Apple Inc. of Cupertino, CA, is back in focus this week at IPWatchdog as we return to our regular coverage of technology companies that have patent documents regularly published by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office after our Earth Day 2013 series. As usual, Apple has filed many applications and received patents recently from the USPTO that show what the company sees for the future of its iPhone, iPad and other digital device products.
This month, the USPTO has published many Apple patent applications that are specifically for improvements to the technology developer’s mobile devices. These include a more secure system of connecting an iPhone to a computer and two new applications, one for easily creating social groups among acquaintances and another for students who wish to enroll in online courses. Apple also wants to protect a system of pre-processing images to create and store thumbnails that are accessed by image applications.
One patent recently received by Apple grants them the legal right to protect a system of generating security codes for more security in connections between two or more devices.
UPDATED: May 2, 2013 at 12:17am ET — An earlier version of this article explained that Google sells to patent trolls. Google has since informed me via telephone that they do not sell to patent trolls, but other big tech operating companies do sell to patent trolls, which concerns Google. See Google: We Don’t Sell to Patent Trolls.
Recently at a conference at American University Washington College of Law a senior patent attorney from Google — Suzanne Michel — lamented that big technology companies are practically forced to sell their patents to patent trolls. See Fixing the Patent System. So as it turns out big tech companies are responsible for creating at least a portion of the so-called “patent troll problem” by and through their own actions and business decisions. So how and why should their position relative to patent litigation be taken at all serious when they themselves admit to creating the problem in the first place?
If big tech companies are selling unwanted patents to patent trolls who then turn around and monetize them there are a lot of questions to ask. First, why are they selling to those who then turn around and sue them? There is an obvious solution to this problem, if it is indeed a real problem and not one made up for sake of publicity and swaying public opinion (and political opinion on Capitol Hill). Second, what are they doing selling patents that can be monetized? If they are giving these patents away how is that appropriate at all when the company needs to answer to shareholders? Isn’t the goal of any company to maximize returns for shareholders? Finally, if operating companies are selling to patent trolls then how is it possible that patent litigation is as big a problem as it is claimed to be? Something just doesn’t smell right here, but a room full of symposium attendees were told that big tech companies sells out to patent trolls. Curious.
As counter-intuitive as big tech companies selling to patent trolls may be, equally head scratching is how big tech companies complain about getting sued but refuse to negotiate unless they are sued. Seems like their actions force lawsuits that they complain about and hoist up to proclaim the patent system broken. Talk about the emperor wearing no clothes!
On March 28, Apple Inc. appeared in court in Shanghai to defend charges that Siri, its voice-recognition, personal-assistant software, allegedly infringes a Chinese patent. The plaintiff and owner of the patent, Zhizhen Internet Technology Co., claims its version of the software has over 100 million users in China and is requesting the court to ban all manufacturing or sales of Apple’s product in China.
This was not the first time Apple faced patent infringement claims in China. Last summer a Taiwanese man sued the company in China for alleged infringement relating to its Facetime technology; in 2010 a Shenzhen company threatened to sue concerning iPad design; in 2008 Apple was sued for the iPod; and in 2012, a Hong Kong company launched GooPhone I5, an android-based replica of the iPhone 5, reportedly based on leaked photos of the iPhone. GooPhone claimed to have patented the design and threatened to sue Apple if it dared to sell the genuine article in China.
Nor is Apple alone. French company, Schneider Electric lost a $48 million patent infringement verdict in China and Samsung lost one for $7.4 million. Sony, Phillips, Canon and Dell have all had their battles and GooPhone sells knockoffs of other smartphones in China with apparent impunity. Of course it’s possible in some cases the Chinese technology may be first and the Chinese patent legitimate. However, foreign companies face a growing risk that Chinese entities may unscrupulously patent foreign technology in China and demand a toll to do business there. Not only that, but in coming years companies will increasingly face challenges worldwide from the growing landslide of patents coming out of China.
The emergence of mobile computing as a technology platform has been a game changing development in many ways. The ability to be connected anywhere and to have real time information at our finger tips has transformed the way we do business and live our lives. As this computing paradigm has gained mass market acceptance we’ve witnessed a series of patent battles among firms vying for their share of this lucrative market. These so-called smart phone patent wars have in turn motivated patent system critics to vociferously decry the system as an impediment to innovation, which must be eliminated or radically overhauled. Defenders of the system respond that patent battles are a characteristic of market competitionoccurring with other breakthrough innovations throughout our history, and that patents address the need to protect innovations to encourage investment in innovation.
Despite all the chatter however, there is something that we have not heard in the discussions about these smart phone patent wars. The debate seems to have focused on patents and the patent system and it has ignored the fact that this current patent battle is really a battle between three competing business models advanced by the three highly competitive mobile OS providers and members of their ecosystems. Apple is pursuing a fully proprietary business model where mobile OS and mobile hardware are proprietary to Apple. This is consistent with Apple’s prior business model in traditional computing which has worked quite well for them. Similarly Microsoft is advancing a business model much like its successful traditional computing business model with a proprietary OS and an “open” hardware platform that allows third party handset makers to provide phones running the Windows mobile OS. Finally, Google is advancing an “all open” model in which it uses Android, an open source mobile OS and an open hardware approach.
This past week was another very prolific one for Apple, as the California-based electronic device developer received 35 patents and had another 36 applications published by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. Many patent applications were concerned with the ways computer users interact with their systems, and we see a number of upgrades to graphical user interfaces coming for device address books and online stores. Of the patents issued to Apple, one protects a webpage retrieval method that can help browsers save a lot of time while searching for information on the Internet.
One of the many patents received by Apple last Tuesday involves an upgrade to the user interface for web browsing applications. Users of browsers like Internet Explorer are able to go back to previous webpage presentations that they’ve visited, often using the “Back” button. However, using this technique, users can only go back one webpage at a time. Users can view their history to pull up a webpage visited further back without having to load every webpage in between. However, in the case of search engine results or webpages with confusing URLs, identifying the proper page in this way can be difficult.
Apple has invented what they call a “page snapback method” to visit a specific webpage that a browser had loaded earlier without loading the intermediate pages first. A page can be recorded either automatically or manually and restored as is when the system receives an input from the user. The language of the patent document seems to suggest that this system is optimized for search engine result page retrieval, so that a user can return to the search engine listings without having to go backwards one webpage at a time.
Yet again, it was another busy week for Apple Inc. at the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, as the California-based electronics developer received 48 patents and another 20 published applications for prospective patents.
A number of these applications describe upgrades to supporting components on Apple devices, including a new configuration for a device vibrator and a better system of illuminating keyboard keys. One of the more intriguing Apple patents awarded this week protects a system of displaying metadata to users extracted from radio broadcasts.
Radio broadcasts often transmit extra data simultaneously with their audio transmission. This data, typically configured according to the Radio Data System (RDS) protocol, includes information about the audio transmission that can be displayed by certain digital receivers. For example, a digital receiver would display the song title and artist of the track being played.
Apple is helping make this metadata information available to iPhone owners and other Apple device users with this new system of processing simulcast data. The mobile device would extract the metadata signal from the radio broadcast and present that information through a user interface displayed on the device. The data could also include additional website resources or Amazon.com book recommendations that the device owner could visit through the interface.
Electronic device developer and manufacturer Apple Inc. has recorded another big week with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. On Tuesday, the California corporation was issued 36 patents, and the USPTO published another 32 patent applications on Thursday. Many of these prospective patents focus on better responses to user interactions, including new methods of music library visualizations and smarter microphone response to ambient sound. One of the patents issued to Apple protects a fiber optic cable connection that is self-cleaning.
Optical signals between electronic devices can be transmitted through fiber optic cables connecting the two devices. For example, a television can play DVDs if a DVD player has been connected to the television through a cable plugged into the proper jack input. With time, however, the plug can degrade in quality through scratches or from the buildup of dirt and other organic debris, affecting the signal transmitted through the cable.
The patent awarded this Tuesday to Apple protects a new design for a fiber optic cable connection that is not only cleanable but also self-cleaning. The ejector of this new plug connector pops the plug out of the jack with enough force that any debris remaining in the connector is also expelled. The new configuration is also designed to reduce scratching on the optical element of the cable connection, protecting the signal quality:
On Friday March 1, 2013 Judge Lucy Koh handed down her decision regarding various motions that were filed on behalf of Apple Inc. (“Apple”) and Samsung Electronics Co. (“Samsung”) over the past few months post-trial. Specifically, Apple requested additur, supplemental damages, and prejudgment interest, while Samsung moved for a new trial on damages or remittitur. Judge Koh determined that the “Court has identified an impermissible legal theory on which the jury based its award, and cannot reasonably calculate the amount of excess while effectuating the intent of the jury.” The total amount stricken from the jury’s award was $450,514,650 –pending a new trial on damages. The jury awards stands for the remaining 14 products for a total of $598,908,892 in favor of Apple.
Post-trial, Apple requested the Court to increase its damages award for five products because the jury gave an award less than what was calculated by Samsung’s damages expert. However, the Court pointed out that “Apple provide[d] no authority for the argument that the Court should not consider the jury’s specific findings.” Moreover, the Court stated that by doing so would be to violate the longstanding rule that the Seventh Amendment prohibits a judicial increase in a damages award made by a jury. See Dimick v. Scheidt, 293 U.S. 474, 486-87 (1935). Although Apple contends that this rule does not apply in this current case because there is no dispute about the proper amount of damages, the Court quickly and swiftly disagreed. In fact, the Court points out that “[t]he amount of damages is heavily disputed here, as evidenced by extensive testimony provided by both parties concerning the proper amount of compensation.” Additionally, the jury was not bound by either side’s damages testimony and therefore free to evaluate the testimony of both sides’ experts in arriving at its award. The Court denied Apple’s motion for an increase in the jury’s damages.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office recently awarded over 200 new claims to Eric Gould Bear, user interface designer, testifying expert witness and co-founder of MONKEYmedia. The four most recently issued patents fall under MONKEYmedia’s “Relativity Controller” family of patents.
Two of the patents issued deal with commonly-used techniques that are utilized with regard to Blu-rays and DVDs to give a viewer a variety of versions of the same film all on the same disc. More specifically, long videos can be abbreviated by viewers who have the ability to choose to pass by any sequence or scene that they want.
Another one of the recently issued patents deals with techniques regarding the auto-summarization of documents that are used in online research tools and various word processor applications. In particular, a user’s search results and/or long documents are shortened by showing only the important portions of content sought by a user based on his or her preferences, and contracting the non-important content.
With only 11 patent applications published last week by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, this marks a meager week for Apple Inc. Of the patent applications published by the USPTO, three are interrelated applications for managing access to rights-protected digital media. Other patent applications pertain to improvements to internal computer systems, including temperature control and serial bus connectivity.
Digital rights management, or DRM, has long been a major concern among computer systems manufacturers. The pervasiveness of digital media content, and the ease with which media files can be shared among computers, has made it difficult to adequately compensate media creators for their digital products. In some cases, computer developers have created DRM software that restricts access to a single user.
The last day of February was a big one for Apple at the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, as the USPTO published 35 patent applications filed by the electronics manufacturer on Thursday. Apple has been preoccupied with the world of handheld electronic devices for a long time now, and they’re still devising improvements to battery systems and other utility features. This week, we also see some of Apple’s planned improvements to one of the most basic forms of computer software: the spreadsheet program.
The ability to keep an electronic tablet device nearby so that a user can easily interact with it is an attractive feature to device consumers. Many manufacturers have attempted creating tablet device stands in the past, but Apple believes that they’ve fallen short until now. This ambitious stand design aims to help tablet owners position their device to improve their ability to multitask.
This stand, which Apple is hoping to protect, includes a magnetic element that fits within a stand shaped to fit the tablet device. The stand’s exterior provides a friction force to hold the tablet steady, and the magnetic element keeps the device in place with the aid of a metallic shunt that focuses the magnetic force. Descriptions of the invention’s embodiments focus on vehicle mounts, but schematic images attached to the patent document suggest a much wider range of applications.
This week Apple had a total of 34 patents issued, including four design patents and a number of patents focusing on improvements to user interfaces on various Apple devices, such as a design patent on an icon (see bottom). Other patents obtained by Apple protect a new method of removing blemishes while still maintaining image quality and an illuminable laptop latch.
This patent represents a fairly substantial improvement to image editing processes, which has long been a staple of Apple systems. Graphic designers are able to retouch images in a number of ways already through computer software. However, removing unwanted marks and other blemishes from an image can be a burden as current blemish removal tools do not distinguish between different textures within an image. A user can take out a mark from an image, but if that mark crosses the boundary between two colors, those colors typically blend together and negatively impact image clarity.
On Thursday, February 31, 2013, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office published 23 patent applications filed by California electronics development and manufacturing leader Apple Inc. Efficiency seems to be a buzz word this week, as many of the patent applications seek protections for methods of either more efficient component manufacturing or different computer-based methods of using system resources effectively, including IP address allocation. Also, one notable digital media patent application shows how Apple plans to improve video playback quality by reducing the bumps and jostles of handheld recording.
Camera lenses for video recording are practically ubiquitous among electronic devices manufactured today. These tools make up a large part of a device’s functionality, and many users spend a lot of time taking photos and video and uploading them to social networks or website servers like YouTube. Although these cameras are high quality and may include many megapixels, which increases the clarity of the resulting image, video captured on these devices typically shows a lot of unwanted camera motion, as the device is typically held in a user’s hands and not placed in a tripod.
More news to report in the ongoing ITC battle between Motorola Mobility (owned by Google) and Apple. Earlier this week the U.S. International Trade Commission announced that it will review part of the presiding Administrative Law Judge’s (“ALJ”) initial determination issued on December 18, 2012, finding no violation of section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930 by Apple. The ITC case is styled In the Matter of Certain Wireless Communication Devices, Portable Music and Data Processing Devices, Computers and Components Thereof, and is Investigation No. 337-TA-745
The ITC had originally instituted an investigation on November 8, 2010, based on a complaint filed by Motorola Mobility, Inc. The complaint alleged violations of section 337 as the result of importation into the United States and the sale within the United States after importation of certain wireless communication devices, portable music and data processing devices, computers and components thereof. The violation of section 337 was alleged to be the result of patent infringement. Specifically Motorola Mobility charged Apple with infringing U.S. Patent Nos. 6,272,333 (“the ’333 patent”); 6,246,862 (“the ’862 patent”); 6,246,697 (“the ’697 patent”); 5,359,317 (“the ’317 patent”); 5,636,223 (“the ’223 patent”); and 7,751,826 (“the’ 826 patent”). The ITC subsequently terminated investigation into the ’317 patent (on June 28, 2011) and the ’826 patent (on January 27, 2012).
Apple received 37 patents in the third week of February from the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. These awarded patents include three design patents and a few motion detection sensing systems that allow individuals to interact with devices without having to touch the device. Other patents protect improvements to shock sensors within electronic devices and electronic contacts within jacks.
What follows is a sampling of some of the patents that particularly caught my attention for one reason or another.
Manufacturers of all kinds of electronic devices have always been interested in improving a user’s experience with a computer system. A user’s ability to interact seamlessly with the computer software contained within the device has always been a large part of that user experience. From keyboards to computer mice and then touch screens, computer technology manufacturers have continued to come up with new and quicker modes of communication between user and computer.
How to Write a Patent Application is a must own for patent attorneys, patent agents and law students alike. A crucial hands-on resource that walks you through every aspect of preparing and filing a patent application, from working with an inventor to patent searches, preparing the patent application, drafting claims and more. The treatise is continuously updated to address relevant Federal Circuit and Supreme Court decision impacting patent drafting.
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