If you read my stuff with any sort of frequency then you know how I feel about the current state of the American patent system as it’s applied to software and technology. The people that originally developed the patent system had no way of knowing what it would mean in today’s explosion of technological advance.
The result, in my humble opinion, is that the system is broken for the modern age and in need of an overhaul. Over the last few years I’ve seen patents, which were originally developed as a form of protection for an inventor, become a corrupted version of its original intent. Instead of protection they’re now used primarily as strategy and legal weaponry against competition. And the reason is the pure power behind it – a patent grants exclusive rights on the technology in question for 20 years.
Outside of basic patent trolling, there are a number of examples that can be cited here that illustrate the shambles that our patent system is now plagued with, but it was the most recent one that set me off this week. Just recently Apple, which is a perennial member of the patent lawsuit club, was just awarded patent 8,046,721 (7,657,849 is the same thing just older) by the good ol’ USPTO, entitled “Unlocking a device by performing gestures on an unlock image.” I’m going to let that one sink in for a second and let you read some of that patent I linked before the tirade that’s about to follow, divided cleanly into three (3) parts for your convenience. And before I get to it, let me put a disclaimer out there that I’m not a lawyer, nor do I have any formal legal education or professional experience.
You good? OK.
1. On the grounds of ridiculousness and greed
A lot of the big sites that are covering this are making a big deal that “Slide to Unlock” has now been patented, and that any other system, as in targets, i mean devices running Android or Windows Mobile that uses a sliding system as a means for device unlock are now all immediately infringing on Apple’s patent rights. But they’re missing the bigger point, and/or they didn’t actually read the patent before they excitedly posted it as news. But I’m not going to leave you in the dark like that. I like you guys. You read my stuff. So the link I have above goes to the actual text of the patent on the official US Patent and Trademark Office website. Search the text for “slide to unlock.” Can’t find it, can you? That’s because that phrase isn’t mentioned once in the entire text of the patent. What is mentioned is “gestures.” This means that not only sliding, but as the patent says (I’m paraphrasing), any continuous touch motion following a predefined path on a predefined unlock image for means of unlocking a device is covered. Even if instead of a slide, your device requires you to sketch the Mona Lisa over a specified unlock region to unlock your phone, it’s still infringement on Apple’s new patent in the United States. As most smartphones today have a full touch screen in a “candybar” form factor, what does apple suggest we do to unlock our devices? The only option left is a series of hard button presses. Oh right, or keep the gesture unlock, and pay apple a few bucks for every unit sold.