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Apple claims Google's unified search, word suggestions, slide unlocking, and data tapping features are illegal

Apple, Inc. (AAPL) may have fared pretty badly of late, in terms of its lawsuit performance, scoring nothing but Pyrrhic victories and outright rejections [1][2][3][4] [5][6].  But the electronics maker is determined to kill its arch-nemesis Google Inc. (GOOG).  It has now filed a new major suit which looks to cripple Android Ice Cream Sandwich.

I. Apple Latest Attack Hits Ice Cream Sandwich

The core panzer in this patent blitzkrieg -- brought against Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd. (KS:005930), and by proxy Google, in United States District Court for the Northern District of California -- is U.S. Patent No. 8,086,604.  Filed in 2011, and granted just after Christmas (Dec. 27), it describes a "universal interface for retrieval of information in a computer system." Apple is using the patent to attack the search features found within Android Ice Cream Sandwich

The suit specifically calls out Samsung's Galaxy Nexus smartphone, which was the first smartphone to carry the new version of Android.

A copy of the lawsuit can be found here.

II. The Return of the Touch Unlocking Patent

In the suit Apple also brings some familiar weapons to the table.  The four-patent suit is rounded out by U.S. Patent No. 8,046,721, which describes a method of "unlocking a device by performing gestures on an unlock image"; U.S. Patent No. 5,946,647, which covers turnings phone numbers/addresses in actionable hyperlinks; and U.S. Patent No. 8,074,172, which covers voice search word suggestions.

We've discussed at length how a wealth of prior art with regard to slide unlock existed (and was seemingly ignored by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office).  It may be that the USPTO intended to only grant the patent on a narrow scope, but if that was the case, it will be crucial that the federal court recognize that and avoid giving Apple credit for a technology it clearly did not invent.

The data tapping patent was file in 1996 and granted in 1999.  It was not originally targeted at the mobile space.  Here, Google may again be able to defend itself via prior art.  Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) Word 1997 used a similar method to recognize and generate hyperlinks, though it remains to be seen whether this would be similar enough to invalidate the patent.

Double tapping
Apple has already succeeded in banning some of HTC's handsets using its double-tapping patent.  Now it looks to do the same to Samsung. [Image Source: Droid-Life]

Both slide-to-unlock and the data tapping are relatively crucial, as they're features users have come to expect from smartphones.  Apple's hope is clearly to drive these features out of Android, and thus drive users to the iPhone, slowly bleeding the life from Android.

Recall, also, that HTC Corp. (TPE:2498) was forced to gimp its Android smartphones, removing data tapping after Apple won a preliminary injunction against it, on the basis of that feature.

The third patent -- word suggestion -- was filed in 2007.  Again, this was a feature that appeared as early as 2006 in Ford Motor Comp.'s (FSYNC platform.  That said, this patent is less crucial.  While the quality voice search app, Siri, is a major selling point of the iPhone 4S, it's not as big a deal in Android Ice Cream Sandwich.  Still, being forced to remove the voice search app would be another setback for Android.

voice search
Apple hopes to force Google to remove voice search from Android.
[Image Source: Gadget Pdamu]

III. What's Next

Apple has already brought a preliminary injunction against the Galaxy Nexus, looking to ban it from sale in the U.S. Apple's new case appears very aggressive, but it remains to be seen if Apple will be able to achieve its fantasy of a Google-free world in court, when it has thus far struggled to scrape together many wins.

Google has a powerful second line of defense, via Motorola.  Motorola has won key decisions abroad [1][2], thus far and may succeed in banning the iPhone, iPad, and iCloud in some regions.  If it can do that, it may force Apple into an uneasy armistice, out of self-preservation.

Source: Apple v. Samsung [PDF]

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What does Apple hope...
By The Raven on 2/13/2012 1:41:26 PM , Rating: 2 accomplish here. Aren't all of these features readily available as their own 3rd party apps? I mean there are apps that turn an Android based phone into something much better than an iPhone (varies on user's opinion). So Apple sues the pants off of Google, they remove them and the OEMs put "bloatware" on the devices that do the same thing, right? I mean anyway you slice it, Apple can't stop innovation no matter how hard they try.

And BTW, wasn't the linkifying of phone numbers also implemented by Skype long before the iPhone came out?

I really wish Apple would just leave us all alone.

RE: What does Apple hope...
By Reclaimer77 on 2/13/2012 2:47:03 PM , Rating: 2
I really wish Apple would just leave us all alone.

Oh and they will. Just as soon as you buy only their products.

RE: What does Apple hope...
By bupkus on 2/14/2012 9:42:34 AM , Rating: 2
Just as soon as you buy only their products.

Right now I'm wearing Apple underwear. Fruit of the Loom got nuttin' on my boys.

RE: What does Apple hope...
By Exelius on 2/13/2012 4:27:27 PM , Rating: 2
Apple is trying to use some of their massive 35% margins to file lawsuits and eat into the narrow, 3-4% margins that everyone else is seeing. As a percentage of profits, it's a lot more expensive for Samsung or Motorola to fight these lawsuits around the globe than it is for Apple to sue them.

Considering how Apple makes ~75% of the profits in the cell phone industry, they're in a very strong position for this strategy.

RE: What does Apple hope...
By testerguy on 2/14/2012 9:00:47 AM , Rating: 2
If Apple loses the lawsuit, they have to pay the fees of the opposition.

In other words, legal cases of themselves are not a mechanism by which you can reduce margins in competitors.

RE: What does Apple hope...
By mcnabney on 2/14/2012 9:26:06 AM , Rating: 2
Not true.

While at times a judge may require the losing party to pay legal fees, it is the exception to the general rule. Those generally occur when lawsuits are considered frivolous and harrassing, but not when there are legitimate legal matters to rule on.

RE: What does Apple hope...
By testerguy on 2/14/2012 10:44:05 AM , Rating: 3
In the UK and various other EU countries (where many of these legal cases have been heard), it is true.

You're thinking only of the US.

"I'm an Internet expert too. It's all right to wire the industrial zone only, but there are many problems if other regions of the North are wired." -- North Korean Supreme Commander Kim Jong-il

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