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Apple Mines App Store Submissions For Patent Ideas 307

Posted by timothy
from the or-at-least-it's-fair-to-suspect dept.
I Don't Believe in Imaginary Property writes "Apple has started filing a bunch of patents on mobile applications. That might not be so interesting in and of itself, but if you look closely at the figures in one of the patents, you can see that it's a copy of the third-party Where To? application, which has been on the App Store since at least 2008. There's also a side-by-side comparison which should make it clear that the diagram was copied directly from their app. Even though it's true that the figures are just illustrations of a possible UI and not a part of the claimed invention, it's hard to see how they didn't get some of their ideas from Where To? It might also be the case that Apple isn't looking through the App Store submissions in order to patent other people's ideas, but it's difficult to explain some of these patents if they're not. And with the other patents listed, it's hard to see how old ideas where 'on the internet' has been replaced with the phrase 'on a mobile device' can promote the progress of science and useful arts. This seems like a good time to use Peer to Patent."
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Apple Mines App Store Submissions For Patent Ideas

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  • Yup. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Pojut (1027544) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @06:58PM (#33156368) Homepage

    "Mhm. Yup. You're app has been approved! I'll just... ::yoink:: there we go. Thanks for your submission!" -Jobs

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by hedwards (940851)
      To be honest, pretty much only an idiot develops for them. Especially given Apple's tendency to steal ideas out of the App store rendering the payware obsolete.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        So, kind of like Netscape/IE or practically every other app or feature that's ever been added to an OS.

        • by Coryoth (254751)

          So, kind of like Netscape/IE or practically every other app or feature that's ever been added to an OS.

          Yes, just like that, except in a world where Netscape had to submit a copy of their browser to Microsoft for inspection prior to release, during which time MS stalled and started development of IE such that when Netscape finally hit the market IE was already developed and integrated into Windows.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Ironhandx (1762146)

        Agreed. The crap apple pulls and gets away with these days is something on a scale that I've never seen before... of course, that goes for many corporations nowadays.

        It really just seems to me that they're getting more and more bold in regards to flaunting both the law and their purchased law makers...(not just apple, a whole bunch of different companies). Maybe people will start waking up to it soon. Then again... maybe not.

        Let me be the first to say... I do NOT welcome our new corporate overlords.

        • by hitmark (640295)

          apple have a long history of doing these things: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karelia_Watson [wikipedia.org]

          but then its the same company that for the longest time was flying the jolly roger, and whos ceo made use of the quote "good artists copy, great artists steal".

          • by TJamieson (218336)

            Also, don't forget Konfabulator [wikipedia.org]. Actually it seems they do this every couple releases for OSX... 10.2 had Sherlock (Watson), 10.4 had Dashboard (Konfabulator). I guess they really DO have lightweight and movable teams -- their copying folks now work on iOS!

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by amn108 (1231606)

        Last time I checked, there has not been any shortage of idiots on this rock.

        These days, every kid with dollars in their eyes will download and install the iPhone SDK or whatever they call it and flooding forums for API help and that stuff. Here: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/tagged/iphone [stackoverflow.com]

        They all have heard that there are millions to be made on iPhone applications.

        The idea is not bad at all, the execution however is a lot real-life version of George Orwell's 1984.
        Apple probably thinks that if the devel

    • by Xenographic (557057) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @08:16PM (#33157118) Homepage Journal

      Sorry to hijack the FP, but I wanted to direct everyone's attention to the response from FutureTap [futuretap.com], the makers of "Where To?"

      Here are the relevant parts:

      Now some folks argued we might have a deal in place with Apple. I can assure you: we don't. The story was equally surprising for us as for many others.

      [...]

      I'm not a lawyer. I can't really judge whether the inclusion of a 1:1 copy of our start screen in someone else's patent is legal. I just have to say, it doesn't feel right. (If you can recommend a good, affordable patent lawyer, please let us know.) The perspective of an endless legal battle, however, is not very intriguing for a small company like us that aims to throw all its power into improving existing and developing new apps. So we definitely hope there'll be an easy solution. Perhaps it's just a flaw in the filing that can be fixed easily. If someone from Apple Legal reads these lines, you're welcome to discuss.

      In summary, this episode once more reinforces my personal aversion against software patents. In my opinion they discriminate against smaller developers who can't afford building a huge legal department to defend against such patent cases and to research existing patent mine fields.

      What do you think about the case? Are we overreacting? Please let us know in the comments, we're glad to hear your thoughts.

      • by eggnoglatte (1047660) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @08:41PM (#33157284)

        I don't have an iPhone, and therefore I don't have first hand experience with "Where To?" However, I have read the claims of the Apple patent, and the description of the "Where To?" software, and there is no overlap. The Apple patent is explicitly about notifying a third party of your arrival at some destination after detecting that you have been traveling. "Where To?" doesn't seem to do anything like this. The screen illustration is simply used as an example for what kind of UI the relevant application might have. So with this it is clear that "Where To?" is not prior art to the Apple patent, and Apple didn't steal an idea from FutureTrap.

        That leaves the question of whether Apple is guilty of copyright infringement by using an illustration showing a screenshot of an app from another company. This gets pretty technical, but my educated guess is: probably not. The "screenshot" has obviously been redrawn with different fonts and slightly different icons, so it is not a verbatim copy of the original.

        That said, using the image without asking for explicit permission from FutureTrap was a pretty stupid move on Apple's part, if only for the negative PR they'll be getting over this.

        • by Smallpond (221300) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @09:31PM (#33157570) Homepage Journal

          That leaves the question of whether Apple is guilty of copyright infringement by using an illustration showing a screenshot of an app from another company. This gets pretty technical, but my educated guess is: probably not. The "screenshot" has obviously been redrawn with different fonts and slightly different icons, so it is not a verbatim copy of the original.

          It's not technical. Just read the agreement that you signed when you put the app in the app store. See the part where it says Apple has rights to use images of your app for any purpose? There you go.

      • by bonch (38532) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @11:12PM (#33158134)

        The patent has nothing to do with the application. Did anyone read the damn thing? Hell, did anyone read the submission which flat-out states that the illustration is just an example of a possible use of the technology?

        Here's an update saying the initial knee-jerk reaction is wrong. [venomousporridge.com]

        It's amazing how easy it is to emotionally rile up Slashdot regardless of any facts. Just mention one of the following:

        1.) Patents
        2.) GPL theft
        3.) MPAA/RIAA

        Boom, 500 angry comments from people who didn't RTFA. How many ignorant people aren't going to read the update or the patent and subsequently go on thinking Apple is "mining app store submissions for patent ideas" because they saw it in a Slashdot headline?

        Shameful.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          Side note, careful with the word "application" here, since it's generally got a different meaning in patent contexts. Let's just grit the teeth and say "iPhone ap".

          [And since I'm here giving language advice while typing out "iPhone" using Apple's candy-ass gen-Y capitalization like a mooneyed shill, let me just say: "iPhone" is pretty silly, granted, but "Iphone", which is /.'s alt-text for iPhone topics, is somehow even worse.]

        • by yyxx (1812612) on Friday August 06, 2010 @03:26AM (#33158938)

          I don't know whether the patent is on prior art from that particular app; arguably it actually may be. It certainly isn't "unrelated". And it is likely that the Apple engineers got their ideas by looking at that particular app and asking themselves "what can we patent that's kind of like an extension of this app?"

          More importantly, if you actually read the patent, it's clear that the patent is (1) merely a computer embodiment of a manual process, (2) something lots of other apps have been doing already, and (3) devoid of new technical ideas.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            And it is likely that the Apple engineers got their ideas by looking at that particular app and asking themselves "what can we patent that's kind of like an extension of this app?"

            Or, perhaps an Apple engineer saw the App and saw the name and thought "Hey, does it do this? Ah, no, the app is completely different. But, hey, this is a pretty cool idea. Let's see... implement it like this and do that like so and... Hey, does anyone have an App that does that? No? Hmmmm... let's see." "What are you doing, #Engineer?" "Hey, boss, check this out. Does this seem like a workable idea?" "Yeah, it does. Perhaps we should take steps to protect it before someone else comes up with it."

            I.e. it's

        • by WNight (23683) on Friday August 06, 2010 @03:38AM (#33158982) Homepage

          How many ignorant people aren't going to read the update or the patent and subsequently go on thinking Apple is "mining app store submissions for patent ideas"

          But they are. They're just doing it the way the patent-system encourages - looking at what someone else built and patenting a bunch of possible innovations to it, properly referencing the prior art. So it's not like they're patenting an app out from under the author, but they definitely are looking at what the apps do and patenting as much as they think they can of everything the apps don't already do.

          They might have key features of a version-2 app already being patented though.

          It's amazing how easy it is to emotionally rile up Slashdot regardless of any facts. Just mention one of the following: 1.) Patents

          Well, patents are universally bad. "IP" laws are just another form of corporate welfare. The tremendous cost, in enforcement and as a burden to society, aren't paid at all by the patent-holder. Patents aren't granted, at all, on the assumption of accruing a benefit to society as was the idea, they're just a government-printed license to sue, with the benefit of the doubt no less.

          So yeah, the headline was wrong but everyone was right to expect Apple(/someone) crushing independent developers with patent law. That's just what monopolies are. The only "news" is that it's just business as usual, not some new and interesting screw like it appeared to some.

          • by HungryHobo (1314109) on Friday August 06, 2010 @05:04AM (#33159262)

            Some small company does all the actual work.
            Builds in as much functionality as they can in reasonable time.
            Leave a few obvious but hard to implement ideas for version 2 .
            Create a useful app and submit it to the app store.

            Then some lazy jerkoff with a legal department behind him spends 5 minutes playing "what would it be cool to have this also do" and before the small guys can release version 2 the bigger company patents most of the version 2 functions.

            Now despite them doing nothing useful whatsoever you have to pay them for the privalige of releasing a better app.

    • Re:Yup. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by v1 (525388) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @08:36PM (#33157260) Homepage Journal

      gives a different impression depending on if they approve the app or not. I could see bigger issues if they say, denied an app and then patented the idea of the app. But once it's approved, it's publicly available and visible to millions of people, apple just has a few hours head start on it, so I don't see a problem at that point.

      Someone that speaks Lawyer needs to read their big SDK eula and appstore license and see if it in any way waives rights or something when you submit an app.

  • Can it get any more ironic than this?

    There isn't even a work-for-hire relationship here.

  • RTFA (Score:5, Informative)

    by tgd (2822) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @07:04PM (#33156434)

    Even the original article has been updated to say the initial knee jerk reaction was wrong.

    And apparently Slashdot's editors, probably for more ad impressions, decided to overlook it and post this anyway.

    • You know, I can bet 99% of Slashdot readers weren't surprised/amazed by this "false information" and they didn't even bother to comment on it let alone reading article.

      People seem to expect such things may happen on app store and guess what? They don't even care anymore. It is iPhone developers and User's concern. Personally, I wouldn't be surprised a bit.

  • If this is true, it's hard to see how prior art isn't automatically existing on these apps.
  • Words (Score:5, Insightful)

    by niftydude (1745144) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @07:15PM (#33156576)

    but if you look closely at the figures in one of the patents, you can see that it's a copy of the third-party Where To? application

    Yes, and if you read those pesky words that are floating around all the pretty pictures, you'll realise that the patent is for a data aggregation service that applications like "Where To?" will be able to use.

    Apple seems to be looking at common applications in the app store, and figuring out what infrastructure services might make them better. This isn't evil, it isn't even particularly sneaky - anyone with an itunes account can browse apps and patent the same sort of ideas.

    Don't get me wrong - I still think Apple is evil - this just isn't an example of their evil behaviour.

    • Yes it is an example of their evil behavior.

      <wishful-thinking>
      Unless their entire intent is to lay down defensive patents for the people that put stuff in their app store.
      </wishful-thinking>

      <sigh/>

      Software patents are evil, unless the patent is restricted to a specific implementation (thus, the "diagrams" are the source code), in which case copyright works better anyway.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by niftydude (1745144)
        You've missed my point.
        The 'Where To?' app wouldn't infringe this patent if it was granted, apple is not patenting the operation of apps in the app store in the way the article reports.
        This is a patent for a type of service that apps like the 'Where To?' app could use if they wanted to, and the image in question is just held up as an example of this.
        This patent couldn't be used as a defensive patent for the 'Where To?' app like you sarcastically suggest, because it is patenting a different thing entirely
    • Apple seems to be looking at common applications in the app store, and figuring out what infrastructure services might make them better. This isn't evil, it isn't even particularly sneaky

      I totally agree with that part, and it's a shame so many people are willing to jump on Apple without looking at details.

      However, it seems wrong to use other people's work without permission, even (especially?) in a patent application I wonder, has anyone tried to contact one of these application owners and asked them if App

  • Here's a picture from TFA [unwiredview.com]. Bottom right corner shows Amsterdam. And if you happen to find yourself in Amsterdam in need of such an app (i.e., you're probably not local), you think ya might want to do something more than dine, lodge, shop, sight see or drink?

    I mean, we all know that the iPhone is not the phone for porn [slashdot.org], but no "coffee shops" either? Geez Steve...far cry from your Reed college days, eh?
  • by greensoap (566467) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @07:50PM (#33156902)
    Prior art is what teaches the invention. The invention is defined by the claims. Does that figure illustrate the invention?
    Claim 1:
    A method comprising:
    • determining a user is scheduled to travel to a destination on a current date;
    • determining a portable electronic device in possession by the user is powered off;
    • determining the user arrived at the destination by detecting that the portable electronic device has been powered back on; and
    • transmitting an arrival notification of the arrival of the user to at least one third party recipient.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I'm sexually aroused by kittens and children. Does this mean that apple products are the right choice for me?

  • by Bruce Perens (3872) <bruce@perens.com> on Thursday August 05, 2010 @08:15PM (#33157104) Homepage Journal
    Peer-to-patent is only useful when the patent applicant is participating in the process. Most patent applicants are not interested in having the community bust their patent, and don't participate. And if the patent applicant does participate, we end up in a situation where the community folks work to make the patent stronger, which isn't necessarily a good thing either.
  • by harlows_monkeys (106428) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @08:19PM (#33157146) Homepage

    Read the god damned patent application itself. What they are trying to patent has nothing to do with that application.

    Slashdot should just stop accepting any patent-related stories until it gets an editor who can grasp the concept that you have to read the claims and specification to know what is covered, not just glance at the pretty pictures.

    • > Slashdot should just stop accepting any patent-related stories until it gets an editor who can grasp the concept that you have to read the claims and specification to know what is covered, not just glance at the pretty pictures.

      Did you actually read the Slashdot submission? You know, the one where they wrote: "Even though it's true that the figures are just illustrations of a possible UI and not a part of the claimed invention, [...]" (emphasis added)

      Or do you automatically post the same comment to e

    • by Animats (122034)

      Having read the patent application, claim 1 sounds rather obvious. That's a very broad claim on a rather banal idea.

  • Part of the document that every iPhone developer agrees to before their app ever gets on an iPhone basically states that Apple can use screenshots and videos of your apps, without your permission, and without ever notifying you.

    The apps you see on billboards and in TV ads? Developers are rarely told about that before they air. Apps installed on the demo iPhones in Apple & ATT stores? Developers find out about those when someone sends them a picture of it. The dozens of of apps featured every week in
    • by SuperKendall (25149) on Friday August 06, 2010 @12:01AM (#33158322)

      Part of the document that every iPhone developer agrees to before their app ever gets on an iPhone basically states that Apple can use screenshots and videos of your apps, without your permission, and without ever notifying you.

      Where in the agreement [wired.com] does it say that?

      I thought there was something at least covering marketing specific use in there somewhere, but could not find even that. Basically the document states you own all the copyright to materials you use in an app and that's about it.

      The apps you see on billboards and in TV ads? Developers are rarely told about that before they air.

      To my knowledge they always know because Apple requests vector artwork (for bllboards) and a ton of custom work around production of a TV ad (I know someone who had an app in one).

      The dozens of of apps featured every week in the nearly 100 different country specific AppStores? The only way you find out about that is after a spike in your daily sales numbers.

      Even then many featured apps are asked for higher resolution artwork. But you're right that they can generally take special note or feature something on a whim.

      That said, I'd be pretty pissed (and looking for a cheap patent lawyer) if one of my apps showed up in a patent filing, but I wouldn't be that surprised.

      So would I, though I don't see any need to start with a patent lawyer, Too expensive and it's not really a patent issue.

      I would actually start by asking Apple simply to credit the application in the document. Worth far more as potential advertising than any damages you could ever recover. But you'd probably want a lawyer to do the asking.

  • by the ReviveR (1106541) on Friday August 06, 2010 @06:46AM (#33159682)
    Software isn't the only thing. When ever someone comes up with something really innovative for iPhone, Apple throws a patent at it.

    iControlPad [icontrolpad.com] is one of the more innovative hardware addons I've come across. They too are talking to a lawyer because of Apple blatantly patented their design.

    It was also on slashdot few months ago. [slashdot.org]

    One more reason for me to not touch Apple products.

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