Apple v Google, the New Patent War

There's a lot of hubub over the new Apple v Samsung trial, and there's high emotions flaring. But despite the name, this trial is really about Apple v Android as a whole, as the patents in play here are not design patents, but software patents that apply to Android.

Despite what some of us may think of Samsung, the outcome of this trial is very important to all of Android, because if Apple succeeds on any of these patents, it could ban every single Android device out there.

The first one is slide to unlock. It originally described a unidirectional swipe to a predetermined spot to unlock, but due to a peculiarity in US patent law, managed to revise the patent after competitors made workarounds so now the patent covers swiping in any direction to any area. A big problem is that it essentially leaves no room for workarounds because it covers all the implementations of swipe to unlock. And unlike hardware patents like say an engine, a software patent like this one often only describes the steps by which it is accomplished rather than specific parts. An engine might say it has to have X amount of screws in this place. A software patent like this says detects a touch interaction without specifying any algorithms. These patents often break the fundamental principle that one has to be able to look at the patent and build what it describes solely from the patent information. These steps are fairly useless without the underlying touch algorithms.

Another one is universal search. It mentions a heuristic algorithm to search both the device and the web, but never actually gives the algorithm. That's pretty problematic because Apple could own searching web and device in its entirety and not allow for different algorithms. This is a great feature of Google Search and shouldn't be taken away for a patent on essentially an idea.

And anyone using the argument that X person got ripped off when big companies didn't pay for a revolutionary patented idea is missing one important detail. Those mechanical patents actually had schematics that specified how they could be made. All the parts and configurations were right there. In these software patents, the parts aren't there and they basically all say X happens without saying how it happens.

Patents are meant to spur innovation, not stifle them. Apple's aggressive use of its broad patents demonstrates how broken the USPTO is. If someone has a great idea, let them patent it, but don't prevent others from making alternative technologies to do the same thing.

Currently, if someone had patented the brake, it would not only say a foot-pedal that slows the car down at a higher rate the greater the force on the pedal, it would say the pedal pushes down into a tube of brake fluid that pushes brake cylinders toward the wheel, decelerating it via friction. I hope for a world where someday the same kind of standard would apply to software patents.