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Some say that Apple is behaving like a patent troll.  (Source: Peter Jackson/New Line Cinema)
One patent just wasn't enough, Netherlands declares U.S. patent garbage

Apple, Inc. (AAPL) has an interesting knack for convincing the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to grant it patents on relatively obvious GUI actions/animations.  Two famous examples of that are the patented "scroll bounceback" animation that it's using to sue Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd. (SEO 005930) and the "swipe unlock" gesture/animation, which it is using to sue HTC Corp. (SEO:066570).

Now the kind folks at the USPTO have handed Apple another gift wrapped patent -- a second patent on swipe gesture unlocking.  U.S. Patent No. 8,046,721 redescribes what was already described in U.S. Patent No. 7,890,778, only this time with more words.

Apple delivers 11,700 words -- roughly 17 pages in size 10 Times New Roman font -- to describe what basically equates to "Drag your finger across the screen along the animated track, the touch API responds, recognizes the gesture, animates the slider, and unlocks when the drag is complete."

Apple unlocking patent
Apple is the master of unlocking, having received two patents on the simple gesture.
[Source: USPTO]

Again Apple has claimed ownership of all forms of swipe unlocking -- even the wide vertical drag down bar that HTC implements (which looks little like Apple's iOS tracked slider unlock).

Among those prominently listed on the patent is iOS chief Scott Forstall.  Viewed as a future CEO candidate, Mr. Forstall wears the same outfit to presentations and drives the same car as the late Steve Jobs.  Many describe the ruthless executive as a "mini Steve Jobs" and say he's now assumed Steve's former role of "Apple's chief A-hole."

You can witness late Apple CEO Steven P. Jobs bragging about the feature back in 2007 at the original iPhone's launch:

Mr. Jobs initiated a lawsuit crusade against Android handset makers, which Apple is continuing in his memory.  Mr. Jobs suggested that even if he wasted every bit of money Apple has ever made it would be worth it to destroy Android, commenting, "I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple's $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong. I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product."

In Mr. Jobs mind Android's "stealing" was wrong, but interestingly he often boasted of his own powers of idea theft.  Indeed he lifted the idea for his successful Mac operating system from Xerox Corp. (XRX)  He once bragged, "Picasso had a saying - 'Good artists copy, great artists steal.' And we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas."  

You can watch this for yourself here:

However, the USPTO's idea of validity doesn't fly in all countries.  A Dutch judge ruling on Apple's use of U.S. Patent 7,657,849 (the original unlocking patent) to try to ban sales of Samsung smartphones ruled the Apple patent was "obvious" (in Dutch he said it was "lying close at hand" -- literally "for the hand lying") and likely invalid.  He points out that Neonode Inc.'s (NEON) N1m -- launched in 2005 -- had a virtually identical unlocking feature, albeit with a different graphic.  

Neonode n1m
Apple lifted the unlock feature from NeoNode. [Source: FOSS Patents]

He also acknowledged a similar on-off use in Guitar Rig:

Guitar Rig
Guitar Rig -- 2004 [Source: Wikimedia Commons] pointed out by Samsung's attorney's.  The guitar after-effects software was available back in 2004 -- three years before the first iPhone was released.  The judge complained that the Apple work was "not inventive" and suggested that the patent should be invalidated.

Samsung has removed one other minor GUI animation from its smartphones in the Netherlands, escaping a potential sales ban.  However, the threat of a ban in the U.S. where questionable patents hold greater power, still looms.

Source: USPTO

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RE: I've said it before....
By Da W on 10/26/2011 4:21:32 PM , Rating: 2
Problem is that patents should be non-obvious . However, it's up to the court to rule the validity of a patent, meaning the USPTO can just give any patent to everybody, the court system will rule the bad ones out.

Of course this is a system designed by lawyers, meaning in works in dreamland where judges, lawyers and courtroom are in infinite supply and money rains from the sky.

RE: I've said it before....
By Piiman on 10/26/2011 4:50:47 PM , Rating: 4
I guess when you lay a 17 pages of pure gibberish it impresses them so much they just have to give you a patent.

RE: I've said it before....
By Jaybus on 10/27/2011 7:43:19 AM , Rating: 5
Your joke is not far from the truth. It is all about lawyers. By flooding the patent offices of the World with this nonsense, it essentially takes the patent offices out of play by sheer volume. This is what the lawyers want, because it forces all IP issues into court and guarantees an increase in the number of IP disputes. After all, lawyers make much more money going to court than reviewing patent submissions. Large corporations don't mind paying the lawyers, because only other large corporations can afford the lawyers, thus protecting them from the small company / individual inventors.

It creates a tech fuedal system, where rather than land being granted by the king, IP is granted to the feudal lords (Apple, MS, IBM, etc.) by the various governments. The programmers (peasants) who actually create the IP get only the "protection" of their feudal lord.

"And boy have we patented it!" -- Steve Jobs, Macworld 2007

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