Following up on a revealing Sunday piece by The New York Times that looks at patent wars from both sides to conclude that Apple (like other tech giants) patents anything and everything just to prevent rivals from patenting the same inventions, Google’s chief legal counsel David Drummond has now called for an all-encompassing software patent reform.

Criticizing broken patent system in the United States, Drummond advocates for a change to make the system more akin to Europe and some other countries, which make it much harder to get a software patent of any kind, let alone something as basic as Apple’s slide-to-unlock gesture…

According to The Wall Street Journal, Drummond told the reporters at a Google-sponsored innovation forum in Seoul today that Google “is walking a fine line” in that it advocates reforms in the U.S. patent system in order to “reduce the amount of litigation around mobile computing software and devices”.

He said the U.S. patent system makes it too easy for companies to get patents on software. “There are places in the world where you can’t get a software patent, or at least it’s harder, like Europe,” he said. “We think that’s probably the better way to go.”

He’s not alone.

On Apple:

It doesn’t take much digging to find statements from Apple, Microsoft, all lamenting the fact that we have this patent litigation. These are not companies that say we’re all about patents and wake up in the morning wanting to think about patents.

He’s right, to a certain extent.

Google was never big on patents.

As I previously opined, Google reluctantly paid a whopping $12.5 billion to acquire Motorola Mobility, a money-losing handset maker – not to become a handset maker, but to leverage Motorola’s patent portfolio and deflect legal attacks on Android.

Drummond also thinks hardware patents should have precedence over software ones:

I would argue semiconductors fit the model for [patent] protection more than software does. We’re talking about algorithms here. In some ways, it’s math.

I think you’d want to be more careful about giving monopoly protection than you might for some hardware ideas. I don’t think we should just say ‘Well, this is the cycle we always go through.’

Google really appears to be in a state of IP denial over Android.

Patent expert Florian Müeller listed 17 valid Apple and Microsoft patents that Google’s Android software has so far been found by courts the world over to infringing.

In the meantime, Google chairman Eric Schmidt recently tried to mend a broken relationship between his company and Apple, also noting that “Google stands for innovation as opposed to patent wars” (news flash: so does Apple) and warning that “literally patent wars prevent choice, prevent innovation and I think that is very bad”.

On the other hand, some Apple patents appear to stomp all over the First Amendment, per Business Insider – especially the U.S. Patent No. 8,254,902 which describes “apparatus and methods for enforcement of policies upon a wireless device”.

Tim Pool has more on that.

According to a handy patent war map vividly explains, everyone is suing everyone in the smartphone biz (below is just a portion of it).

And this interactive feature (Flash required), outlines in layman’s terms the three three Apple patents the company successfully asserted against others in recent lawsuits: rubber-banding, slide to unlock and Siri.

Perhaps Drummond wants a change because Samsung, its key Android backer, has suffered a huge blow when a U.S. court awarded Apple more than a billion dollars in damages (Apple wants an additional $707 million).

The jury also ruled that the South Korean conglomerate slavishly copied the iPhone and Apple’s design and utility patents while Apple did not infringe upon a single Samsung patent.

The power of patents should not be taken lightly.

A former Apple engineer told The New York Times that the slide to unlock gesture “might seem obvious now, but that’s only after we spent millions figuring it out”.

Millions or not, Apple has successfully asserted its slide-to-unlock patent against Samsung and Motorola in the past. As a result, competing handset makers steer away from slide to unlock, instead implementing other handset unlock mechanisms, such as pattern unlock and face unlock (see it in a video below).

In fact, it could be argued that Apple’s patented slide-to-unlock thing resulted in a greater variety of device unlock features, benefiting consumers as opposed to the one-size-fits-all approach which would have been made prevalent if Apple’s rivals were allowed to get away with implementing the slide-to-unlock feature.

What do you think?

Is the U.S. patent system broken?

Should we look to Europe for a role model on making it all but impossible to get a software patent of any kind?

Or perhaps a middle ground is what the world really needs?

  • MagicDrumSticks

    I think there needs to be a major overhaul of the patent system. Do you all not realize that the cost of these patent wars is pushed onto the consumer?

    • cruzcontrol1001

      So are look alikes if no one spends money on r&d.

      • MagicDrumSticks

        I never said we need to scrap the system, I think it should be more like Europe. R and D would continue regardless because nobody’s going to keep buying the same thing over and over and over

      • Kurt

        “nobody’s going to keep buying the same thing over and over” yes they will. look at the iphone. 6 years of a black front with the exact same button. the front of the iphone is the same year and year out. ios is the same. the last three years the sides have been the same. if apple can’t innovate then my money goes else where, not sure why other people don’t think like me.

  • Obviously Google doesn’t want software patents. This makes it easier for them to copy everyone’s ideas and embed them into Googles ecosystem.

    • CollegiateLad


    • thor_molecules

      Or because Apple has been granted a ridiculous number of patents in the U.S. for features they didn’t even invent, which only serves to hurt innovation and stifle competition.

      But hey, let’s not let the truth get in the way of blind fanboyism.

      • I never said anything bout Apple. Google has plenty of momentum. Now they want to remove patents so someone starting a company in a garage can’t run them out of business. My neighbor has a software patent. He should lose royalties cause Google wants swipe to unlock??

      • Exactly. Me as a software developer, it frightens me. Now it’s more than just developing software. You have to be a researcher, and make sure that your product doesn’t violate some patent, even if it is simple as dragging the link to the bookmark bar.

  • Techpm

    There has to be a way of preventing companies like Samsung to just come in and copy all the best ideas from products.

    If it’s not patents then something else, but that protection needs to exist. Otherwise why invest in innovating and developing anything, if other companies can just come in and take it all by just mimicking the product and it’s functionality?

    Google doesn’t care because all their good stuff is well locked away inside their cloud servers, no one can really see or copy their data or algorithms. Apple and others OTOH put their crown jewels into the users hands who can examine them in great detail, even x-ray them!

    • Kurt

      why wasn’t android protected with their pull down for the ‘notification center’? how did apple get away with copying it? real question, please no fanboy crap answer. i dont own, never have owned an android device.

  • Is the U.S. patent system broken?


  • Slide to unlock face unlock whats the bs make good fk phones and we buy then apple wants to be the only company the sell phone wtf

    • Kurt

      slide to unlock is 6 years old. the lock screen is 6 years old. can’t we just have something different? is it so hard for apple to innovate and think different?

  • Developers sell u ideas to all the companys to use it and you own the softwera to use it they have to pay you like that they dont copy this is just bs from apple

  • Could you please show me the “Slide to Unlock” feature in those photos of the Neonode?

    • If you’re thinking that somehow maybe Slidetounlock didn’t precede the iPhone, think again. Even MS had an implementation prior to Apple…

  • Yuri

    The real innovation starts with this system
    And that to the consumer gives more options
    It is a grate system

  • How you can patent things that were done before is beyond me. Slide to unlock for instance wasn’t Apple

    Patents are ridiculous

  • We definitely need to go with the European model. Think about this: in the US, part of paying for a computer is paying for the licenses to play MP3s, encrypted DVDs, BluRays, etc. In Europe, that price isn’t included because those codecs aren’t copyrighted (hence why VLC can play DVDs OotB, it’s French). So you’ve spent millions in R&D, as has everyone else. We’d see every standards essential patent dropped, we’d save millions, if not billions, in tax payer money, the companies would have more money to spend on their products, and the consumers would win. In my opinion, the less bureaucracy in the government, the better.