Google re-invents patent system, says iPhone inventions belong to everyone

By , Jul 20, 2012

Google is feeling lots of heat lately as Apple, Microsoft and Oracle show some notable progress with Android lawsuits. Apple in particular holds a number of patents that cover trademark features the iPhone popularized, like slide to unlock and other multitouch gestures.

The Internet giant should also beware of the latest Apple patent grant which covers virtually all of the iPhone’s user interface innovations. Perhaps in realization of its defensiveness, Google has changed tactics.

The company is now arguing that because the iPhone has become so popular, Apple’s proprietary and patented inventions should really become industry essential patents. Seriously?

An excerpt from Google’s letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, signed by the company’s chief lawyer Kent Walker:

While collaborative [Standards Setting Organizations (SSOs)] play an important part in the overall standard setting system, and are particularly prominent in industries such as telecommunications, they are not the only source of standards.

Indeed, many of the same interoperability benefits that the FTC and others have touted in the SSO context also occur when one firm publishes information about an otherwise proprietary standard and other firms then independently decide (whether by choice or of necessity) to make complementary investments to support that standard in their products.

Because proprietary or de facto standards can have just as important effects on consumer welfare, the Committee’s concern regarding the abuse of SEPs should encompass them as well.

So what the heck was that?

Just bear with me for a few seconds.

Here’s Apple’s logical response in Layman’s terms, courtesy of Apple’s legal boss Bruce Sewell:

The capabilities of an iPhone are categorically different from a conventional phone, and result from Apple’s ability to bring its traditional innovation in computing to the mobile market.

Using an iPhone to take photos, manage a home-finance spreadsheet, play video games, or run countless other applications has nothing to do with standardized protocols.

Apple spent billions in research and development to create the iPhone, and third party software developers have spent billions more to develop applications that run on it.

The price of an iPhone reflects the value of these nonstandardized technologies — as well as the value of the aesthetic design of the iPhone, which also reflects immense study and development by Apple, and which is entirely unrelated to standards.

So, what’s this standards-essential versus commercially-essential thing all about?

John Paczkowski lays it all out over at the AllThingsD blog:

There’s a big difference between technology that became popular because it was adopted as a standard and technology that became popular because consumers fell in love with it.

In the case of the smartphone patent wars, the first makes a cellphone a cellphone and the second makes it an iPhone. One is a core technology, the other is experiential product differentiation.

If I may opine.

So Google basically admits that the iPhone mainstreamed and popularized a bunch of software and user interface features on handsets.

But Google’s idea that those patents should become essentials and as such available to Apple’s rivals just because the iPhone has gotten hugely popular is dangerous and misguided.

It also begs the opposite question: hadn’t the iPhone became a smash hit, then Apple’s proprietary technology in Google’s view wouldn’t have mattered much and it wouldn’t be asserting now that everyone should be entitled to use them, right?


Android before and after the iPhone: an early 2007 Android prototype handset (left) and a T-Mobile G1 from late 2008.

Proprietary technology is proprietary technology, just as Apple’s legal boss explained. Standards-essential patents have nothing to do with proprietary and patented technology used to differentiate the product.

If there was no difference between the two, all smartphones would be alike and the only difference would be in marketing, packaging and so forth. It’s not like only Apple holds the keys to the kingdom here.

Slide to unlock is just one of the many ways one can unlock a mobile device.

Same goes for rubber band scrolling, another idea unique to iOS. There are dozens and dozens of the software features in iOS that Apple developed, patented and commercialized with the iPhone.

Google for most part – and consequentially Android phone vendors – simply replicated Apple’s patented inventions as if they had existed in the marketplace on the industry-wide level way before the iPhone.

So just because Google purposefully ripped off iOS – to make Android devices look like the closest iPhone alternative at the point of sale – and Android vendors flooded the market with hundreds of infringing devices that look, feel and behave like the iPhone doesn’t invalidate Apple’s patented technology.

It’s a lousy argument, in my view, one that indicates Google’s uneasiness with how Android litigation is developing.

And if things were the other way around, I’m pretty sure Google would gladly take Apple to court arguing that iOS ripped off Android.

Signing off, I can relate to the idea that it’d be the best for the consumer and the industry as a whole if the stuff like slide to unlock, scrolling, gestures and what not was made essential.

End-users who don’t give a damn about patent wars, ecosystems and platform providers would benefit if there was only one way to unlock a phone, regardless of the underlying software that powers the device.

Which isn’t to say such an utopian idea will come to full view anytime soon.

Of course, you’re free and more than welcome to disagree with me down in the comments.

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  • MagicDrumSticks

    I don’t think Google copied Apple with Android. Yes, the first iteration of Android was SIMILAR aesthetically to iOS but it’s the competing product and competing products almost always have similar form and function. Just take 2 cars, like the Honda Accord and Toyata Camry for example and you’ll see what I mean.

    I think this patent bullshit should stop, Apple is too damn greedy and won’t let a little healthy competition thrive.

    • Stormy08

      There is absolutely nothing wrong with healthy competition, but a lot wrong with ripping off others’ works.

      • SoCoMagNuM

        Apple has ripped others works as well. Their not the only one suing others…they have their own infringments to worry about as well

  • seyss

    Of course Google would argue this, then they can continue to copy and steal concepts and platforms at will.. Fcuk off google.. you’re old and your time has past.. Do no evil my ass… POShit
    Comment from iClarified

    • http://www.facebook.com/dsherwood2 Dan Sherwood

      Apple are an older company than Google. Please explain in more detail why their time has past…

    • maurid

      Please do clarify in which way has Google’s time “past”? Because, as far a as I know, Google has a wide variety of amazing ideas in the pipeline. Hell, Google Glass? A self-driving car? I long for the day when Apple does something more than releasing the same damn phone each year. When Steve Jobs passed, word on the street was that he left Apple with at least 5 years worth of ideas and products, but to be honest, I AM NOT SEEING IT. And I don’t think anyone is. Bottom line,Sir, your argument is not valid.

      • seyss

        Everyone has great ideas.. The problem is to materialize them so people can have the products.. These 2 you mentioned are phoneys

  • http://twitter.com/Grolubao Grolubao

    I actually think what Google says makes a lot of sense. If it would be nowadays and Apple would patent the concept of a Table this would mean that all tables would essentially violate the patent, so there would be no more tables in the world except the iTable.
    This patent crap needs to end now! The patent system is completely broken and needs to be rewritten from scratch.

    • http://www.facebook.com/andyampajan Andy ドア

      Apple doesnt stop google from building “table”. They are saying if you make a “table”, make your own “table”. Dont copy their shape, size, colour of their “table”. There is plenty of way to design a “table”. The point is design your own “table”.

      • http://twitter.com/benjirogue Quotes

        After doing their own table (android) they got sued

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1231341527 Sakis Nikopolidis

        Exactly what we are saying because their table before 2007 looked like RIM-NOKIA wooden tables and would always be like that……..Suddenly they had a “brainstorm” and started making carbon fiber tables and changed to that design forever…The problem is this brainstorm never happened they just copied apples carbon fiber idea

      • http://www.facebook.com/andyampajan Andy ドア

        No. Google never make their own table. Thats why the got sued by apple

      • http://www.youtube.com/Tr1pTr0p Tr1pTr0p

        Pardon my language, but how the fuck do you expect to make a smartphone with a different shape? How is that supposed to look? There is only one optimal shape for a smartphone, and that is the one you see today; screen in the middle, and bezel around it.
        Samsung recently removed one of the features from their devices. It was the ability to search the device for apps, music, whatever, from the homescreen. Now how do you expect any company to implement a way for you to search the contents of the device, without violating Apple’s retarded patent? Apple invented SEARCH???

      • http://www.facebook.com/andyampajan Andy ドア

        Pardon my language too, i think we use something called “brain”. Use your brain mate. Hired a bunch of designer, brainstorming, and spend lots of money on research. Thats the way to create the new phone. Not just copy paste someone else work and when they got sued , they saying its ok to infringe iphone because its popular. That is the lamest excuse i ever heard

      • http://www.youtube.com/Tr1pTr0p Tr1pTr0p

        Copy paste their work? Are you talking about notification center? Or the lockscreen camera button?
        Give me one human being, designer or not, who will come up with an idea of a table, without it looking like a table.That is exactly what Apple expects from everyone else. They’re pushing a story how they invented multitouch, slide to unlock, screen with a black bezel. etc…. Get real for crying out loud! There are things called standards, and they are available to everyone (and they existed long before Apple implemented them in their devices). Apple does not and should not have any privileges when it comes to industry standards.If I’m not mistaken, Apple was first to implement inertial scrolling. How the hell do you expect to scroll in a fast and intuitive way without inertial scrolling? That is exactly what I’m saying. Apple was granted ridiculous “unpatentable” things, and they’re using them now to fight their competition. How is the user supposed to benefit from that? How is the user supposed to benefit from using a scrollbar as opposed to using inertial scrolling?Apple is, yet another corporation ready to do whatever it takes to increase their user base, and maximize their profits. Keep that in mind.

  • http://twitter.com/Woscoe_ Keith

    I agree. google is shook because apple was granted the mother of all patents.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=530352812 Jayar Gibson

      Keith – Not shocked, pissed. Google is **pissed** because Apple was granted the mother of all patents.

      • http://twitter.com/Woscoe_ Keith

        Jayar – lol I know google is pissed. I said shook as in a hip hop term. They SHOOK cuz ain’t no such thangs as half way crooks!

  • SimonReidy

    How does the patent system work in regards to expiration in the US? Surely Apple can’t permanently own all these patents? Or do they expire after a certain time?

    Surely early inventors of the automobile had patents covering everything from the internal combustion engine, to rubber tyres. Or were these things unpatentable?

    It seems clear that the only way the consumer will win from these outcomes is if the system changes. Unless we seriously want Apple to eventually to be the only manafacturer allowed to build anything resembling a touchscreen smartphone.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=530352812 Jayar Gibson

      My understanding is that your question is answered above.

      A certain number of things cannot be patented, for example tyres because a car NEEDS tyres however they can patented their type of tyre (as in the formula to make the rubber) and my understanding is that there are things on a mobile phone that cannot be patented, for example receiving of data on a 2100MHz network but you can patent the way the reception bars are shown (anyone remember that lawsuit Apple was part of??)

      PS: How many more times could I say patent in a response?

      • SimonReidy

        Thanks for the info, but the situation, pertaining to technology is still as clear as mud. For everyone involved there is confusion and contradictions from both Google and Apple.

        The reality is the partent system at one time worked and was introduced to protect people’s inventions. In today’s fast moving world where a device is obsolete in a year, the system can’t keep up.

        I know Americans can fear change to any long standing system of law, but this one needs to be abolished in favour of a new system that doesn’t allow patents on things like the shape of a tablet.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1849765376 Jordan Rushing

    Read the title, and read the article. I totally agree with Google. Usually I would probably go on a rant right about now about how much I dislike Apple’s way of doing things…but even then Apple came first. With the help of Apple, Isaac Newton discovered gravity so…lol.

    • http://twitter.com/Gabriel_Forlani Gabriel Forlani

      My dog can do sarcasm better then u, try again.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1849765376 Jordan Rushing

        Well, looks like your dog is just as stupid as you.

  • Gorgonphone

    eventually the govt will step in and change the patents system so that apple cant have all this power.. it will be revolutionary and iphone will be seen and the phone that changed the world… definitely a historical event

  • http://profiles.google.com/tomthebomb67212 tom courtney

    I fail to see how “unlocking a device by performing gestures on an unlock image”, aka using the motion of your finger on a touchscreen to perform an action, is in any way patent-able. How about “universal interface for retrieval of information in a computer system.”, that seems awfully broad does it not? Or maybe ”
    a method, system, and graphical user interface for providing word recommendations”; gee, that sounds a lot like a description of the autocorrect technology in use by a lot more companies than are mentioned in this lawsuit.
    How ridiculous are the rest of Apple’s “patents” exactly?

  • http://twitter.com/WojtekGrabski Wojtek Grabski

    The problem is just the length of the patents. Software lifespan is measured in single-digit years. None of the constraints of manufacturing that led to the original term of 25 apply anymore. Just shorten the life, to 5 years, and all will be well.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=530352812 Jayar Gibson

      How will this improve anything though?

  • http://www.facebook.com/alfre Alfre Fernandez Garcia

    I believe that, indeed, Apple has come to invent a unique way of interacting with technology, which, very accurately matches customers wants and needs. It’s important to remember that this is why, in the first place, Apple’s OS and iPhone device (since there is no other way of describing it), became so popular among the consumer market. It’s an original idea , and they will protect it, just as Apple has been saying since the beginning with the introduction of the Original iPhone back in 2007. This, is the entire truth. The creation, owes credit to its inventor. Now, why should an invention become a WWStandard ignoring the efforts and investment putted into its development ? Shouldn’t it pay of? If technology giants wants to use that technology, they should do just as the consumer market does: pay for it. What I mean to say here, is that, if they are so interested in their technology, why not pay for a permit to use it? I’m sure an arrangement that takes in consideration Apple’s effort could be done. Now, if Apple refuses, which is very likely to happen, there is nowhere else to go for all those companies but to innovation. Now, isn’t that good for everyone, including the consumer market? having even more choices available? Why not invent a totally new interface, such as the Google-Glasses. Isn’t that an awesome way, that it presents, of interacting with our daily tasks? This is just an example of millions of ways of interacting with technology. Now, if you don’t want to invest millions in development, or you can’t, deal with it. You can’t take what isn’t yours just because you think it should be a WWStandard. If you want it, pay for it, if you can’t, then move forward and innovate! It’s ridiculous how companies like Samsung with all the resources they have, they dare call themselves the inventors of the “next big thing” while their “Big thing” is clearly a copy to what the iPhone is. It’s a shame their intellect can’t develop anything better than a copy. Is that their way of innovating? What Microsoft has done with it’s “Surface Smart Cover”, that is innovation in every way. Now let’s highlight that the only reason why Microsoft has achieved this result is by doing things right, by getting involved a 100% in hardware development and creation, and there for taking control of all the elements in the equation. There, we can say that Apple has serious and most importantly, legit competition. Good luck apple!

    • http://twitter.com/BurhanKhawaja Burhan Khawaja

      you are right and apple is right…!

    • http://twitter.com/Plazmer Ahmed Muhammad

      Yeah, I aint reading all this

      • maurid

        No one needs you to.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=530352812 Jayar Gibson

        What’s wrong mate, too many big words?

        You might actually learn something, it’s superbly written and an excellent explanation for the current situation.

      • http://twitter.com/Plazmer Ahmed Muhammad

        Too many words for a comment bro, I already read it tho

    • Geeks on Hugs

      That’s well reasoned but the problem is the patent system itself is arbitrary and doesn’t reflect the realities…exactly like saying “rectangular shapes”, “slide to unlock”, etc. It’s just gotten absurd.

  • Imahottguy

    The problem is not with Apple, it is the patent system. You can’t blame Apple for doing everything they can to patent a rectangle shaped phone so they can be the only phone available to those in the market. If they did not have ownership of such vague UI elements and design, then they would not be able to sue (and win) to keep competition out as often. I understand that they are trying to protect their IP, but at some point enough is enough. Blatant clones of their software and hardware is one thing, but Android is not a blatant clone. I’m sure eventually whomever it is that regulates the patenting system will realize that unless they deny folks the ability to patent rectangles, the markets will continue to suffer. I love my iPhone, I just hope that it will not be the only phone in the future.

    I also realize that this is not how a lot of kids see this, so I will likely be flamed or whatever. Great artists steal right?

    • Supafly_Boy

      Stop being silly and ignorant! You know damn well Apple patented more than just a damn rectangle! I hate it when people like you make such simply stupid arguments!

      • Imahottguy

        I know this a bit late but I felt I had to respond; better late than never right? Of course Apple has many many more patents than just a rectangle. I was using that as a bit of hyperbole tbh. I’m not saying that it is Apple’s fault or any other company’s. They are just doing everything they legally can do to remain on top and get rid of their competition. Clearly the system needs to be fixed. Do you truly believe that Apple invented the modern smartphone and that everyone else is just piggybacking off of their success? Sure the iPhone changed the game, but we can’t penalize other companies for trying to take it a step further, or by offering a similar option. iOS certainly borrowed from Android, just as vice versa. It’s a silly “game” to try and shut down all other competition under the guise of protecting IP. I think they are painting themselves in an ugly shade via their legal council.

    • Keith Randy

      Supafly_Boy, you didn’t even explain why Imahottguy was “silly and ignorant.” Imahottguy you’re right. The patent system is flawed and hopefully through all these stupid patent wars the government will fix it so that innovation can survive and lazy copycats die! Innovate or die baby!

  • http://twitter.com/Gabriel_Forlani Gabriel Forlani

    Yes Apple didn’t invent multitouch but they had the foresight to buy the company & use the technology on a phone.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=530352812 Jayar Gibson

      Didn’t they do that with Siri…..and mapping companies too?

      Sure I’m about to have replies of “But Google does it too”, yeah but in Google’s case they buy to eliminate competition. Apple buys to grow their products.

  • http://twitter.com/Gabriel_Forlani Gabriel Forlani

    Google even rips off Windows phone. They have no shame. But Microsoft gets payed with every Adroid phone that sells.

  • air naji

    I hate wannabees!

  • http://www.facebook.com/dsherwood2 Dan Sherwood

    I’m for and against the two main parties here.On one hand it does seem Google took a little hmm, “inspiration” from Apple. However, the tech industry is a brutal world with most consumers tending to be rather fickle. Can’t blame them for trying to survive right? Microsoft gets paid royalties for the patents it owns that Android uses. Fair and square there then. Now imagine a world where Apple had a monopoly on the tablet and smartphone industry. Are you picturing a bleak draconian dystopia as I am? If you are then congratulations, you’re a normal human being with some degree of foresight.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Dennispr Dennis G Hernandez

      Inspiration? they copy them.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=530352812 Jayar Gibson

      Well put, but what if (as there has been in the past) tablets that have failed and for whatever reason…..Apple has created a product that works, that’s popular and therefore successful. Now does this mean that people should be allowed to draw inspiration from this success, of course, but does it also mean Apple will hold a monopoly, yes, but only until something better comes along.

      I’m not sure this is the best analogy but remember when MySpace had the monopoly on social media web sites and now who remembers them? What’s replaced them, Facebook…that is until something better comes along.

  • Emre SÜMENGEN

    Translation: (Google) We can’t beat innovation, we can’t find anything new. So, let’s make what Apple does a “standard” so we can commercialize it without penalty…

    Dumb!

    And, no, I’d not care about having a standard unlock way for my phone… If I have an iPhone, I’d know how to unlock it. If I have a Nexus One, I’d know how to unlock it. If any vendor wants to provide comfort for their customers, they’d provide consistency around their software releases, just like Apple does.

  • http://twitter.com/greghesp Greg Hesp

    Ugh, this article has fanboy written all over it. If you actually understood what Google were saying, then you’d realize exact why Google have been suing Apple for similar things.

    Google are playing it the way it should be played. How can you not tell that they’re also basically saying that the drop down notifications is part of a general phone and can’t be patented.
    They’re not saying they’re scared etc, they’re pretty much saying exactly what the world is saying – the USA parent system is corrupt, just with a legal twist

    • smtp25

      How is it part of a general phone? Did they do it first, do another vendor do it first. No. well then its not general its proprietary.

      Given how many units samsung are selling of their phones can everyone then steal there patent ideas (ones that weren’t apples;) they’ve sold millions more so what then?

    • EpicFacepalm

      Lol dropdown notification gesture’s patent should be owned by SBSettings’ author.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=530352812 Jayar Gibson

      Wow, you certainly love your … I’d like to say Android but I could be wrong here so instead I’d just go with what I know — Your head is buried deep in the sand.

      If Google says “Apple products are awesome and we want to use it but since we legally cannot, it should be available to everyone” then how can this be misinterpreted?

  • http://twitter.com/corgrath Christoffer

    Author needs to know Slide to unlock isn’t Apple’s. The patent belongs to Neonode.

    • EpicFacepalm

      And multitouch gestures belongs to IBM

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1849765376 Jordan Rushing

      I read your comment in Dr. Zoidberg’s voice. Lol

  • http://twitter.com/macography Pietro Montalcino

    Excellent summary of patent wars. Thanks for the clear explanation.

  • http://www.facebook.com/applewhiteepickwins Andross White Applejack

    all your base are BELONG to us¡¡

    • maurid

      lool

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1849765376 Jordan Rushing

    Okay, because everyone here is obviously retarded, I said I agreed with Google. Then I also stated that Apple came first, and because they were first that they deserve to have and protect their patents any way they want too.

    The Isaac Newton thing was supposed to be a joke thrown in to say that Apple has helped with a lot of ideas and theories in the past, but apparently there are too many idiots that can’t understand a simple gesture towards humor. Was the joke funny? Probably not. Do I care if wasn’t? Definitely not.

    That was basically my comment more thoroughly explained.

    • roby.gabi

      So you are retard too

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1849765376 Jordan Rushing

        If that’s your argument, I stand correct. You act like you’ve got something to say but you have yet to say anything relevant. So please stop wasting your time. Thanks!

      • roby.gabi

        And you have something relevant to say Jordan?

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1849765376 Jordan Rushing

        ROFL, you’ve only commented on this article, and both times it was addressed to me. Get a life dude. All of your arguments are invalid.

    • http://www.facebook.com/andyampajan Andy ドア

      How do you know that sir? Are you some kind of phycic or that was a joke too?
      Do we think you funny? No. And yes you care actually. So stop pretending you dont care when none of us laugh at your jokes

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1849765376 Jordan Rushing

        I totally care. Yes, phones and OS’s are my life’s work. My entire life depends on how well any company does. Hop off my dick bro. I must say, if nobody cared about what I said and if it wasn’t funny, why are you commenting like you care? Because you do. I made a point and you got into a fanboy nerd rage. Get a life dude.

  • http://twitter.com/nAcolz Acolz

    So basically Google admits iOS is better and wants to make profit by making iPhone’s copies

    • maurid

      Yes, yes, the iPhone is man’s greatest creation and every one wants to copy it.

      NOT.

    • nory826

      Your fanboy-ism is showing…

  • http://www.youtube.com/Tr1pTr0p Tr1pTr0p

    THIS is exactly why there are no software patents here, in Europe. You cannot patent touching the damn display with multiple fingers. Apple did not invent a damn thing. They only packaged currently existing ideas into a nice looking case and advertised it as revolutionary, magical, just like they did with the iPad. Pinch to zoom has existed since 1991, and slide to unlock even years before iPhone’s release. And now, instead of leapfrogging their competition, they continue to fight them in the courtroom and get away with it. How many lawsuits have you heard regarding the notification center?
    And the worst thing of all, the sheep are defending their hypocrisy! Fucking pathetic!

  • Geeks on Hugs

    Hooray for Google…they have the strength to change things. The patent system is broken. Patents are stifling progress for humanity. It’s not about the companies…it’s about the people. Screw the companies. Google isn’t perfect but sometimes it does good. Go get ‘em Google!