1970s no courts ever saw a patent that actually had valid patent claims. This famously prompted Congress to create the Federal Circuit. Under the guidance of Chief Judge Markey and Judges like Giles Sutherland Rich and Pauline Newman, who is still on the court, the pendulum swings back toward the patent owner once again.
Yesterday the Partnership for American Innovation (PAI), which is comprised of Apple, DuPont, Ford, GE, IBM, Microsoft and Pfizer, submitted comments responsive to a request for public information published in the Federal Register back on July 29, 2014, titled Strategy for American Innovation. Some may recall that in February 2011, President Obama released a Strategy for American Innovation, which described the importance of innovation as a driver of U.S. economic growth and prosperity, and the critical role the government plays in supporting the innovation ecosystem. The Office of Science Technology Policy and the National Economic Council are now tasked with updating the document to create a revised Strategy for American Innovation.
One can hope that this group of venerable American innovators will be able to get through to decision makers who will be responsible for charting the new innovation and intellectual property strategy. Notably missing from the PAI, however, is Google, who will certainly have different views.
Google is known to be one of the primary advocates of watering down, if not outright destroying, the U.S. patent system. This is interesting because Google is a top 10 patenting company according to data from the United States Patent and Trademark Office for 2013. They have also spend tens of billions of dollars acquiring patent portfolios that now due to their lobbying efforts are practically worthless. Regardless of Google’s schizophrenic approach to patents, the arm of Google that seems to loathe patents and the U.S. patent system has particular influence in Washington, DC. Both current and former Google executives are known to have the ear of the White House, which is largely to blame for the substantial anti-patent sentiment flowing from the White House. Unfortunately, all of this suggests that whatever the new strategy for innovation will be it will be one that incorporates significant anti-patent positions support by Google.
We’re dedicated to providing in-depth analysis of innovations coming from the top developers of consumer electronics in IPWatchdog’s Companies We Follow series, and Apple is one corporation we return to again and again. Apple often makes waves in the media for its imaginative inventions expressed in patent applications filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Today, we’ve dug a little deeper to find other patent applications and recently issued patents which may be of great interest to our readers.
As always, we start with a close look at one featured patent application, and we were intrigued by one technology designed to encourage group completion of fitness activities. This lifestyle companion system can also suggest fitness activities to users based on personal interviews conducted by the system. Other inventions directed at personalized services, including a method of creating avatars reflecting a user’s current emotional state, are also described in a series of patent applications discussed in today’s column.
The intriguing software and hardware innovations of this technology giant makes Apple a fun corporation to profile for our Companies We Follow series. We’ve picked out the most interesting patent applications and issued patents published by the USPTO and assigned to this California-based corporation. These inventions run the gamut from digital media systems to hardware improvements for handheld mobile devices.
We begin our look at Apple today by taking an in-depth look at our featured patent application, which describes smarter methods of building playlists for digital content, like songs. This system can dynamically update playlists based on a user’s changing taste or if another user with a compatible device walks into the room. We also picked up on a few other patent applications featuring revolutionary technologies, including one microphone headset component that enables voice processing by sending data signals through an owner’s bones and body tissues.
While design patents have been around as long as utility patents, they have long been neglected as a source of potential value. But that is changing.
In a shifting tide that began five years ago, courts have begun favoring the plaintiff in design patent lawsuits by simplifying the standard for proving infringement on the ornamental features of a product.
The impact of the court’s shift in the infringement analysis was evident in December 2013, when a jury in San Jose, California, awarded $290 million to Apple Inc. The jurors heavily tilted toward the iPhone maker in its claims for damages against Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., which had earlier been found to infringe on iPhone design features, such as using fingers to pinch and zoom on the screen.
Apple’s victory was hard won. The latest award was connected to a lawsuit that began two years earlier and had resulted in damages of $1 billion. That was reduced to nearly $640 million, with the remaining amount being litigated a second time.
Spherix Incorporated (NASDAQ: SPEX), a Tysons Corner, Virginia intellectual property monetization company, recently announced that it has entered into a series of agreements with Rockstar Consortium (US) LP in which Spherix Incorporated acquired over 100 patents and patent applications. The newly acquired patents cover among other things, numerous aspects of access, switching, routing, optical and voice communication network devices.
In addition to the 100 patents/application acquired will complement the Rockstar patents previously acquired by Spherix and will further support Rockstar’s current licensing efforts. Rockstar will also share usage information with Spherix for the transferred patents, and will assist Spherix in working with the patents’ inventors, to assist Spherix’s commercialization efforts.
When the Administration invoked its authority to over-rule the International Trade Commission’s (ITC) order against the importation of certain Apple products, there were discussions about whether that was the right move. But while those discussions were going on, another very different scheme was brewing. Some saw an opportunity to twist the story in furtherance of their agenda of undermining patent protection. To that end, they claim that this decision concerning a particular tool for patent enforcement in the IT sector is the same as denying basic elements of patents in the pharmaceutical and biotech sectors. It is not and undermining innovation in health care is bad for patients.
An order from the ITC is one of the tools in a patent owner’s toolbox. The ITC is a U.S. Government agency. It conducts investigations and if it concludes a product is infringing, it can issue an order that prevents that product from being imported. However, the President can veto that order, and in August he did just that, through his designee U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman.
Patents are issued to protect the investment in new inventions. Innovators can spend years and billions of dollars in research before they come up with a breakthrough that can help solve some of the world’s most challenging problems. Patent protection gives those innovators a chance to recoup that investment before copycat versions flood the market.