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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 is everyone's problem?
By nealc5 on 2/13/2012 2:40:16 PM , Rating: -1
It's very simple. The law allows the protection of IP by patents. You have an idea, you file. If the USPTO thought the patent application wasn't valid, it rejects it. If not, it gives you a patent. Now another party may argue that the USPTO was wrong, but the only way to deal with that is to ignore the patent, work around it, or sue.

Once a company owns a patent, it has the right to decide if and how others use the IP in that patent. If Apple wanted to, it could ask for license fees. If not, they can prevent others from using that IP. It's all very simple and straight forward. If you allow others to use your patented IP without preventing them or asking for license fees, then you have by default, freely licensed the patent. And if you do that, why bother to even patent the idea??

The patent system and USPTO probably issues too many patents that shouldn't be issued. But that's not Apple or any other company's issue. The law, as it stands today, governs. If US patent law is changed by congress (for example, to prevent the patenting of things that simply take a physical thing (like a door lock), and making software that mimics that thing on a screen (like a "slide to unlock"). It's so obvious to most of us, yet it was never done that way before, and Apple was allowed to patent it. Now that they have the patent, they MUST defend it, or it becomes worthless.

RE: What is everyone's problem?
By tecknurd on 2/13/2012 3:26:27 PM , Rating: 2
Apple does not need to defend the "slide to unlock" patent. They should just let it go and see who is fit to compete against their iPhone or iPad. Apple is very whining. If I had this "slide to unlock" patent and people want to use a similar way, I would just let them. At least I am the only one that had the idea. Apple is making this tiny "slide to unlock" patent become a very, very big deal. It is not a big deal and it does not hurt their property if someone is using it. Basically "slide to unlock" is a software patent that is completely irrelevant patent to other patents that have a better statement of changing the world. The "slide to unlock" patent does not change the world of how people think.

Blackberry is the first company that made a smartphone. Did they care to sue Apple. No, they let the competition began and let it happen. Blackberry is getting demolished by Apple and Android phones, but at least Blackberry are enablers of competition compared to Apple.

RE: What is everyone's problem?
By V-Money on 2/13/2012 4:24:33 PM , Rating: 5
Apple does not need to defend the "slide to unlock" patent. They should just let it go and see who is fit to compete against their iPhone or iPad

Especially considering the Neonode n1m had this feature over 2 years before Apple. I'd link the proof, but I figure non-apple users will just google it and find it in a couple seconds while iphone users will spend half an hour trying to Siri it before going down on a blow up Steve Jobs doll.

RE: What is everyone's problem?
By Icopoli on 2/14/2012 4:21:40 AM , Rating: 2
I wish I could +6 :(

RE: What is everyone's problem?
By bupkus on 2/14/2012 10:10:57 AM , Rating: 2
Yes. A true lol experience.

RE: What is everyone's problem?
By drycrust3 on 2/13/2012 3:47:47 PM , Rating: 1
If not, it gives you a patent. Now another party may argue that the USPTO was wrong, but the only way to deal with that is to ignore the patent, work around it, or sue.

Ok, so what happens if the patent is for something that already exists? If we look at the first Apple patent mentioned, US Patent 8,086,604, "Universal interface for retrieval of information in a computer system" which was issued in December, we can see that it more or less describes the way Napster, Bittorent, and other peer to peer file sharing programs work.
You install appropriate application onto your computer to access the system (a "unitary interface"), you put in a bit of the song title into the application (a "descriptor"), it then sends that bit of song title to thousands of computers over the internet ("capable of accessing information in a variety of location"), which use that bit of song title and search the computer for music that roughly matches the request ("plurality of heuristic algorithms"), that distant computer then sends back to the searching computer any suitable results which are displayed and can be selected for download ("locates and displays candidate items of information for selection and/or retrieval").
As you can see, it is arguable Apple have been given a patent for something that already exists.
Another factor is that Apple recently set a precedent in Germany when they argued that they may have an alternative algorithm inside their closed source OS which does the same thing as a patented algorithm, and because it was closed source it was arguable the owner of the patent didn't have the legal right to see if their algorithm was being used.
In this case, if Android made the parts of their OS in question closed source, then they can claim they also used an "alternative algorithm".

RE: What is everyone's problem?
By nealc5 on 2/13/2012 6:44:56 PM , Rating: 2
The point I was making was that regardless of whether you agree with the merits of the slide to unlock, or any patent, it is, nevertheless, a valid patent. Apple has not only the right to defend that patent, they must defend it.

If you or I had a patent, and we wanted to give it away, we can. A publicly traded corporation has a legal, fiduciary responsibility to defend their ideas, and maximize profits for the shareholders. If Apple allowed their IP to be "stolen", the company can (and should) be sued by shareholders for violating their responsibilities.

Like it or not, think Apple is evil or not, doesn't change this fact. Even if Apple management thought "wow, they actually gave us a patent for that crap??", they would still have to defend it if they believe their competitors used it without permission.

If Kodak had defended their digital imaging patents more rigorously in the past, they might not be in Chapter 11 today.

RE: What is everyone's problem?
By cmdrdredd on 2/13/2012 7:00:36 PM , Rating: 2
What they should do is get rid of patents completely. Invalidate them all immediately. Then everyone is free to develop any technology they want in any form factor. Let the consumer decide which product to spend money on based on the creative marketing of the manufacturer, word of mouth, and personal experiences.

Disagree if you want...I'm at the point where I feel this would be the only way to fix things. Force the companies to compete on a level playing field. You have to win over the customers, not simply sue the competition into oblivion because they kick your ass and you want to cry foul.

RE: What is everyone's problem?
By testerguy on 2/14/2012 9:10:41 AM , Rating: 2
Ok, so what happens if the patent is for something that already exists?

If the court agreed with your assertion that there was 'prior art' - the patent wouldn't be granted.

Clearly, they disagree with it for some reason, given that the patent was granted.

"I'd be pissed too, but you didn't have to go all Minority Report on his ass!" -- Jon Stewart on police raiding Gizmodo editor Jason Chen's home

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