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PhiNotPi's avatar

What do you think about Apple patenting the "slide to unlock" feature of its phones?

Asked by PhiNotPi (12241 points ) October 27th, 2011

I just found out that the “slide to unlock” feature on iPod Touches and other products has been patented. No other phone is now allowed to use the same gesture to unlock the phone. What do you think about this? Should companies be able to patent stuff as simple as a gesture?

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16 Answers

Hibernate's avatar

No they should not be able. This way whoever does something new can pattern it and no other company can produce similar items. Just think a bit. If the first cell was patterned by someone then today we’d have all the same phone ^^

I don’t know if it’s legal or not but it’s a lame thing to do.

One thing to copyright something and another one not allowing others to use their brains to perform the process and get something different. Since Steve died apple took a fall and feel “attacked”.

wonderingwhy's avatar

Just one of the myriad of problems with our patent and copyright systems. I don’t mind that they can hold patents for gestures associated with specific actions under specific conditions but it’s how long those patents hold up and how restrictive they are that I take issue with.

Somewhere there must be a better idea for balancing the innovation driven through protected IP and the innovation stifled through what I would call patent abuse (in other words patenting every possible aspect, extending them as long as possible, overly burdensome licensing, patenting exclusively for licensing or to deny access, etc).

Of course that “better process” has probably been patented and is sitting in a drawer somewhere because it doesn’t drive revenue well enough to be implemented.

jerv's avatar

I think it’s bullshit, but they also tried to copyright a certain shade of the color Blue.

People sometimes wonder why I am so down on Apple; this is why.

BTW, if you want to see ridiculous copyright/trademark/patent stuff, look up “Urban Homesteading”.

jerv's avatar

I just checked, and it seems that there was a company that had this feature two years before Apple did, and that various European nations already denied patents for this. I see a challenge not unlike the one they had with Xerox that forced them to drop a lawsuit against Microsoft.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

I liken this to if Nikon had patented the shutter release on a camera… then no other camera could have used a shutter release in the same manner without permission.

Human motion… whether it be pushing a button or sliding across a screen should NOT be patentable. Otherwise Michael Jordan should patent his open mouth dunk and I could patent the Hokey Pokey.

Meego's avatar

As I write this from my IPhone :/

They can’t patent it that’s dumb, with each new platform they have slightly changed things anyway..for example iOS5 now you have to tap to get out of some features where before you could just slide them off the screen. This patent thing is probably some attempt to keep a memorilization of Steve Jobs with his product.

jerv's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies I take it that you are not familiar with the Rollin White patents for revolvers. For years, nobody but Smith and Wesson could use a cylinder that was drilled all the way through like current revolvers are!

Meego's avatar

I just need to make a small edit:
I said: “They can’t patent it that’s dumb”

What I really meant is:
“They shouldn’t

SavoirFaire's avatar

(1) Apple applied for a patent. The US Patent and Trademark Office granted the patent. People apply for patents on all sorts of things all the time. It’s standard business practice to apply for more patents than you think you can get. Everyone does it, so holding this against Apple specifically shows blatant ignorance of how intellectual property law works.

(2) The patent will not hold up. The existence of prior art invalidates a patent, but it is the responsibility of the patent office to which the application is made to do a search for prior art. No search is ideal, however, and so anyone claiming prior art—or anyone worried about being charged with infringement—can provide evidence after the patent is granted that the search was non-ideal and the patent invalid. This is already in progress for this patent.

(3) No one has ever copyrighted a color or even tried. Colors are not subject to copyright law, they are subject to trademark law. What many companies have done, then, is trademark specific shades of color so as to prohibit direct competitors from creating what is known as “market confusion.” UPS has a trademark on the specific shade of brown they use (Pullman brown), for instance, but it only prohibits other shipping companies from using the color in a way that takes unfair advantage of UPS and its reputation. All other uses—even by competing shipping companies—are allowed. Apple was nowhere near the first to try getting a color trademarked in this way, nor will it be the last.

Standard disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. The above is based on seminars I’ve taken on intellectual property law and discussions with colleagues who have studied and/or practiced intellectual property law. The information may be out of date or based on a misunderstanding. It is always advisable to speak to a practicing lawyer.

jerv's avatar

@SavoirFaire
1) I don’t lay the blame solely at Apple’s feet here as there was a definite lack of due diligence in approving the patent, but you can blame Apple for applying for a patent on something someone else had years prior. That brings us to…

2) That is why I blame Apple.

3) That is why I specified “a certain shade of”, though I did get copyright and trademark confused. Thank you for clearing that up.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@jerv While the response was not specifically to you, I do think that this kind of thing doesn’t provide any good reason to dislike Apple. More likely, your antecedent dislike for Apple has caused you to read the situation negatively. Name any large for-profit company you like, and they’ve probably done the exact same thing a few times. This is because patent law is complex, and often seems hostile to the inventor. Thus companies go overboard in their attempts to protect whatever they are actually entitled to.

This is why companies tend to apply for patents on everything for which they can meet the paperwork requirements. Apple had enough technical specifications for the “slide to unlock” feature, so they sent in the paperwork. I doubt this was an attempt to screw anyone—especially anyone with prior art claims—since it just wouldn’t hold up in court (and might not even cost anything to fight if the patent was invalidated prior to court proceedings). It’s just something business tend to do by default.

If you’re going to get mad at people for applying for patents on things that already exist, you’re going to have to get mad at almost every major company that exists. This is only a story because (a) the patent went through and (b) someone in the media noticed that there was prior art.

Finally, your objection to the color trademark still doesn’t pass muster. Color trademarks are only available when use of the color in the context under which the trademark would apply is likely to deceive consumers. Why shouldn’t Apple—or any company—be interested in preventing competitors from deceiving the public into thinking it is purchasing Apple products?

There are probably plenty of legitimate reasons to dislike Apple. I would suggest focusing on them rather than silly things that undermine your case by making it look like mere prejudice. You do yourself a disservice by saying “I specifically hate Apple because they do things every big company does.”

jerv's avatar

@SavoirFaire The color trademark makes no sense? Can you not see how a computer illiterate person may think that this is an iMac? Like others, Apple is entitled to protect their intellectual property, but when they go so far as to actually become anti-competitive, I get a little wary, just as I did towards Microsoft during their IE integration fiasco. There are rumors about Windows 8 that would also have me up in arms if they were substantiated, but I have too many facts to be pissed off about to really get worked up over rumors. I also think that trying to monopolize touchscreens is a bit overboard.

You are entirely correct that patent law is complex, and that people go overboard, but I seek clarification on the point about it being hostile to the inventor. By that, do you mean that the patent goes to whoever files the paperwork first regardless of who actually created the idea in question?

There are plenty of legitimate reasons to hate just about everyone, and my disdain is not limited to Apple. I’m sure you know the old saying, “I’m not prejudiced; I hate everyone!”, right? The thing is, this question was about Apple, so they are the ones in my crosshairs right now. Don’t worry, I still have plenty of hate to go around!

SavoirFaire's avatar

@jerv Please look again at what I wrote. I said that objections to the color trademark make no sense. I am fully in support of color trademarks, which I think my comments clearly indicate, but your original post made it look like you opposed them (or disdained Apple for having once sought one).

As for patent law being hostile to the inventor, I just mean that the hoops one must go through to get a patent approved can be rather strenuous. Even the US Supreme Court has singled out patent applications as among the most difficult legal documents to prepare adequately. Prior art typically wins the day (though the standard for invalidating is rather high), but getting a patent approved in the first place is difficult.

This is why companies typically hire patent attorneys to do so, who in turn maximize their profit my insisting on a strategy that involves filing for as many patents as possible (even if no on expects even half of them to be approved). Given the situation—and many have called for reforms to both US and international patent laws—I find it difficult to blame Apple for the situation under discussion here.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

The screen slide is just another form of button pushing. You move a finger to engage a reaction. Now if it was nose picking, that would be button pulling, not pushing. I see hoards of bored Apple Patent Attorneys with their fingers up their noses wondering if they should patent that too.

jerv's avatar

@SavoirFaire Great news, and I hope it sets a strong precedent!

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