Apple vs. HTC (aka Google)

My good friend mil_ wrote an interesting article over at his technology blog: TechNippon. As you may have guessed from the title of this post, it’s about “Apple vs. HTC (aka Google)“…

He said I could post it here as well, so give it a read if you care at all about the advancement of technology!

As you may have heard, Apple has filed a patent lawsuit against cell phone manufacturer HTC (manufacturer of the “Google Phone” the Nexus One). And as you may have also figured out, these lawsuits are a thinly-veiled attack against Google’s Android OS as well (Google, despite not being directly named in any of the lawsuits, released a statement in defense of HTC).

The two lawsuits (one federal, one with the ITC) name 20 patents that Apple is claiming infringement upon. The first question is how did Apple manage to get some of these things patented? Most of them deal with OS-level software functions (ie the Android OS, not HTC’s hardware) that, if upheld by patent courts, would give Apple all but a monopoly on basic functions of smartphones or any modern-day multi-device. For example, power management functions for a digital camera or “reducing voltage to an instruction-processing part of the processor” aka sleep mode.

Many of the patents also deal with specific software/OS programming techniques, like using OOP for, well, anything (graphics, notifications, multitasking) and others deal with how the OS is run. It seems that Apple took some basic, broad programming ideas and patented them being used in a specific context: in this case, on a mobile platform. Mobile phone OSes were extremely simple until smartphones came along, and Apple got a head start on everyone by a few years with the iPhone–admittedly a paradigm-shifting piece of hardware and software. In other words, they patented the basic functionality it would take to make any phone work like a desktop. And now, a few years down the line when more and more phones are becoming PC-like, Apple suddenly has the golden patents to throw the hammer down on any and all competitors.

What Apple is doing here is nothing short of snuffing out technological advance to increase their own market share and, in turn, profit margin. Things like multitouch gestures are not something you should be able to patent. ”Unlocking a device by using a gesture on an image” is such a broad idea that it should have never been granted a patent to one specific company in the first place. Multitouch gestures, and smartphones in general, are natural evolutions of technological advance. OOP is not a specific idea that one company owns, but an entire method of programming. How can a company “own” multitouch? There are many manufacturers of capacitive and resistive multitouch screens. But the software that enables us to take advantage of the technology? Apple’s.

In this case, Apple should at least grant third parties the license to use their patented technologies for a nominal fee like any rational company/entity. But it has instead requested to bar the sale of any and all devices who are named in the infringement case–which includes all Android phones and even some WM phones. Is Apple being overprotective of its own products or its own ideas (which is also dubious at best–the idea of a screen that responds to multitouch has probably been around for decades. I can assure you that Mr. Jobs was not the first person ever to think of it, just the first to think of using the law to claim ownership of it)? Or is it just sending out a quite large and loud first attack on the other technological mega-entity (and reasonable threat to their smartphone near-monopoly) in the room, Google? It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Google didn’t back down from China, instead directly confronting it. How will it deal with the closed regime of Appleland and its leader’s all-powerful reality distortion field??

scott

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