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Apple's New Pinch-To-Zoom Monopoly is Bad News (slate.com)
220 points by bookwormAT on Aug 28, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 222 comments

To me the real bad news is that I'm scared shitless to develop and commercialize anything now.

No invention is truely innovative, not a single product on the market today is truely original. We're all influenced by the same factors and we're all trying to push the same limits in technology.

I don't have nearly the means to go to court against a company like Apple (or any company at all for that matter). If I launch my product today, I would be afraid of being successful, because I know I'll be bullied by others.

And when patent lawsuits can win you a Billion dollars, patent bullies are happy and waiting for me.

But yeah, I agree patents are a driving force behind innovation...

I hope this madness in US patents policies gets fixed. But if it doesn't, it could be an opportunity for Europe...


One experiment could be excluding Texas when selling to US. That could take care of most of the patent troll court filings and move you down in their prioritized attack list.

AFAIK yet IANAL, if you have no customers in Texas then a company can't bring you to Texas court.

Unfortunately this does not help with more "legitimate" cases from real software companies.

The 1 billion dollar lawsuit was in California. Ignoring Texas wont help. Software patents is a US problem.

Chances is it will be a driving force in taking innovation elsewhere.

This one was in Cali, but Apple isn't a patent troll (or at least not your traditional, no-products patent troll). Regular run of the mill patent trolls like to file in East Texas.

Voted back up to positive territory. What was with the downvotes? This is informative, and he's right -- Apple might be patent assholes, but they're not patent trolls.

> Apple might be patent assholes, but they're not patent trolls.

That is very nicely put.

Agreed on US problem.

Innovation could be still developed in US, just all the customers must be non-US. I could be wrong but this has been my assumption.

Some of these non-US customers could be selling back to the US customers and if the number of these resellers is huge enough it's much harder to take them down. Highly sci-fi speculation. This sci-fi could be quickly shut down with the US import restrictions.

I would love to see the innovation leave the USA. It is horrible policy that has turned most innovation efforts into stupid legal crap instead of productive enterprises.

But I haven't seen anything about other countries taking advantage of the USA's failing. Is there evidence of that? Where? It would certainly be the wise thing for others to do. We need innovation. If the USA is going to make innovators lives a hell of courtrooms just give us somewhere else to send the innovators and let them create elsewhere. The USA can sit in its self imposed innovation free zone if it wants.

This is an interesting point; but is it feasible with web products? We would need a lawyer here... and the sad truth is that the only real winners here are lawyers.

"I would be afraid of being successful, because I know I'll be bullied by others."

Getting sued for patent infringement is one of those first-world problems I'd love to have, because it means you're big & threatening enough to be worth suing.

Your strategy there, if you're still a startup and don't have a huge legal team, is to get bought by a big company with a huge legal team that would be hurt if the aggressor wins in court. See: Google, YouTube, and the Viacom lawsuit.

"Hey Nostrademons. Great little startup you got going here.

Say what, I'm going to give you a choice. You can either be bankrupted out of existence by this patent troll or I can buy you out for fifty cents on the dollar. You won't lose face, your investors will be bailed out but in effect you've worked your ass off for 2-5 years for what amounts to an above average salary or a generous signing bonus.

Oh and you now have to work for us to develop the idea for another two years, without equity, before your vesting or whatever it is called clause hits."

Sounds like a shit sandwich to me.

Great problem except there goes your leverage for the negotiation

Also shows the effect of patents on the market, the little guys either get bought for cheap or destroyed as soon as they have any sort of success

The point is that the lawsuit is your leverage for the negotiation. The acquirer doesn't want to see you lose the lawsuit any more than you want to lose it, because it would set a precedent that would make their own products infringing. And since they're bigger than you, they have more to lose, and hence more of an incentive to win.

I've long suspected that Google bought YouTube for the lawsuit. If Viacom had won, it would set a legal precedent that would basically make Google's business model illegal. And Viacom would likely have won, suing a tiny 14-person startup. So Google's only option was to buy the lawsuit (and the company along with it), so they could use their own legal defense team to win in court.

I think you're out on a limb a bit with this one. For most people and companies a lawsuit would most likely be considered a liability. Granted that there are exceptions like the YouTube example you propose, but you can't assume the same for every little startup that gets sued.

It isn't so great if as soon as you go earn your living a bully comes and takes what you earned. Yes, when you have nothing before your job, you might see that person walking away with a paycheck and think I wish I could be the target of some bully. Once it happens it ain't so great.

Just term anything you do as a "game", game-mechanics are not patentable.

Game mechanics can't be copyrighted; unfortunately, there is very little that can't be patented.


Don't really have one. After some more research, apparently its sort of a gray area filled by anecdotes, pithy observations (such as my own), and snow about copyrights and trade-dress.

You do know that lawsuits are based on actual damages right ? So the idea that you would be sued for a billion dollars or a company like Apple would bother with you is ridiculous.

The real ones to worry are the Lodsys of the world who sue you for just less than what it would cost to hire a lawyer e.g. $1000. Those companies serve no purpose and need to be regulated out of existence.

So the idea that you would be sued for a billion dollars or a company like Apple would bother with you is ridiculous.

Unless you're a small German café or something:


But why let inconvenient facts get between you and your religion?

Religion ? Nice.

Actually the FACT is that a company is required to defend their trademark as a condition of it being granted. Also a cease and desist isn't a lawsuit.

This is well established law.

Clearly you can't be too small for Apple to consider "bothering" with you.

And if this all really about values and not money, as Tim Cook claims, why should it make any difference how big you are?

Apparently there is also another FACT. It is the fact that Apple bothers with you even if you are a small company.

You claimed that the idea of this happening is ridiculous. Yet, they just showed you an example of this happening. I'm having a hard time trying to understand your argument now. Are you claiming the example is invalid or have you changed your argument and now claiming that Apple does that but it is okay for Apple to do that?

If you infringe on Apple's trademark, big or small, you're likely to draw their ire. If you infringe on Apple's patents and you're a small player, you're probably not going to.

Why? Trademarks have to be defended or they can be lost (not 100% accurate, but close enough). You can't say "I'll only sue companies who are bigger than x" when it comes to trademarks and still hold onto them. That isn't the case for patents. You can selectively sue (or not sue at all) and the patents remain valid.

>Actually the FACT is that a company is required to defend their trademark as a condition of it being granted.


Great rebuttal. I think I missed your sources though.

> lawsuits are based on actual damages

Not if it goes to a jury, cause apparently they're free to ignore the judges instructions on damages in order to "make sure the message we sent was not just a slap on the wrist... We wanted to make sure it was sufficiently high to be painful, but not unreasonable."

Never mind the fact that it costs money (potentially a lot) to defend yourself, which a single developer most likely will not have. I'm fairly sure a lawyer will expect payment, win or lose.

1 billion dollars for a teenie-weenie software UI implementation detail in a otherwise huge and complex device which is made of thounsands of major and minor components, both software and hardware.

I don't care at what "scale" this was. This is ridiculous and we should not have to accept it.

If it is so "teenie-weenie" why did Samsung insist on breaking the law by copying it? If you don't like the law don't do business here.

It's a civil suit - they're not "breaking the law" since there's no clear right or wrong answer until you get to court.

The analogy with cars is misleading. Patents (unlike copyright) offer protection for a fairly limited duration. The steering wheel and other standard controls would long since have been unprotected.

Likewise, our children will be free to incorporate pinch to zoom in a few years...if of course patent protection doesn't lead to innovating a prefered alternative.

On the one hand I think IP laws have significant problems, but on the other, Android's interface shows little evidence of a meaningful effort at innovation and even less effort to respect the IP of others in the industry.

The timespan is utterly ridiculous though. With the modern pace of innovation in mobile and software development, a 20-year patent term would be like if the steering wheel patent were valid for 200 years.

To push the analogy further...

In the first 30 years of the automobile, tiller, steering wheel, or pedals were largely irrelevant. Until the proliferation of better roads, none of that mattered. Likewise, what is holding back mobile computing is bandwidth infrastructure and device power efficiency, not interface design features.

If you think that the pace of change is so radically different, consider that in the twenty years following patent 37435 the world got aircraft, motion pictures and Einstein's Annus Mirabilis.

The iPhone of Automobiles: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benz_Patent_Motorwagen

Why is it misleading? Patents on basic interfaces of early cars still would have fragmented the industry. Furthermore, the temporary period of 20 years is an eternity in the tech world.

In my opinion, a 20 year tech patent is roughly as bad as a 100 year automotive patent.

It is misleading because the counterfactual premise is that patents are of great duration, i.e. that Honda would be bound by patents covering steering wheels or brake pedals.

However, the premise of the article's argument is that items such as steering wheels for automobiles are unpatentable or are not commonly patentable.

Here are 2300+ patents with "steering wheel" in the title: http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO2&Sec...

But if patents worked then as software patents do now there would be fewer of those patents, quite a bit I would imagine. Because they would have claimed ownership of the method of controlling the direction of the vehicle with no example of how it actually works. Therefore no one could take the first patent and improve on it, or in other words innovate. The first patent would own the outcome.

"Yes, I understand that my steering wheel is 'round' and your wheel is 'square' with a completely different mechanical system involved. But I own the patent for steering moving objects, so go away."

Benz patented a three wheeled car with a tiller.

The Ford Model T came out more than 20 years later.

You can read about the differences between it's controls and those of contemporary automobiles here: http://www.scvmtfc.org/drivingmodelt.pdf

Maybe this time the rules are different and innovation won't occur over the long term. But I wouldn't bet on it.

I'm not sure if I understand your comment fully as it relates to mine so I could be going off in the wrong direction with this, but here we go anyway...

I don't think that's a fair comparison. As our technological ability increases then amount of time for innovation and creation decreases. I'm not surprised at the lag of innovation from your Benz to Ford example as part of the issue would have been manufacturing capabilities as well as the economy of the time. I'm not surprised at all that in modern times we get better capable phones about every six months.

But for your example. If Benz received a patent for steering a moving vehicle by means of a tiller I would have disagreed with that since all they did was take the idea from a boat. But what I'm describing is if Benz did get such a patent in a manner of today's software patents then Ford would not have been able to use a steering wheel on his Model T without licensing from Benz for their patent on "method to control the direction of a moving object" that failed to describe how that method actually worked. Well, assuming said patent lasted long enough to be an issue for Ford.

In general I have no problem with the idea of software patents, as long as they show exactly how it works including code and why it is unique enough to deserve protection.

Your premise that the pace of technological change is more significant today compared to 100 years ago is not supported by objective data. Furthermore, the differences between contemporary automotive controls and those used by Benz and Ford illustrate just how far today's mobile interfaces probably are from the stable standards of the future - i.e. pinch to zoom may be an improvement on PalmOS, but still equivalent to the Model T's reverse pedal or hand throttle.

The premise that Apple's patents are technologically significant to the point that their enforcement is holding back innovation is ludicrous. Android's interface is the antithesis of innovation - that's the basis of Samsung's prior art defense.

Having recently used a feature phone to talk to my father because the minutes were about to expire, I question the premise that new generations of smartphones are better as telephones. After several years of smartphones, talking on the feature phone was a far more pleasant experience. It was light weight, and I didn't have a piece of glass up against my cheek for an hour while I talked.

I can't necessarily disagree with your statement about progress as I have no data but I do imagine that things move much quicker once you have someone's shoulders to stand on.

Sorry, it seems to me that if one has a patent that is so general in nature that it covers the outcome of a method without actually explaining how it works would in fact stifle innovation for that aspect of any related industries. I have a patent on steering moving objects, yes your steering method is completely different than mine but my patent covers everything about steering moving objects therefore you need to stop your work. Then how does one innovate? Hope not to get sued, hope the patent owner will license to you, or just wait out the patent? Or is my analogy not explaining my point?

Your experience with a feature phone versus a smartphone is just your own personal preference and experience. You say a feature phone is a far more pleasant experience as a phone, I say a smartphone is a far more pleasant as a phone and gives me more features to boot. I'm not saying that my opinion on the matter is worth more than your opinion but I'm not sure I understand what you're trying to say.

If google glass can use eye tracking or some sort of neural pulse integration we can remove hand gestures completely. Imagine:

"Remember back in the day when we used to manipulate computers with our hands? And everyone thought touch interfaces were the shit?"

Google should distribute two Android versions - one for the U.S. (with features like pinch-to-zoom removed) and one for the rest of the world. This would hopefully create some pressure to change the obsolete patent system.

I think that's the wrong approach. They should continue to distribute one Android version, and that version should retain pinch-to-zoom, while they fight the absurdity in court.

From what I can tell about the American consumer, that would only shift the blame for patent infringement from the company to the consumer - American's are nothing if they're not resourceful. They would buy the pinch-to-zoom enabled version from overseas. Then, it only stands to reason that in the current atmosphere of punish, punish, punish, the average consumer would be on the line for importing illegal goods or some-other-such nonsense law.

That's less pressure to change the obsolete system, and more pressure to prosecute based on antiquated laws.

Question about patents - is the act of pinch-to-zoom patented or the implementation(the algorithms, type of hardware needed etc.) patented?

If it is the act that is patented, then as others have mentioned, its not necessarily original. If the implementation is patented, could there be alternative implementations? Did Samsung even actually copy Apple's implementation(at an algorithm level)?

It's both the first and second, and neither at the same time. It's Schrödinger's Pinch.

... Making this comment pains me slightly. It's a comment I wouldn't have made on HN a year ago, pithy (I think) and slightly humorous, but I'm not bringing specific domain knowledge into the discussion to answer a question.

It's the sort of comment I would have refrained from making on reddit many years ago when I first visited, when I encountered great commentary from knowledgeable participants on the topic at had, and lurked.

Then why are you doing it?

could you at least elaborate a bit more why they are both patented and not patented at the same time? resp. name your sources?

Presumably because either position can be argued for or against with more or less the same legitimacy. Only once a jury "opens it up" is the "real" meaning decided.

Even better yet, Samsung makes the hardware which is capable of detecting multi-touch gestures!


It's closer to the second one. The implementation. It's just that in some cases it can be difficult nee impossible to implement it any other way.

I would recommend reading some patents. Most are far more specific than you realise.

The text of the patents is specific. The fact that you see judgements like this implies that the interpretation (at least by this jury) is as broad as it seems to be. No where in that verdict do I see a narrow, careful reading of the technicalities of multitouch UIs. They got asked questions of the form "Did this device infringe?" and answered "Yup", almost without exception. Where exactly is the subtlety you're talking about?

The first one.

Compare this with the culture prevalent in web development.

People sharing every improvement or advance by blogging about it, open-sourcing code, writing tutorials etc.

Although the age of open web dev may be passing.

I worry about the future of web development when I see things that used to be shared openly (logging technology, databases, languages, search indexing tools, etc) one-by-one become startups with a price tag.

Only this morning did I see the job advert for Swiftype: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4442562

By default I wish startups success, but I fear for the long-term implications when each piece of the puzzle (of web development) migrates towards being a business that needs to make money. And that is before you factor in patents and proprietary knowledge and how companies tend to act aggressively when their financial back is up against the wall.

Web dev will only stay open so long as web devs fight to keep it that way.

>> I worry about the future of web development when I see things that used to be shared openly... one-by-one become startups with a price tag

I'm not worried. I develop for the web, and nearly every piece of my tech stack - language, editor, database, server, browser rendering engine - is open source. My skills are in such high demand that my team can't find people to join it. I feel zero pressure to use anything closed-source.

>> Web dev will only stay open so long as web devs fight to keep it that way.

I do agree with this. I think it's unwise to develop for platforms like iOS, however popular they may be. It's a form of sharecropping.

Let's keep working on the web, where every computer and mobile device is on equal footing, and we don't have to rewrite our app to reach new customers.

I worry about the future of web development when I see things that used to be shared openly (logging technology, databases, languages, search indexing tools, etc) one-by-one become startups with a price tag.

This has been the way of the computer industry for as long as there has been a computer industry. People attempt to commercialize and sell products. You don't really think that 2012 is the beginning of when people tried to sell a database server as a software product, do you?

That is less about patents and more about STANDARDS.

And if you care about that you should be very critical of Google, Samsung and HTC who have abused the standards process at the expense of everyone else e.g. H.264, 3G. Imagine life without a standard video format or wireless standard.

This is what I've been thinking from the moment Apple started going after Android manufacturers with patents like these, and it's why the patent system is so very flawed, because it doesn't account for how competition actually works in a market.

Let's say you have one company "create" a new product category - a new type of product. So they are the first ones doing that, but this is usually done through some combination and improvement of old things.

But then you have to get other companies to do the same or very similar, because that's how competition works, and that's exactly what competition is. Making 90% of the same product - so to be in the same product category - but having that 10% as a competitive advantage over the others in that specific market.

Competition is not overhauling the product 90%. That's just not how it works, and you don't have to take my word for it. Just look around you at any product category you want. They are all 90% similar and 10% different, not just in how they look, but how they function. The only major "overhaul" happens once a decade or so when that specific market gets disrupted, but then that new market is populated by competitors doing the same, too, and the cycle repeats itself.

If you wouldn't have that, you'd have exactly what the article is saying - random "innovations" just for the sake of being different so you don't get sued, less competition from the point of view of the users, because the vast majority of them will prefer a certain way of doing things, and since only one company can own that, it means monopolies will be much easier to form - and it will also be much harder for new entrants.

I think pinch to zoom is pretty innovative and someone should get credit for coming up with that idea. Without it, I bet we'd see the classic magnifying glass in the bottom corner of every screen to zoom.

Simple does not mean obvious. UX designers need to protect their work and creativity.

I'm waiting for the producers of Minority Report (2002) to start suing everyone since that movie clearly demonstrated swipe, pinch-to-zoom and other "innovative" UI elements. </sarcasm>

Nothing is ever truly innovative. Nearly everything, quite literally everything, is built on something else.

Apple, at its core, is actually the BEST IN THE WORLD at not innovating, but perfecting someone else's design. And that is my problem with this whole farce. Apple isn't an innovative company, at all. Apple is, however, excellent at seeing what others are doing and out doing them at their own game. They don't 'invent', they never have. They tweak, they massage and they simplify (some could argue that this is innovative, but I'm going to use the term like it is being used in court...is they are actually inventing a concept that didn't exist before).

You know, I was just thinking the same thing about Minority Report. How does that not serve as prior art? I'm sure there are plenty of others before this as well.

Someone commented on that blog about the TED talk that did a demo on "the pinch": http://www.ted.com/talks/jeff_han_demos_his_breakthrough_tou...

Uhh, because fictional representations of devices without sufficient information on how to actually construct them isn't prior art?

I guarantee you, if you invent a matter/energy transporter you will be able to patent it despite Star Trek having put it on screen almost 50 years ago.

Did you see the video I linked to? This was actually real and that video is dated 1 year before the iPhone was even announced, let alone released.

Besides, as far as I've read (and I haven't read the details of the patents themselves) they are patenting the concept of the pinch-to-zoom, not the actual implementation, otherwise Samsung would just have a slightly different technical implementation of it right...

You can't get utility patents for "concepts". They patented a specific way to do pinch-to-zoom on mobile devices with capacitive touch screens (and interacting with an event loop). Which is a similar, but not identical, problem to doing multitouch pinch-to-zoom on a projector-based system as in the demo.

Which is as silly as those patents which essentially took existing ideas and added "on the web" to the end of them. Not saying you're wrong, just what everyone else has been screaming - the patent system is broken!

The company that designed the interface in Minority Report is OOOii. They actually did implement the user interfaces portrayed in the movie:


Beacuse Minority Report is a movie, and Prior Art tends to require an actual implementation using the same methods claimed in the patent? But if you wanted to pretend that you could claim a movie as real, the implementation is different, in that they used their fingers to frame (the "L" shape), and pinch-to-zoom uses only two fingers in no particular location, other than that they move away from each other.

Ok, but also view th TEDtalk I linked to, it has an actual implementation and Jeff Han zooms in using 2 fingers.

To be fair, Minority report uses a really lame one hand approaching another zoom which obviously wouldn't work for a touchscreen device.

Nothing is ever truly innovative. Nearly everything, quite literally everything, is built on something else.

Your first statement is being contradicted by your second statement which is almost the exact definition of the word innovation.

>> someone should get credit for coming up with that idea

If the execute well on that idea, they do get credit, in the form of business. If you come up with Korean tacos first, and they're good, you get lots of business. We don't have to start shutting down your competition and guaranteeing you're the only Korean taco stand in town in order for you to benefit from your work.

>> UX designers need to protect their work and creativity.

I don't know if you're in the U.S., but this is precisely the opposite of the rationale for intellectual property according to the US Constitution. It grants Congress power "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries".

The goal is to promote progress; exclusive rights are a sacrifice, for a limited time only, made in order to benefit the public.

If the public begins to lose out because of these monopolies, the Constitution would not support their existence.

* If the execute well on that idea, they do get credit, in the form of business. If you come up with Korean tacos first, and they're good, you get lots of business. We don't have to start shutting down your competition and guaranteeing you're the only Korean taco stand in town in order for you to benefit from your work.*

Invention and innovation cost a lot of money. The taco example won't work but if you invest a ton of money to develop something, you deserve a temporary monopoly on the innovation/invention so you could get a return on your investment.

If anyone would be allowed to copy you, the margins go way down and you'll never profit on the investment.

The goal is to promote progress; exclusive rights are a sacrifice, for a limited time only, made in order to benefit the public.

I don't see the conflict here. The public gets to enjoy your innovation/invention after a period of time which is designed to give you incentive to innovate/invent.

Without that temporary monopoly, no one would invest in major R&D.

The purpose of patents is not to protect your clever ideas because you're special and you deserve it. That's what copyright is for (copyright carries certain restrictions however).

Patents are in fact an exchange; something for something. Society gives you a temporary monopoly, that means society incurs a certain loss. However in exchange you reveal all your secrets about how you did it. On the balance of things both you and society are better off. This was one of the things that made guilds obsolete (which existed to protect trade secrets) and so gave us a much more open, fast paced, modern world.

Now here's the problem. There is nothing secret about pinch-to-zoom! It makes sense to patent novel innovations in how a specific implementation of pinch-to-zoom works. But patenting a gesture that is so obvious you don't even need a scrap of expertise in the field to see? Ridiculous.

This is why a lot of people are beginning to question just what society is getting in exchange for the types of patents being issued today.

Now here's the problem. There is nothing secret about pinch-to-zoom! It makes sense to patent novel innovations in how a specific implementation of pinch-to-zoom works. But patenting a gesture that is so obvious you don't even need a scrap of expertise in the field to see? Ridiculous.

You consider it obvious, the courts do not. Simple is not the same as obvious.

You're missing the point. Perhaps it was my fault for using a word that is already loaded with meaning in the context of the patent system, but it wasn't my intention for it to be used in the same way. What I was talking about has nothing to do with how original the idea might be. Let me explain.

The problem with the secret guilds wasn't that they didn't create publicly available products. Of course they did. The point was that even upon seeing what they had created, the average expert would have a hard time figuring out how they did it. Patents made that knowledge available to everyone.

There is no need for the disclosure of any secrets with something like pinch-to-zoom. You pinch. It zooms. Even a child can grasp that. This is why I said it might make sense to patent a specific implementation of pinch-to-zoom, but not the concept.

Additionally, granting a patent here in no way even protects innovation. The patent holder would have implemented pinch-to-zoom whether they could monopolise it or not because it would sell their products.

Society gains nothing it wouldn't anyway, and is forced to waste time enforcing stupid monopolies.

Hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue and an unprecedented leap to the top of the list of most valuable companies in the world seems like pretty good compensation already, no?

The compensation is due to the system in place. Take that away and their ability to be compensated in the same way goes away.

so you mean after you reach a certain valuation all your IP should be taken away? WTF.

No, he just means that Apple would have been well-rewarded by its innovation even if it hadn't been granted the patents in question, ergo, it wasn't necessary to grant the patents to encourage innovation.

Patents should not be granted willy-nilly, and especially not on broad 'implementations' that essentially cover the whole concept, because then it just turns into a huge land grab.

I'm already wondering if I should attempt to patent any half-cool idea I implement on my site, even though the idea of it stinks to me. With the way doubtful patents appear to be less spurious than expected, I'd be remiss not to grab my share of the land where I could. That's a crappy state of affairs, to have to attempt to patent everything that moves.

Credit - yes. A pat on the back and maybe a nice statue somewhere.

A 25 year monopoly with legally-enforceable rent? No.

You can't recoup millions in R&D investments with a pat on the back. The system is designed to encourage investment and risk taking to create something with the reward of profit.

But pinch to zoom is not invented by Apple. Microsoft Surface implemented it before, also it was shown in some scifi movies way before then.

I'm not clear on this and haven't got around to reading the patent to try and figure it out.

This is the patent in question: http://www.google.com/patents/US7469381

This patent is more limited: http://www.google.com/patents/US7812826 as discussed here: http://www.engadget.com/2010/10/13/apple-awarded-limited-pat...

However - it was granted after the first patent (2010 vs 2008)

That first one isn't related to multitouch, it's about bounce-back when scrolling with a single finger.

That's true. Can't someone successfully contest it, then?

Iirc the groklaw point was that

1) Yes there is prior art

but Samsung lost because

2) It was shown that Samsung was willfully trying to make its products similar to Apple's.

There are some further murky corners to the verdict, one aspect which seems will be contested is the size of the damages. The Jury foreman stated that they valued the damages to be "more than a slap on the wrist".

Whereas the instructions given clearly state that the jury is not to levy punitive damages, but to recoup losses incurred by the infringed.

Edit: Going to double check just to be sure.


Iirc the groklaw point was that

1) Yes there is prior art

but Samsung lost because

2) It was shown that Samsung was willfully trying to make its products similar to Apple's.

There are some further murky corners to the verdict, one aspect which seems will be contested is the size of the damages. The Jury foreman stated that they valued the damages to be "more than a slap on the wrist".

Whereas the instructions given clearly state that the jury is not to levy punitive damages, but to recoup losses incurred by the infringed.

Edit: Going to double check just to be sure.

Update: From the verdict:

Patent invalidity, Samsung had to prove apple invalid - No, across the board for all patents brought up.

Apple contested that 3 feature related patents and 4 design patents were infringed

  a) '381 - rubber band - valid / Samsung infringed
  b) ’915 - pinch to zoom or scroll - valid / Samsung infringed
  c) ’163 - multi-tap to zoom - valid / Samsung infringed
Samsung also was found to be willfully infringing.

  d) '667 - iPhone front design - valid / infringed /willful
  e) '087 - iPhone back design - valid / infringed /willful
  f) '305 - iPhone home screen - valid / infringed /willful
  g) '889 - iPad design - no infringement 
Apple has only proven that the unregistered iPhone 3G trade dress is protectable. Negative on the iPhone / iPad combo and the iPad / iPad 2 trade dress

This is a pretty broad sweep of the verdict, a lot of the verdict breaks down onto whether Samsung Telecom America (STA), Samsung Electronics (SEC) and Samsung Engineering America (SEA). This is further broken down over each product which is found to be infringing.





yet another edit: Also to be noted is that none of Samsung's claims against Apple were found valid.

Thank you for that comment. I find it weird that the patent was not only not invalidated, but Samsung was found infringing, even with the Surface prior art clearly existing.

Me too.

IANAL, sadly; interpreting this thing would take a lot of time and effort for a lay man.

I can understand them getting hit on willful infringement, but the way the verdict was read out, they got hit for infringement first, and then willful infringement.

I'm confused too.

> UX designers need to protect their work and creativity.

You're obviously not familiar with the spirit behind Intellectual Property. IP is supposed to protect consumers, not inventors. Protecting inventors is just a means to an end. When you say we should protect designers just out of protecting designers' sake. Then you're inverting the logic. We should only protect designers when doing so is in the best interest of users (meaning it will bring more innovation to the market). This is obviously not the case here. So no, designers do not need to protect their work, if that means abusing consumers.

I suggest that you are not familiar with the spirit. It has nothing to do with protecting consumers. It has everything to do with encouraging innovation/invention that will eventually be freely available to the public.

To achieve that goal, investors need time to make their R&D investment back, plus enough profit to make the venture/risk worthwhile.

The pinch gesture can be traced back to 1983: http://www.billbuxton.com/multitouchOverview.html

Pinch to zoom is a skeuomorphic gesture, similar to stretching a slab of silly putty to enlarge a pencil drawing. There are only a few ways of manipulating the apparent size of a physical object, such as changing your view to make the object seem larger, or stretching the object itself. Any engineer translating those to multitouch would come up with similar gestures.

Also, when you mention that UX designers need to "protect" their designs, it sounds like you are arguing from an artist's perspective that all creative work "deserves" some kind of legal protection. That is what copyrights are for. However, this problem must be approached from an engineering perspective, as it deals with machines that serve a purpose, and can only be implemented in a very limited set of ways.

"I think pinch to zoom is pretty innovative and someone should get credit for coming up with that idea."

Pinch to zoom is there since multitouch technology in the 1980s. Once you start experimenting with multitouch, pinch to zoom is obvious in 5 min. It was very common in the industry. I was using it for transforming(amplifying an rotating) and moving vertex of an "elastic"(tesselated) vector shape in the early 2000s, late 90s, and we were not the first to do it with wacom multitouch. The same with "bouncing effect" that is just adding elasticity force to elements.

The problem is that someone could take what already exist in the desktop and patent it "on a mobile device", or "in the browser" and have a monopoly for 20 years.

This is as simple as the US gov selling monopolies to the highest bidder.

If you're the UX designer who came up with the human hand, by all means, patent away.

As a UX designer (in training), I disagree with your sentiment when you say "UX designers need to protect their work and creativity" when it comes to a gesture like pinch to zoom.

Our work may need to be protected, but when it comes to gestures, I'd want my work to be copied and become standardized. If I had invented pinch to zoom, becoming a standard would be the ultimate validation of my work, as I'd want to improve everyone's experience. That's just my personal philosophy, however.

Designers (UX or any other kind) should protect their work and creativity with copyright, not with patents.

Or should any new idea be protected with a patent? Comedians come out with new funny ideas every day, should they get patents on them?

I think Android should implement a clock-wise single finger "circle around an object" to zoom and counter-clock-wise to unzoom. Just like the "undo" option in Paper. That's pretty cool.

Strangely when someone asked how else zooming could be done the first thing I thought of was a circle clockwise and anti clockwise.

Follow to the logical conclusion. Did you think of it quickly? Then someone patented it. You know, so you don't go and "steal" their "innovation".

Personally I think pinch-to-zoom doesn't work very well anyway. It always seems to zoom in too quickly or too slowly; the amount of zoom seems arbitrary.

What I've always wanted was to be able to put two fingers to mark the top left and bottom right of a bounding box which would mark how much to zoom in and hold for, say, half a second. To zoom out use two fingers to mark the top right and bottom left of the bounding box you want the current screen to zoom out to (again hold for half a second). This would be much more accurate. The time delay is to allow for mis-taps and to give the user time to get the bounding box the right size.

A variation would be similar but would be something like:

- hold two fingers on the screen until you get a bounding box like above.

- move the bounding box to the correct size.

- let go and the zoom happens.

With this method you could cancel the zoom action by collapsing the bounding box on itself vertically or horizontally.

Those are probably patented, also.

Interesting, how would you differentiate between zooming in and zooming out though?

Zooming in is with fingers at top left and bottom right, zooming out is with fingers at top right and bottom left.

So far this only applies to the USA, right? Will companies ship their products with pinch-to-zoom to the rest of the world?

I think it's instructive to look away from the world of operating systems, which have been under legal threat since the 80's and thus have always been under an anti-competitive, anti-innovative shadow. The fact that so few companies tried what Apple did with UI speaks as much to the intimidation inherent in the industry than to Steve Job's genius.

Whenever I ask myself if patents are necessary to promote innovation, I think of music software, where copying is a fact of life yet highly original ideas emerge year after year. Whenever something useful emerges (like Ableton Live's once innovative "session view" where you launch repeating music clips) it's usually copied by half the industry within a few versions and nobody even blinks.

In the mean time, the biggest incumbents (Avid's Pro Tools, Steinberg's Cubase) have remained seemingly profitable businesses, and consumers have benefited from abundant choice. The competition has also encouraged the software makers to add a lot of value in the form of lots of included content (soft synths, effects, loops, etc.). And funny enough, the more innovative companies (Ableton, Propellerhead, Cycling 74 spring to mind) keep coming up with interesting ideas.

"We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas..." - Steve Jobs http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CW0DUg63lqU

"I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple's $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong. I'm going to destroy Android because it's a stolen product. I'm willing to go thermonuclear war on this." - Steve Jobs

IP laws have to do an impossible task.

They need to separate innovation into two piles based on whether an innovation would have/could have happened without that party and (though this seems to be easy to forget).

That's what these laws are supposed to be doing. The problem is that this is a job that legal systems (laws, lawmaker, courts, etc) are not well suited for. Even if you leave aside problems like big patentholders in existing industries & companies out-lobbying potential future beneficiaries of reduced patent protection (future businesses & consumers) it would be hard to make laws that woud do this job effectively. Laws that will do the job effectively for generations are virtually impossible.

I think that Apple did do something with iphones that may not have happened without them. That said, I don't think that any of these specific patents capture that.

RE: it would be hard to make laws that woud do this job effectively

- Playing devil's advocate, doesn't law ultimately assign this task to humans? ie, the patent office? And reviewers?

- Clearly, the reviewers are outgunned. Both intellectually, and tactically. For example, the trend of making overly broad claims. This can effectively mask the prior art. It makes a "needle in a haystack" problem for the reviewer. By generalizing the case, when the prior art is specific examples.

I think the task has to be shared which is how it is set up to work. Patent office employees & judges are people.

But, laws don't just lay out their goal and let people get to work. They break it down into much smaller judgments. Things like novelty, non-obviousness, subject matter & applicability.

"Would have probably been invented regardless of patent law" is to vague to be a law and too difficult to ask bureaucrats to ascertain.

Ideas of "principle" vs "rules" based decisionmaking have a long history of debate. As you note, writing perfect rules to cover all scenarios ex-ante is nearly impossible.

That leaves us the task to debate virtue of new and existing principles, and find a way to incorporate discretion and expertise. The issue is making sure that discretion doe not get manipulated/gamed as well.

How do we do that?

Society today is very much every man/special interest for himself.

It could also be that the system of laws, lawmakers, courts & bureaucrats is just not very good at this sort of thing. Imagine that for some reason we needed this system to make decisions based on niceness or sexiness.

"Obviousness" is in the eyes of the beholder

The irony of bureaucrats judging (lack of) inventiveness

Question: Can I start a small dev company in some other country thereby bypassing any patent trolls? Perhaps somewhere like Sweeden where they are much more sane about these issues?

If this is the case, all we are ending up doing is driving technology away from the USA, and continuing to kill our economy.

If the company does any business with people in the US, patent trolls can attack it - perhaps the most famous recent example being the Uniloc vs. Mojang case: http://notch.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/mojang.pdf

Unfortunately you'd still have to contend with the trolls if you wanted to sell your product/service in the USA.

It depends on where your customer is located. Selling to a USA customer is opening you up to the US legislation for that specific transaction. IANAL.

Patents are important protections designed to protect the hard work of individuals from the onslaught of more powerful forces... I've got one myself (a utility patent)


This is more akin to privatizing the alphabet...

Not exactly a great way to stimulate civilization's advance.

(This comes from an S2 user with Pinch-To-Zoom.)

First, Pinch-To-Zoom is the best idea anyone has come up with yet, but it certainly won't be the last.

If anything, this decision forces Google/Samsung etc. to innovate a better solution. If you don’t think one exists, I think you are sorely mistaken. Pinch-To-Zoom needs to be used by 2 hands (one to pinch, one to hold the phone) which inherently is annoying.

If the patents are trivial, obvious, etc. other companies will find workarounds and some of those workarounds will be better than what is currently available.

In 12 months, this lawsuit will be meaningless because technology will keep advancing forward.

Samsung can:

1. Negotiate a license with Apple to use patented gestures. => Reduces profit margins on Samsung phones. Bad news.

2. Invent/use other gestures. => Forces users to learn new gestures. Should be fine.

3. Challenge the patent system claiming User Interface patents should not be. => Re-initiates the debate on the use of patents to protect inventions/stop innovation, in particular when it comes to UIs. The real question.

Let's refocus. This question requires a deeper analysis than a simple analogy with car manufacturers, but fortunately does not require hackers to turn IP experts.

Please stop blaming Apple and start blaming the patent system itself. Samsung would have done the exact same thing if they had those patents or came out with iPhone first.

Apple and the patent system are equally at fault in my opinion. The patent system for creating the circumstances that allowed this lawsuit and others, and Apple (and Samsung, Motorola, etc.) for filing the actual patents and lawsuits.

Tech companies have free will, they could have chosen to fight software patents from the start.

And you know this for a fact how?

Because almost all companies (and people) inherently behave in a way that is in their own best interests. Owning critical smartphone patents is clearly in the interest of people in the smartphone business.

Blame is not zero sum, we can do both.

Any reason/proof Pinch-To-Zoom (and the other Apple patents in the Samsung case) will not be licensed under FRAND ?

FRAND is not really a legal definition in the US (although that's changing somewhat as more precedent is being set).

So far it's almost always been enforcement of agreements (through actual contracts and implicit licenses) due to the patent holder participating in things like standards bodies. That's why most of the major standards bodies require patent disclosure and some sort of patent license (whether it's royalty free or otherwise) in order to participate in them.

In any case, I don't believe pinch to zoom is currently being standardized anywhere, so why would it be licensed under FRAND terms?

I like Posner's argument where many of these types of patents, if they're going to be granted at all, should be held to essentially FRAND terms (since there aren't really any damages you can show in the case of infringement), but we'll see how that goes.

FRAND only applies as a legal principle of the patent in question is part of an industry standard. So a Samsung patent that got incorporated into the UMTS should become a FRAND patent. The rules do vary from standards body to standards body.

Google has argued that industry-common patents, not just industry-standard patents, should fall under FRAND terms as well. In other words a patent that enables multitouch gestures is so essential to modern smartphones that you can't compete without it.

I'm still ambivalent on the whole patent question, though I'm intrigued by the idea of making all patents licensable under FRAND terms.

FRAND terms in this case can only be "reasonable" and "nondiscriminatory" if they also account for copyleft, ceative commons, and open source implementations.

Apple said that they, in the prelude to the suit, talked with Samsung about licensing their patents. So all in all I don't think apple has a monopoly since they will likely be forced to license their patents.

Another article that doesn't get patents right.

"Apple did first in iOS now only iOS can use them"

No, everyone can use, as long as they pay Apple whatever they ask for the royalties, or get sued by ridiculously sums of money.

The monopoly is not on the invention - the monopoly is on the legal right to ask any value from, or sue, whoever implements similar idea.

That is what's f* up about patents, because otherwise, it would be a great idea since you can build upon other's inventions and the inventor still gets financial return for R&D.

I can imagine what he is saying. In a Cherokee 180 4 person airplane you do steer on the ground with your feet and control the throttle with your hand. In a Gulfstar 50 you steer on the ground with a dial for your left hand placed off on the left. You need training to use each machine. The world has not come to a screeching halt just because not all airplanes have the same controls.

But what is your point? Is a majority of the world population going to fly one of those airplanes as part of their daily routine soon?

That seems like a silly argument. The amount of time a person has to invest to be trained sufficiently to fly an airplane is huge. The amount of time required to then have to pick up completely different user interfaces probably doesn't seem very large by comparison.

But could you imagine having to spend large amounts of time training for every mundane interaction with technology around you? The way aeroplanes work today there probably isn't a way to make flying them intuitive to a novice, but that's not an argument to make everything else painful to pick up when it doesn't need to be.

Yet all cars steer using the steering wheel. I think it's a pity to introduce unnecessary differences just because trivial things are being patented. (trivial on my opinion, others may disagree)

What I don't understand, is how Apple market these gestures as being very "human". If they are so natural, how can they be patented?

Because the method of translating the gesture into digital signals is ingenious - like how the Kinnect and Wii capture natural gestures and movements (note how they were able to innovate round each others patents).

Has anyone used Aldiko ebook reader on android? It uses the right edge of the mobile's screen to change its brightness. With your thumb, trace the right edge towards the top and brightness increases, down and it decreases. I wonder if something similar could be used for zooming. You don't need two fingers to zoom!

I don't think we need anymore of these threads. It's getting repetitive. There are too many emotional individuals on all sides of the fence that are adding nothing of value to the debate. If you want to flame that's fine, go do it on Reddit or try the Ars Technia battlefront forum.

US patent business is really sad. Looks patents are given without doing enough investigation. I remember turmeric and neem get patented by some university of US, where India is using these herb from ancient time. Is it really given to protect someone's innovation?

Does this mean Metro apps need new guidelines? Here is the documentation for optical zooming in Metro: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/windows/apps/hh46530...


I looked at your link. There is no "steering wheel patent". Those are specific patents about specific innovations in the implementation of the steering wheel.

It blew my mind when I learned about d-pad patents for video game consoles. Ever wonder why Playstation had to use that awkward combination of 4 arrow-like things pointing towards each other? Patents.

Submarine patent http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Submarine_patent

Well, I guess it's better than having to deal with that.

I asked in another thread, but the first few versions of android didn't have these features, what changed?

Not much worse than Amazon's Monopoly on 1 click ordering.

Great artists steal... good artists get caught?

All the cited apple patents on multitouch gestures appear to be filed since Jeff Han's TED talk - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QKh1Rv0PlOQ - which clearly demonstrates many of the patented techniques. I find it really hard to understand how any of these patents were awarded.

[edit] Some of the quotes from his 2006 presentation are quite relevant to this...

... "Now, multi-touch sensing isn't anything- isn't completely new, I mean, people like Bill Buxton have been playing around with it in the '80s." ...

... "Now this is a photographer's light box application. Again, I can use both of my hands to kind of interact and move photos around. But, what's even cooler-

(uses fingers to 'grab' two corners of one of the photos and 'pulls' it to full screen size)

is that, if I have two fingers, I can actually grab a photo and then stretch it out like that really easily. I can pan, zoom, and rotate it effortlessly.

(slides piles of photos around)

I can do that grossly with both of my hands,

(pulls photo out of stack & enlarges it)

or if I can do it just with two fingers on each of my hands together.

(grabs empty space around photos & zooms in and out of canvas)

If I grab the canvas I can kind of do the same thing- stretch it out- I can do it simultaneously, where I'm holding this down-

(holds pile of photos down while pulling out another)

-and gripping on another one, stretching this out like this.

Again, the interface just disappears here. There's no manual. This is exactly what you kind of expect, especially if you haven't interacted with a computer before." ...

Which sort of begs the question that if an expert in the field thinks the gesture is exactly what you would expect, even if you had no expertise whatsoever, then how does that not qualify as obvious?

“All the cited apple patents on multitouch gestures appear to be filed since Jeff Han's TED talk”

FingerWorks, a pioneer in multitouch gestures, filed for (and received) boatloads of patents. Apple bought FingerWorks in 2005, inheriting its intellectual property. The scientists came to work for Apple and continued to file patents for the research that they had done since the nineties.

“In June 2005, FingerWorks officially announced they were no longer in business. The founders continued to file and process patents for their work through late 2007. And as of August 2008 they still filed patents for Apple, Inc.” [1]

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FingerWorks

Beyond that, we need to consider priority dates when determining when something was 'invented' when it comes to prior art.

Note the application referenced downthread (20060238520) is a continuation of a 2004 filing, itself a continuation of a 2001 filing, itself a divisional of a 1999 filing which claimed priority based on a provisional 1998 filing. [1]

So to challenge that application, you'd need to find art circa at least 1998. And even then you have to consider the USPTO's (now legacy) practice of recognizing date of invention, rather than filing. Which means you may have to find art even older than 1998, to get that bit invalidated.

[1] Patent applications are rarely straightforward affairs. The process of mapping what we colloquially think of as "an invention" (awesome new widget) to patent applications often entails the creation of a family of patent applications. It gets very messy, very quickly.

So this expires 1998+20=2018?

No, it expires based on when it was granted not the priority date. However, different parts of the same patent can have different priority dates if they where not in the initial filing. So, some prior art after 1998 may still be relevant.

This is why a lot of patent trolls would drag their feet as long as possible in the hopes that someone would actually research, prototype and bring to market what they've "invented". These so-called submarine patents then surface to sink the company who's done all the work.

It's my understanding that the USPTO is trying to limit the ability of companies to do this though.

^ Wayne Westerman, 1999. Hand Tracking, Finger Identification, and Chordic Manipulation on a Multi-Touch Surface



Ref, note [1]


Wayne Westerman is one of the identified Inventors. Published papers/articles by the inventors can count against their being able to get a patent, dependent upon the character of the disclosure (did they tell a couple friends or write a widely circulated article? etc) and how long before the filing that disclosure was made.

Since this appears to be dated after the priority date, I don't think it would pose any problem, even if it were published in a professional journal.

Software patents like this should never be granted. Any kind of gesture we naturally do in the real world quite obviously can be rendered in software. There's nothing "invented" here. Microsoft was similarly granted a patent for grasping an object in 3d. If every possible human action can be granted a software patent, then computing in the future is going to become awfully ridiculous.

I was curious about the difference between Han's technology, and the iPhone's. In Han's words, his device is pressure based: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZv1nBM8zsI (he also believes that the scale of the devices puts them into completely different categories.) I read up a little on the differences between pressure and capacitive devices, and one that stands out is that capacitive surfaces can emit more light, because less layers are required beneath the glass.

(Edit: I meant to post this as a reply to the grandparent comment, not the parent post about FingerWorks. Whoops.)

Hans device is light based and makes use of frustrated total internal reflection of infra-red light being shone into the edge of the touch surface that is then picked up by an infra-red camera that is sitting next to a projector underneath the table.

Just had a look at their patents, and found this line in their gesture patent -

Identification and classification of intuitive hand configurations and motions - http://appft1.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO2&Se...

How is the use of intuitive gestures not obvious, entirely by definition?

When looking at patents you need to go beyond the title and read the full patent. It rarely broadly covers the title description.

There is a big difference between dreaming about something and actually doing it. For example, everyone knew what a flying machine was, centuries before it was invented. Clearly this doesn't mean that creating that machine was actually obvious. With computing it is similar, there are lots of "inventions" dreamed about by science fiction writers that are simply not possible today. When such innovations become possible, they will need to be protected.

And yet the wright brothers were not granted a patent on "things that fly". They were granted patents on some specific machines they invented that could fly. But the patents were about the mechanical machines themselves. If someone else had come along and invented a totally different means of flying (like a helicopter) they would not have been infringing on their patents. This is a patent on "things that fly".

Apples patents are clearly not patents on "smartphones with a rectangular touchscreen and no external UI buttons", but they cover many inventions that make such a phone usable.

Likewise, apart from a totally different kind of flying machine like a helicopter, there probably isn't any better method of controlling an airplane than the method covered by Wrights patents (since it specifically does not exclude non-wing warping control designs), which is why the basic mode of control is still in use today. So Wrights patents at the time might as well be called a patents on "things that fly". It was very difficult to make a controllable plane without violating the patent.

Likewise, unless you equip a phone with dedicated zoom controls, there probably isn't a better or more intuitive way of zooming than using pinch-to-zoom or double tapping.

> Apples patents are clearly not patents on "smartphones with a rectangular touchscreen and no external UI buttons", but they cover many inventions that make such a phone usable.

Actually, per my understanding, Apple's design patents are exactly that (if you throw in beveled corners). It's true, though, that those aren't the patents at issue in this thread.

Yes, but design patents are a different animal, and AFAIK much easier to work around. So if they changed just one aspect of the design (making it less likely to be confused), Apple would have a harder time enforcing it.

Lots of devices do not infringe on Apple's iPhone trade dress (ie, design patents). Devices that sell millions of units a quarter.

>When such innovations become possible, they will need to be protected.

The underlying implementation details should be protected, sure, but not the idea itself. Just because you're the first to successfully make a flying machine doesn't mean someone competing with you, implementing it in a different underlying way, shouldn't be able to make a flying machine.

Under that argument shouldn't the patents apply to the capacitive touch surfaces and not the gestures?

"Method for transportation by flying vehicle" is very different from "Construction method of flux capacitor that provides enough energy to power flying vehicles". The first is obvious and there is prior art even if people could not build it. The concepts of pinch-to-zoom or slide-to-unlock are obvious to even people without Phds in touch surface technologies.

Anything intuitive by definition should not be patentable.

A multi-touch screen, like a design for an airplane should be patentable. It actually takes serious R&D and discovers things that were not understood before. Obvious things you can do with multi-touch screen or airplane should not be patenable. Any programmer that had a multi-touch screen to play with would come up with pinch to zoom. Allowing pinch to zoom to be patented is like patenting aerial photography, an obvious use of an airplane.

I think the important point is that "obvious" has a very precise meaning for patents, and it's not what you think it means. . There was a great IAmA on reddit with a patent examiner that's worth reading: http://www.reddit.com/r/Android/comments/ww982/iama_patent_e...

This needs many upvotes. That IAmA is rather worth reading, with the in-depth responses of the two patent examiners to questions. For example, I think most people here wouldn't know that the "obviousness" of a idea is determined by whether previous patents or prior art can be combined to produce that idea (and not by whether a professional in the field would judge it to be obvious, or any other standard). Furthermore, prior art can include products/art from anywhere in the world, patented or not.

Some great questions and comments there too. I like the one by futurespacetraveler, apparently also of HN, who said this:


The price we pay to incentivize an inventor to disclose their invention is with decades of protection from competition. For a utility patent, that's 20 years from the date of the patent grant. And we always pay the same price, regardless of the underlying value of the invention to our society. So whether you invent a new method of swinging in a swing or a new drug to fight cancer, we pay the same price to know how it works.

And I think that's one of the key perspectives that often gets overlooked. We are paying for knowledge. The inventor is supposed to have figured something out that even skilled practitioners in the art hadn't thought of. We are paying for the secret sauce, so to speak. I think sofware "inventions", for many of us skilled in the art, seem so obviously non-insightful that we can't believe society has paid for such "knowledge" with a patent. Many of us realize that we don't even need to read most software patents to learn how to do what it explains. We're paying for "I was here first", rather than "I finally solved the problem no one else could". Yet we pay the same price regardless. That's why the Defend Innovation site wants to limit software patent terms to 5 years. Patent protection should be proportional to the value of the invention. But I believe that should be true for any invention.

Patent protection should be proportional to the value of the invention

He was making sense up until that point. The value of patent protection to society is determined by the potential harm done to the progress of science and the useful arts that would result if the IP had been kept as a trade secret. In the case of pinch-and-zoom gestures the net benefit to society gained by allowing Apple to own the idea is demonstrably nonexistent.

Apple sold a hundred million iPhones before they ever set foot in a courtroom. Clearly patent protection was not necessary to allow them to recoup their investment a thousand times over. Meanwhile, the harm done to competition by granting them a 20-year monopoly on the basic UI paradigm is easily estimable in the trillions of dollars, if they succeed in enjoining Samsung and other manufacturers.

Trillions of dollars ? Are you serious ?

I can think of at least 4 different ways to implement zooming without using pinch to zoom. So this idea that it is worth trillions is bizarre.

I, too, can think of at least 4 different ways to implement zooming that would suck and not sell very well.

You seriously don't think that Samsung's line of smartphones would bring in a trillion dollars' revenue over 20 years, if left unmolested by Apple?

I believe the patent is for a specific implementation of identifying those intuitive gestures and generating corresponding user interface commands. That's what follows in the description of the algorithm and circuitry.

It isn't. Which is why it has this line in it -

[0046] It is to be understood that both the foregoing general description and the following detailed description are exemplary and explanatory only and are not restrictive of the invention as claimed.

The only things that matter with regards to patents, are the claims.

That line, and the general and detailed descriptions can be ignored entirely.

The claims for the pinch-to-zoom patent are broad enough to cover pinch to zoom on any touchscreen.

The claims as-filed, sure. But the USPTO doesn't generally update the published application to match the current document (including changed and struck claims) during the process.

So it's entirely possible that wording didn't survive.

In any event, it's hardly fair to judge a system based on the snapshot of a submission from before it had even gone through that system yet.

You can easily read all of that in the public PAIR database, it's not hard to find.

Btw the wording did indeed survive, the patent as it stands is sufficiently broad to cover all pinch-to-zoom implementations on any kind of touchscreen.

Many patents are "obvious" - after the fact.

Many patents are "obvious" before the fact, thus prior art.

Show us a patent that is not obvious.

You're kidding right? Sure, I'll dig through the patent lists for a few hours digging up the hundreds of examples of patents that were creative new ideas for their time. Very little of them will be software patents.

But this isn't a discussion about patents like that. This is a discussion about patents being granted for ideas that are simply innovations and/or copies of pre-existing ideas. That's completely different.

Not every patent is of equal creativity, importance, and value.

Being obvious doesn't make it prior art alone. If that were the case, Shazam would owe me millions.

I'm saying the patent was obvious before the fact because of prior art. Just because someone was the first to patent something doesn't mean that they can claim it was not obvious before their patent was issued.

If you had prior art that invalidates a patent it doesn't necessarily mean the owner of the patent owes you money.

If "intuitive" is so damn easy why are so many gadgets and appliances so hard to use?

Perhaps partially because you can patent intuitive.

It’s easy to use a good UI—not to create one.

Don't finger print readers violate this patent?

Please correct me if I'm wrong.

Apple probably got a patent on using those gestures on a handheld device, which no-one had demonstrated before because the touchscreen technology required to achieve it wasn't available yet. Apple didn't invent that technology, any more than they invented the gestures themselves, but because they were the first ones to take the obvious step of combining the two they get to patent it and have a monopoly on it for the next two decades.

I suppose it is a bit like wondering how Boeing got to own using the moon's gravity for orbital maneuvers. - http://www.space-travel.com/reports/Boeing_Patent_Shuts_Down...

I should stop looking for signs of any kind of sanity in the decision making processes of faceless bureaucracies, as it is entirely pointless and only causes me stress.

Industry sources have told SpaceDaily that the patent is regarded as legal "trite", as basic physics has been rebranded as a "process", and that the patent wouldn't stand up to any significant level of court scrutiny and was only registered at the time as "the patent office was incompetent when it came to space matters".

thanks for posting this. quoted text from the link.

I'm surprised Samsung didn't use this at the lawsuit. Or did they? Because I find this evidence of prior art better than that touch table they showed.

The jury completely ignored prior art anyway, because it was "bogging them down."

That's breathless headline BS. The actual statement is quite clear that to keep making progress they'd move on from what was bogging them down and come back to it later.

The actual statement is ambiguous:

After we debated that first patent -- what was prior art --because we had a hard time believing there was no prior art." "In fact we skipped that one," Ilagan continued, "so we could go on faster. It was bogging us down."

Unsurprisingly, the ambiguity leads to people reading what they want from it.

Granted, this excerpt seems ambiguous at first. A different quote had the phrase about coming back to it later. There's more context here though:

"We weren't impatient," Ilagan said. "We wanted to do the right thing, and not skip any evidence. I think we were thorough... we took our time. We didn't rush. We had a debate before we made a decision. Sometimes it was getting heated."

Even without context, what you quoted is not really that ambiguous. He says they debated it, so much debate that it was "bogging them down". That's not skipping it in the sense most people think skipping it means.

So "skipped it" in his words seems to just mean they moved on. Then since the question was answered on the verdict, they did clearly did come back to it to form a group consensus later.

I'm interested in this other quote that has the phrase about coming back to it later... Do you have a link?

>> A different quote had the phrase about coming back to it later.

Which other quote?


Sorry but I'm an asshole. You are using it wrong.

It depends on whether or not he meant it in the definition of a logical fallacy or in colloquial terms. Colloquial language, if properly understood in context, is not incorrect. In one episode of The Simpsons, someone says something to Fat Tony that he doesn't immediately understand, but (to paraphrase) he replies with "In context, it is clear what you mean."

Using "begs the question" to mean "raises the question" is a perfectly cromulant application. Latin may be a dead language, but English is alive and ever-changing.

Probably, but it still sort of fits this way round and it all seems to work. Let me know if any bits fall off and I'll give it a push and see what it does.

This is just a feeble attempt at discrediting Apple, pathetic really. "how does that not qualify as obvious?" If it was indeed so obvious for so long why did we have to wait until Apple did it for every one to realise it? Either Apple innovated or everyone else is an idiot for not doing what was obvious.

In either case the me-too idiots didn't realise how to implement control interfaces for touch screens until Apple showed them how to, at which point they tried to copy what the bright kid had done.

The point isn't that Apple didn't innovate.

The point is whether Apple's ideas are worth granting a monopoly over.

I recall playing with a Microsoft Surface the year before the iPhone got released, and lots of the mechanics were very similar. Pinch-and-zoom is the 'one-click-shopping', or the 'press tab to move to next selectable UI element' (also patented) of the touch interface; if you're being paid to develop it, you'd think about that concept in about five minutes.

Furthermore, do you really want to live in a world where Apple gets a monopoly on touch gestures? Describe a different zoom-in mechanic using only two fingers.

So you're basically saying that Apple innovated but it shouldn't be granted a protective patent. Isn't this what the patent system was created to do? I see a lot of complaints about when patents are wrongfully used, but this is the first time I see someone complaining when they are correctly used.

The story here seems to be that Apple did the right thing buying a company that developed an innovate technology. In other words, the small company the created the technology was compensated by its development. Now, you think that a company like Samsung can just say "no, this is obvious" and start using that same innovation without any compensation or agreement? This is what seems crazy to me.

> Isn't this what the patent system was created to do? I see a lot of complaints about when patents are wrongfully used, but this is the first time I see someone complaining when they are correctly used.

I'm saying the system is broken - not an uncommon argument here on HN - because I don't think these are ideas worth protecting.

Did you spend $10 million dollars investigating the right kind of chemical coating to get glass to respond to finger tips? Maybe you can get a monopoly on that.

Did you have an engineer dick around in a lab for a week? Why are we protecting this? We're basically rewarding incumbents.

Being a software engineer I obviously can't comment on other fields. But it strikes me that a huge proportion of these patents were awarded on incredibly specious grounds. I know innovation is obvious in hindsight but… I think these kinds of wide-swath patents destroy competition which harms all of us.

Patents as they stand today destroy more social value than they produce.

You are creating a purely rhetorical distinction here. There is nothing that can be so complex that it cannot be replicated by someone else -- that is the whole definition of engineering.

What you're saying that is that if it is innovation in materials research then it is valuable (probably because you and me don't know anything about it). But software engineering is not, probably because you could (in theory) do something similar. Let me tell you: if you were the one doing the design of a motion sensing system, I can bet it wouldn't be "easy". And you would want some kind of protection for your efforts. It is too simple to disregard somebody else's effort when making a hypothetical point.

> if you were the one doing the design of a motion sensing system, I can bet it wouldn't be "easy"

WELL… I never took any visual recognition courses in university. But there is a large amount of literature on the subject. I think there may have been more innovation producing cheap infrared 3d sensors that work reliably than converting that vector field into a bit of math you can pattern match - but what do I know?

We're disagreeing on the "obviousness" of these patents.

>The aspect of a patentable invention most difficult to judge is obviousness. An invention is patentable only if it is not obvious to a person who is typically educated or trained in the field of the invention.


I'm trained in the art and I think pinch to zoom is obvious. It would be the first thing you try right after scrolling.

At the end of the day, I think the USPTO has been far too lax in what they consider obvious or not obvious. And yeah, frankly, I think a stunningly large percentage of all software patents are 'too obvious'.

None of the examples of patent trolling we've seen are really 'misuses' of the system.

Let me tell you: if you were the one doing the design of a motion sensing system, I can bet it wouldn't be "easy".

This sentence makes no sense. The patent in question is not on a single technical implementation of pinch-to-zoom; it is on pinch-to-zoom in general. It does not merely protect the (easy) engineering needed to detect two fingers pinching, it protects the idea of "two fingers pinching = zoom". This is an obvious idea, and should not be protected by patents.

>So you're basically saying that Apple innovated but it shouldn't be granted a protective patent. Isn't this what the patent system was created to do?

It was created to encourage R&D by granting those who come up with complex implementations a window in which they can recoup the expenses. It wasn't created so the first person to implement an idea in general can have a competitive advantage.

If companies had used the patent system to create artificial monopolies in this fashion throughout the development of personal computing, we'd be living in much less functional world.

The very existence of personal computing disproves your point. The patent system is not a new invention, and there are thousands of patents in every step of this development. Each company creates patents and then licenses them to other companies interested in the technology.

>The very existence of personal computing disproves your point.

Hardly. Of course the patent system isn't new, Apple just isn't behaving like personal computing companies have historically behaved. Licensing complex things like algorithmic implementations hasn't been uncommon, but licensing obvious UI ideas has been.

Apple licenses 1-click shopping from Amazon... see how the game is played? It's real simple.

I did further down: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4443294

Personally I think it's better too.

A bit more like, Apple buying the rights from a group who was patenting what was being done in the field at around the same time as other people were also building similar systems.

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